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All Honda wanted to do was save the Earth, one gallon of gasoline at a time. It turns out, though, that in the act of saving said Earth, the Japanese automaker stepped on a few toes – namely, those of Save the Earth Enterprises, an environmental group based in the United States.

See where this is going? That's right, Save the Earth Enterprises, which trademarked the slogan 'Save the Earth' way back in 1972, has sued Honda and its advertising agency, Rubin Postaer & Co., for infringement. The lawsuit seeks to recover Honda's profits from a recent ad campaign for the Civic and to stop future use by Honda of the Save the Earth trademark.

"The Honda ad campaign confused people into thinking that we endorsed Honda or were affiliated with Honda. We aren't affiliated with them and don't endorse them," said Neal Pargman of Save the Earth Foundation in a statement you'll find after the jump. The statement adds that Honda ignored cease-and-desist letters from the foundation. Perhaps they were too busy... saving the earth? Check out the official press release after the jump for the details.



[Source: Save the Earth Foundation]

PRESS RELEASE:

Environmental Group Sues Honda, Ad Agency for Trademark Violation


SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Environmental group Save the Earth Enterprises, Wednesday sued American Honda Motor Co. and its advertising agency, Rubin Postaer & Co., for using its "Save the Earth" trademark without permission in Honda's recent advertising campaign for the Honda Civic.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seeks to recover Honda's profits from the ad campaign and to stop future use by Honda of the Save the Earth trademark.

"The Honda ad campaign confused people into thinking that we endorsed Honda or were affiliated with Honda. We aren't affiliated with them and don't endorse them," said Save the Earth Foundation Neal Pargman.

Pargman noted that he has been selling merchandise bearing the Save the Earth trademark since 1972 and holds a U.S.-registered trademark. Honda's commercial, showing several uses of Save the Earth trademark, used the Foundation's trademark without permission, and ignored cease-and-desist letters from the Foundation
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  • 66 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't think I was able to express my point as clearly as I would have liked... lol. I'll try again... people say "save the earth" all the time! People also say "Hello" or "How are you?" everyday. So can a company trademark "Hello" or "How are you?"
        • 5 Years Ago
        Trademarks are a strange beast and fall into 3 categories: fanciful (made up words/designs), suggestive/descriptive, or generic. If its fanciful then there are no significant hurdles to cross to for trademark. If its suggestive/descriptive, then it needs to have secondary meaning. In other words, a company has to put the slogan/design out first and then the slogan has to become associated with the company (think "I'm lovin' it" and you think of McDonald's right?). If its generic, you can't trademark it.

        Trademarks can be lost as well. Escalator was a trademarked word (it was invented around 1900) but Otis Co. failed to protect it, and the word "escalator" fell into the public domain.

        I checked the uspto trademark database, and a "Save the Earth" drawing (not slogan) was filed as a trademark in 1988 (registered in 1990) by Neal Pargman (that's the earliest I could find). Recently (since 2007), Pargman has been applying for a "Save the Earth" character mark for all kinds of goods and services (back scratchers, mugs, egg cups, arm chairs, its a long list of completely random stuff) None of the recently ones have been registered by the uspto yet.

        • 5 Years Ago
        How about Thermos. You can't use that name for an insulated bottle because it is a brand.
        • 5 Years Ago
        If a company used "Hello, how are you?" in an advertisement, it's theoretically possible that it could be trademarked... for use in advertisements. I'm not a lawyer, though, that's just my interpretation.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Generally, you can register anything as a trademark that hasn't been registered by someone else previously. That said, there are provisions that are similar to those in patent law, that essentially make it impossible to register words or phrases already in common usage, or that exist as "prior art".

        I would imagine that "Save the Earth" wasn't quite the catchphrase in 1972, that it is now. You make a good point, in that you mention that you hear the phrase often... the primary difference is that the people that you hear repeating the phrase probably aren't making money off of its use. Aside from that, it could be that the phrase is in popular usage BECAUSE of the marketing efforts of the organization.

        Based on the fact that the organization sent out C&D letters, it really doesn't seem like the group went for litigation to make any money. I really doubt any of the posters here would like it if their property was used, without their permission, for someone else's financial gain (especially if they didn't receive a cut).
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don’t think they infringed on a trademark for one. They don’t think they put anything about “Save the Earth Enterprises” on their advertising… how can you trademark s phrase like “Save the Earth” anyway? If they think that customers are associating them with Honda well then it’s their gain.

