By Kay Quinn, Healthbeat Reporter
St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - It's the sponsor of the most popular run-walk in St. Louis. Now, Komen for the Cure is taking on a new challenge. It's taking legal action against smaller charities that raise money for cancer.
Komen for the Cure is one of the most widely-known and best funded breast cancer organizations in the U.S. But the group says it's found 83 cases of other organizations using the term "for the Cure" in its name. It is now challenging 47 of them for trademark infringement.
You probably know Susan G. Komen for the Cure for the annual race to raise money for breast cancer in St. Louis. The local affiliate has raised $19 million and NewsChannel Five has been a sponsor for the past 12 years.
Nationally, Komen has invested nearly $1.5 billion in breast cancer research and support. It's a powerful fundraiser that's now going to lengths to preserve that power. Legally challenging any other groups that use "for the Cure" in its name; groups like "Cupcakes for a Cure" and even "Mush for a Cure" in Minnesota.
"We're all supposed to be fighting against breast cancer and here another breast cancer fundraising organization is going to oppose something that would all cost us money that we want to give to the cause," says Sue Prom of Mush for a Cure, a group that Komen says is infringing on its trademark.
Komen for the Cure says the legal challenges do cost money.
But it says last year it only spent $515,000 on legal bills, and only part of that on trademark violations. Still, the practice is making headlines.
"We've asked them to consider changing the name because millions of people around the country associate for the cure programs with breast cancer and Komen," says Katrina McGhee, spokesman for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
"The reason it does this is because it's trying to protect its brand and it's trying to eliminate donor confusion," says Anne Thompson of NBC News. "But there's a trademark attorney who says he thinks that Komen is being very aggressive not just for a charity but even if they were a big business."
Trademark attorney Joe Gioconda says Komen has applied or registered for 197 trademarks.
"It really just seems like a case of brand protection gone awry," says Gioconda.
After all the questions, Komen says it will come up with a plan in the next two months to make it easier for everyone to work for a cure.
"Listen, we're not perfect," says McGhee. "No non-profit ever is. And if we have been overzealous in our quest to protect our names or the names that our donors come up with, it is because we feel such a huge responsibility to the Komen family of donors and volunteers who work so hard in our mission."
NewsChannel 5 spoke with some local groups that provide breast cancer services to patients and this is the first some have heard of the trademark action.
None of the groups wanted to comment about the matter.
The local chapter of Susan G. Komen did not want to comment on this report. The national office of Komen for a Cure issued the following statement Monday evening:
Susan G. Komen for the Cure's senior leadership team has for some time been discussing Komen's approach to protecting its "for the Cure" trademarks and just this weekend committed to a 30-60 day timeline to develop workable solutions that balance the interests of those who wish to use "for the Cure" to raise funds, while minimizing confusion among the millions of people who recognize "for the Cure" or similar phrasing as a Susan G. Komen for the Cure program.
This is a complicated issue that has pulled focus off of the meaningful work that Susan G. Komen for the Cure does in thousands of communities to find cures for breast cancer and provide social, financial and emotional support for women and men with the disease (investing $283 million into research and outreach programs in the last year alone).
If we have been perceived as overzealous in protecting our trademarks, it is only because we want donors to know that when they see "for the Cure," they can be confident that they're donating to a Komen program. Komen's reputation for stewardship is strong - we were named one of the two most trusted charities in America last year, and have achieved Four-Star Charity Navigator rankings four years running. Fewer than 9 percent of the nation's charities have achieved that ranking four years consecutively.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure has never sued another charity nor have we attempted to impede the good work that they do; rather, we've sought amicable resolutions in the 47 trademark cases we've encountered in our 30 years.
We are listening to our donors, volunteers and communities we serve across the country, and are working to provide the balance that we and others seek to ultimately fulfill our promise to end breast cancer forever.