Obama Campaign Sues Washington Promotions & Printing for Trademark Infringement
The re-election campaign for president Barack Obama is suing a Washington-based promotional products company for trademark violations, according to Reuters. The campaign, Obama for America (OFA), has filed a lawsuit in Chicago against Washington Promotions & Printing Inc. for selling unauthorized merchandise on its website, www.demstore.com.
According to the lawsuit, Washington Promotions & Printing offered products featuring the "Rising Sun" logo used in Obama's campaigns without consent from Obama for America. The president's campaign company owns the trademark on the logo and design of both the Rising Sun logo and the 2012 logo incorporating the Rising Sun motif.
The complaint claims that "in an effort to trade on the enormous popularity of the Rising Sun logos and trademarks, defendants operate a website, Demstore.com, at which merchandise bearing the Rising Sun logos and trademarks is sold or offered for sale in an unauthorized manner. In so doing, defendants are willfully violating OFA's intellectual property rights in a deliberate effort to trade on OFA's hard-earned reputation and goodwill. Defendants' actions are thus creating consumer confusion, competing unfairly with OFA, and infringing OFA's trademark rights."
If the campaign's claims are accurate, damages to the promotional products company could be substantial. "A trademark owner can collect the infringer's profits, any actual damages the owner sustains (such as lost profits where potential customers have been diverted to the infringer's items in lieu of the trademark owner's product) and costs of the action, including attorney fees," said Lisa Lori, Esq., a partner in the litigation department at law firm Klehr, Harrison, Harvey & Branzburg LLP. "Alternately, the trademark owner may elect to recover statutory damages of up to $1,000,000 per trademark in the case of counterfeiting."
Such trademark disputes can have a cascading effect for both the item manufacturer as well as the distributor. "Some distributors think they won't have a problem because they're selling someone else's product," Lori said. "Under the law, contributory infringement may make them equally liable, if they had a reason to think the products infringed someone else's mark." As a result, if a supplier creates a counterfeit item or item bearing an unauthorized trademark, any distributor knowingly selling it would have equal culpability.
The lawsuit states that Demstore.com has been selling merchandise with the Rising Sun logo since 2007, and the 2012 Rising Sun logo since earlier this year. A cease and desist letter was sent in April 2011, and a follow-up in July 2011. Obama for America claims that Demstore and Washington Promotions & Printing have made no indication that they are willing to comply with the demands of the letters "and consequently, continue to engage in trademark infringement and unfair competition."
As of the time of print, items with the Rising Sun logo were available to purchase on Demstore.com. Washington Promotions & Printing and Demstore.com did not respond to Promo Marketing's requests for comment.
The company has 20 days from date of service to respond to the lawsuit's claims. Stay tuned to PromoMarketing.com for more as the story develops.
Kyle A. Richardson is the editorial director of Promo Marketing. He joined the company in 2006 brings more than a decade of publishing, marketing and media experience to the magazine. If you see him, buy him a drink.