The suit, filed in US District Court in New York, marked the breakdown of months of behind-the-scenes talks, and prompted an angry response from the Red Cross. "For a multibillion dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute...simply so that J&J can make more money, is obscene," Mark Everson, the Red Cross president, tells the AP. He goes on to accuse J&J of "bullying" the organization.
Here's the background: J&J began using the red cross design as a trademark in 1887 - six years after the creation of the American Red Cross but before it received its congressional charter in 1900. The lawsuit contends the charter did not empower the Red Cross to engage in commercial activities competing with a private business.
"After more than a century of strong cooperation in the use of the Red Cross trademark...we were very disappointed to find that the American Red Cross started a campaign to license the trademark to several businesses for commercial purposes," J&J says in a statement and pointed to such products as baby mitts, nail clippers, combs, toothbrushes and humidifiers.
J&J maintains it's had exclusive rights to use the trademark on certain commercial products for over 100 years. The suit asks the Red Cross to turn over the products in question to J&J for destruction and also seeks unspecified punitive damages. The Red Cross says many of the products in question were part of health and safety kits, and that profits from the sales - totaling less than $10 million - went to boost Red Cross disaster-response efforts.
"The Red Cross products that J&J wants to take away from consumers...are those that help Americans get prepared for life's emergencies," says Everson, noting the Red Cross faces a budget deficit and relies on donations. "I hope that the courts and Congress will not allow Johnson & Johnson to bully the American Red Cross...Our lawyers have looked at this. We wouldn't be doing something we think is improper, and our position will be sustained in the courts."