August 10, 2007 / 10:16 PM / 12 years ago

UPDATE 1-American Red Cross defends symbol disputed by J&J

(Adds Red Cross, J&J arguments, details throughout, byline)

By Kim Dixon

CHICAGO, Aug 10 (Reuters) - The relief group the American Red Cross on Friday defended its use of the red cross emblem it shares with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and said it will aggressively defend itself against a lawsuit by J&J.

The Red Cross said it has been selling items such as first aid kits with the emblem since 1903 with no dispute from J&J.

J&J, one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, filed suit earlier this week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing it has owned the trademark for the symbol for more than 100 years and asking the court to prohibit sales of the items and return monetary gains.

Since 2004, the Red Cross had sold items bearing the emblem, including first aid kits, hand sanitizers and medical gloves, at such large store chains as Wal-Mart (WMT.N) and Target (TGT.N).

Red Cross spokeswoman Carrie Martin said the decision to extend marketing of those products came in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and a renewed focus on disaster preparation.

“We’re in the preparedness business. Consumers were asking for these products,” she said.

J&J objects to the group’s licenses with outside companies that sell its products at those big chain stores, according to Jeff Leebaw, a spokesman for J&J. He said those products compete alongside some J&J items.

The Red Cross said the sale of its products in 2006 earned it “only $2 million in revenue,” which it said is reinvested in humanitarian activities such as disaster relief.

The nonprofit contrasted the $2 million with J&J’s $53.3 billion in annual revenue in 2006.

The aid group laid out several legal arguments for its right to use the red cross symbol, including its first use in 1881, versus the first use by J&J in 1887. It also said that in 1905 the U.S. Congress gave the Red Cross the use of the emblem following its Congressional charter in 1900.

J&J earlier this week said a deal was struck in 1895 between American Red Cross founder Clara Barton and J&J in which the aid group acknowledged J&J’s “exclusive use of a red cross as a trademark and otherwise for chemical, surgical, pharmaceutical goods of every description.”

The Red Cross said the Barton deal never took effect because Congress never passed a specific law that the deal was contingent upon.

Late last month, J&J said it would cut 4,800 jobs, or 4 percent of its work force, to offset declining sales of key products and pending generic competition for others.

Earlier in July, the diversified health-care company reported profit of $3.08 billion in the second quarter on sales of 15.13 billion.

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