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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Legal fight over red cross symbol
American Red Cross worker helping after the fatal bridge collapse in Minneapolis (Credit: American Red Cross)
American Red Cross says all sales are used to help fund campaigns
Medical firm Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is suing the American Red Cross, alleging the charity has misused the famous red cross symbol for commercial purposes.

J&J said a deal with the charity's founder in 1895 gave it the "exclusive use" of the symbol as a trademark for drug, chemical and surgical products.

It said American Red Cross had violated this agreement by licensing the symbol to other firms to sell certain goods.

The charity described the lawsuit as "obscene".

It said many of the products at issue were health and safety kits and that profits from their sale had been used to support disaster-relief campaigns.

Licence dispute

The lawsuit asks for sales of disputed products - also including medical gloves, nail clippers, combs and toothbrushes - to be stopped and unsold items to be handed over to J&J.

We were very disappointed to find that the American Red Cross started a campaign to license the trademark to several businesses for commercial purposes
Johnson & Johnson

The firm is also seeking damages equivalent to the value of such goods sold in supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Target.

"After more than a century of strong co-operation 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," the firm said in a statement.

J&J, best known for its Band-Aid bandages and baby products, first used the symbol as a trademark in 1887, the same year it was incorporated as a business.

American Red Cross was founded in 1881 but did not receive a charter from the US Congress until 1900.

Gauze pads manufactured by Johnson & Johnson
A 112-year deal gives it exclusive use of the symbol, the firm says.

The lawsuit argues that the firm reached an agreement with the charity's founder, Clara Barton, about the commercial use of the symbol for certain products.

It maintains that the charter did not give the charity the right to engage in commercial activities which would conflict with a private company.

The two sides have been trying to resolve the dispute in private for several months and the lawsuit will bring unwelcome publicity for both parties.

'Sound case'

American Red Cross said allegations that it broke criminal statutes were "obscene", adding that it believed the firm's actions were financially motivated.

"Our outside lawyers have looked at this and think we are on sound ground," said Mark Everson, the charity's chief executive.

"We are helping Americans."

The red cross symbol was adopted by the forerunners to the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863.

The symbol was chosen to denote respect for army medical services, first aid volunteers and victims of wars and armed conflicts around the world.

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