Nightly News Reveals Komen's Overzealousousness in Safeguarding Its Patents

On the Nightly News (Jan. 24, 2011) Brian Williams opened a segment about the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® trademark feuds with the following statement:

“The Susan G. Komen name is well known…what you may not know…the tactics and the power behind the name and the lengths they go to, to keep their work and their slogan their own. Smaller charities with the same goal of combating breast cancer have been forced into legal combat over this very thing.”

Correspondent Anne Thompson reported the story.

The dog-sledding breast cancer fundraiser “Mush for a Cure” is one of 83 groups that has faced pressure from Susan G. Komen for the Cure® over the use of ‘cure’ phrases since 1996. Komen took legal action against more than half of these groups in the name of trademark protection. According to Komen executive vice president, Katrina McGhee:

“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 with Komen.”

That’s no surprise really. Komen has applied or registered for 197 trademarks associated with various iterations of the phrase “for the cure.” These even include phrases such as “I am the cure” and “Bicycle for the cure.” Komen’s attempts to gain exclusive rights over such common language reflect, in my estimation, an aggressive effort to monopolize the cure market and all things pink. According to trademark attorney Joe Gioconda the number of trademarks Komen has tried to claim is “more than many large corporations.”

Executive VP Katrina McGhee responded to NBC’s inquiries about the foundation’s trademark practices as follows:

“We’re not perfect. No nonprofit ever is. 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.”

This is the first admission I have heard from a Komen spokesperson that there has been anything less than perfection in the organization’s approach to trademarks and fundraising. Certainly Komen’s official statement on the trademark issue did not suggest any need for changing its practices. It is because organizations are far from perfect that they require clear ethical standards, flexibility of practice, and a collaborative approach to leadership.

Anne Thompson reports that Komen promises to come up with “a plan to make it easier for everyone to work for cures” in the next 60 days. Thirty years after its founding, better late than later.

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9 comments to Nightly News Reveals Komen’s Overzealousousness

  • I was so glad to see this getting play in the mainstream media. Like you said, it was interesting for Komen to admit there might be a problem.

    Thank you for being such a leader on this important but delicate issue.


  • Susan

    I’d like to remind Susan G. Komen (for the cure) that not only are there are many types of cancer that need to be cured, there are many (many, many, many) diseases that need to be cured; including, but not limited to: AIDS, Alzheimers, Crohn’s disease, Diabetes (Type 1 and 2) and many, many more. In fact, there’s an entire alphabet of diseases that affect women just as much as breast cancer – may I recommend heart disease? I am offended that an organization geared towards curing a specific type of cancer that affects women more than men has not only appropriated the color pink, but is now claiming that “for the cure” is associated only with Susan G. Komen’s particular organization. That, in turn, suggests that only Susan G. Komen should be associated with curing any particular disease.

    Way to take an admirable cause and turn it into something malevolent and spiteful.

  • Katie: It is great to see this in the national news. Shining the light on this has been a team effort, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has been willing to speak out about it. It is, as you say, delicate.

    Susan: I also appreciate your comment. Claiming exclusive domain of ‘cures’ not only leaves out breast cancer groups that are not part of Komen’s donor umbrella…it leaves out everything else.

  • From an email I received. “I’m very disturbed by the whole Komen phenomenon. It’s shocking, frankly. Another thing that is maddening is how companies piggy-back onto the pink-wave by affixing pink labels to their products, all in the name to sell more. To me, this represents contempt for the people who are sick and hurting (as well as their families and loved ones) and for the people who buy the products. It’s really awful. The Komen phenomenon has spawned a spurious sub-culture of commerce.

    What can be done to stop this craziness? Or at least how can more of this hard-earned, well-intentioned money be re-directed for real research?

  • Michael S.

    Here are my thoughts regarding the Komen trademark debate.

    First, Komen is attempting to abuse the trademark laws which do not protect “generic” terms. Most people would agree that the words “for the cure” and “for a cure” in charitable usage are generic. Because a generic term can never be monopolized, Komen trademarked the entire phrase “RACE FOR THE CURE” but did not disclaim the generic portion of the mark. Notice that Komen has never actually brought this issue squarely before any Court because a jury and/or judge would likely conclude that the term is, in fact, generic. So Komen threatens, bullies and frightens others into submission long before a Court would ever actually decide the issue.

    However, the excessive money from donations that Komen wastes on legal fees litigating trademark issues is not really the point here.

    Komen’s absurd litigiousness in trying to protect “for the cure” in the same overly aggressive way that McDonald’s would try to protect its “Big Mac” brand demonstrates that Komen is simply becoming a self-perpetuating corporate organism, rather than a non-profit organization dedicated to a cause greater than itself.

    In theory, a non-profit organization dedicated to “curing” any disease should (theoretically) want to succeed in making itself obsolete by, in fact, curing the disease that forces it to exist.

    Unfortunately, many charitable organizations have become self-perpetuating corporate organisms no different than any multinational corporation.

  • William E. Schleifer

    I would like to know what percent goes towards the cost of office, staff and etcetera of the Susan G. Komen. I would also like to have a copy of that list Brian Williams showed of copywrited names.

    For this or a lead to the information, thank you,

    Wm E. Schleifer

  • Mark: I agree that the generic aspect of the term is concerning, and these actions suggest a corporate sentiment that is unbecoming of a charitable organization. We are not customers. We’re citizens who want to see some real progress on the cancer front.

    William: We’ll try to find out for you. Stay posted.

  • Michael S.


    If you can give me your e-mail address, I can send it to you.

  • Michael: Thanks! Should William prefer to keep his email private, would you send me your list as well: Also, there will be additional information forthcoming, which analyzes the SGK audited financial reports, including overhead. Stay tuned. And, thank you for your support and commentary on this issue.

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