The pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, which uses a red cross as its trademark, apllied to the court against the American Red Cross, demanding that the charity halt the use of the red cross symbol on products it sells to consumers.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, marked the breakdown of months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, and prompted an angry response from the Red Cross.
"For a multibillion dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute ... simply so that J&J can make more money, is obscene," said Mark Everson, the Red Cross president.
Johnson & Johnson began using the red cross design as a trademark in 1887 - six years after the creation of the American Red Cross but before it received its congressional charter in 1900. The lawsuit contends that the charter did not empower the Red Cross to engage in commercial activities competing with a private business.
"After more than a century of strong cooperation 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," Johnson & Johnson said in a statement.
It said these product include baby mitts, nail clippers, combs, toothbrushes and humidifiers.
The pharmaceutical company has had exclusive rights to use the trademark on certain commercial products for over 100 years, Johnson & Johnson said.
The Red Cross said many of the products in question were part of health and safety kits, and that profits from the sales - totaling less than $10 million (EUR 7.25 million) - went to boost Red Cross disaster-response efforts.
The suit asks the Red Cross to turn over the products in question to Johnson & Johnson for destruction and also seeks unspecified punitive damages.
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