Obama for America, President Barack Obama's campaign committee, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit Friday against a Washington-based company allegedly using the campaign's trademarked logo without permission.
The campaign is suing DemStore.com and its parent company, Washington Promotions & Printing Inc., in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming DemStore has been unlawfully selling merchandise featuring the campaign's "Rising Sun" logo.
According to the complaint (PDF), the campaign sent several cease-and-desist letters last year, to no avail. "Defendants are using the Rising Sun Trademarks on merchandise in a deliberate and willful attempt to draw on the goodwill and commercial magnetism of the Rising Sun Trademarks and the Obama Campaigns," the campaign is arguing in its complaint.
DemStore Chief Executive Officer Steve Schwat said in a phone interview today that he didn’t understand why the campaign was attempting to enforce its trademark against his company when “there are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies selling material with the Obama sunrise on it” without official permission. He called it an example of "selective enforcement."
“We’re disappointed that the Obama campaign seems to be…penny-wise and pound foolish,” he said, adding that his company has sold merchandise supporting Democratic candidates since 1985.
Lead counsel for the campaign, Perkins Coie’s Barry Reingold, referred a request for comment to the campaign. A campaign spokeswoman, Kara Carscaden, declined to comment, citing the pending legal action.
The campaign trademarked the “Rising Sun” logo in 2008, according to the complaint. It trademarked a similar logo for Obama’s re-election campaign in April 2011.
According to the complaint, the campaign is concerned that DemStore’s use of the logo “is likely to create confusion” among consumers. Besides lost revenue, the campaign is claiming that DemStore’s use of the logo is hurting its ability to fundraise in the future.
“[E]ach time a supporter makes a relatively small purchase on the website, [Obama for America] obtains that individual’s contact information, which OFA can then use to reach out to that individual repeatedly to seek further donations and further opportunities to promote the Campaign,” the campaign claims.
The campaign “relies largely on promoting a certain message,” according to the complaint, including exercising “strict control over the consumers’ experience on its website and at other marketplaces” selling authorized merchandise.
Schwat said he wasn’t sure about the legal issues raised in the complaint, but questioned why a political campaign’s logo wouldn’t be considered in the public domain. “It seems just commercially, politically odd that a campaign is protecting a logo that you’d think the campaign would want to be freely used and reproduced,” he said.
This is the second time the campaign has sued DemStore for trademark infringement. The campaign filed a similar complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in October, but voluntarily dismissed the case in January after DemStore moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.