      As far as references you can read all about the history of environmentalism and how they used the courts to push agendas here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_policy_of_the_United_States there are some good books on it as well including http://www.amazon.com/Liberty-Tyranny-Conservative-Mark-Levin/dp/1416562850

      But yes I’d throw it out just because they are an environmental group. That’s just my opinion and is why I’m not a judge.
        • 5 Years Ago
        O Chris it might not be important to you… but it sure is to me!
        • 5 Years Ago
        So I'm confused.... do you, or do you not, think that theft should be illegal?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Justin,

      No need to get so emotional and angry... you'll end up bleeding through your skinny girl jeans.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Apparently you all hate environmentalists lol.
      I'd agree with you all, except for one thing. They sent cease and desist notices. If Honda had listened, they wouldn't have gotten publicity or money. They're just trying to protect their trademark, and isn't that their right? I mean, they got it trademarked for a reason (could be any number of reasons) to protect against this kinda thing. If Honda had just checked first, or listened to the cease and desist letters, this whole issue would be avoided. I say Honda is to blame. On the other hand, I don't think this company should be receiving a whole lot from this. Honda having to stop using the line, coverage of legal fees and that's about it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      If they have enough money to afford lawsuits then,they DO NOT need money from anyone dobating for the earth.Give me the money I am earth,too. :)
      pauly
      • 5 Years Ago
      WHY DON"T THEY JOIN WITH HONDA IN ASAVE THE EARTH CAMPAIGN INSTEAD OF SUING THEM?
      • 5 Years Ago
      CHRIS and ADAM - please get a room you two Law and Order gradumatates. We are a nation of laws and copyright infringement is serious business. I drive a Honda but think that they blew it on this one. Pay up, change your globe and catchy phrase and continue to build wonderful Honda automobiles. Baliff take Honda out and bring in the next defendent.
      Dave Schialdone
      • 5 Years Ago
      It's about time, had this been Ford, Chrysler or GM (one of the real auto companies that helped make this nation great) everybody would have been on them like stink on s***.
      • 5 Years Ago
      1- I’ve never heard of Save the Earth Enterprises… they should really get over themselves
      2- If Honda is promoting saving the earth and really making a difference, then why would the “Enterprise” object?
      3- Who do these environmental groups think they are? They have been using our legal system against us since… well at least 1972!

      I would hope that the judge would throw this out… but I know better.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I would imagine that the lack of any formal legal education is ANOTHER reason why you're not a judge.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I suppose any law school is fine... you know, as long as you graduate, pass the bar (in states that have one), and actually practice law. Otherwise, there could be a correlation between not completing the degree, and a weak grasp of the law.

        You have an odd sense of justice, and the law in general, if you say that you would throw out a lawsuit with merit, just because you don't like the plaintiff. I agree that the evironmental lobby has a disproportionate amount of influence, but that shouldn't abridge their legal rights.
        • 5 Years Ago
        So I'm guessing the SMU Dedman School of Law doesn’t count for you?
        Not that it’s any of anyone’s business on autoblog - I didn’t graduate but 2 years of law school did give me a firm grasp of the law. Not to mention being a small business owner myself.
        • 5 Years Ago
        O Chris
        you would imagine wrong.
        • 5 Years Ago
        1. I'm pretty sure you haven't heard of most things in existence. I've never heard of you before.... does that mean that you should get over yourself?

        2. People are generally sensitive to having things stolen from them. Are you really any different?

        3. Please cite a reference.


        Also, why would a judge throw out a lawsuit that has merit? Just because you don't understand trademark infringement doesn't mean it isn't an actionable offense.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I don’t think they infringed on a trademark for one. They don’t think they put anything about “Save the Earth Enterprises” on their advertising… how can you trademark s phrase like “Save the Earth” anyway? If they think that customers are associating them with Honda well then it’s their gain.

        As far as references you can read all about the history of environmentalism and how they used the courts to push agendas here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_policy_of_the_United_States there are some good books on it as well including http://www.amazon.com/Liberty-Tyranny-Conservative-Mark-Levin/dp/1416562850

        But yes I’d throw it out just because they are an environmental group. That’s just my opinion and is why I’m not a judge.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Watching Law and Order reruns isn't what I was referring to.

        Maybe something a little more like this: Doctor of Jurisprudence, Wake Forest University, 1994. It's a little easier to talk about intellectual property law when you practice it every day.
      • 5 Years Ago
      just more proof that people who want to "save the earth" don't actually want to save the earth. They just want attention and money so they can feel better about their empty and pointless lives.

      All it comes down to is some company sees a quick easy way to extort money from a corp. Shouldn't they be cleaning beaches, saving puppies, and singing to trees? Seems to me anyone that was a real environmentalist would spend less time bitching and more time doing something productive.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Save the earth from what?
        • 5 Years Ago
        @paul34 - correct, honda's actually doing the opposite as those of us who follow the industry know.

        @Chris O - well put sir. a trademarked name is a trademarked name, being an environmental group or non profit doesn't diminish the trademark. I love grumpy gusses
        • 5 Years Ago
        I can see why they would be upset though. "Save the Earth" actually does work/lobby to save the earth, Honda just want's to sell more car's. If they sue and use the money to save the earth then great.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Wait, so you're saying that an organization that has properly applied for and received registration of their trademark, should be okay when someone misappropriates it? That's kind of the whole point behind having a Patent and Trademark office.

        You know, it isn't hard to search the trademark database... it's actually part of due dilligence when putting together pretty much anything. I reallty doubt that this was malicious... it was probably just laziness on the part of Rubin Postaer & Co. That isn't really the point, though. The fact that Save the Earth Enterprises is trying to protect their name is perfectly reasonable. They've built name equity, and nobody else should be able to profit from that (even by accident).

        Judging from a couple of the comments already posted on this topic, I can see that the concept elludes some. As a simple example, would it be fair if I made a carbonated cola drink and marketed it as Pepsi?
        • 5 Years Ago
        ...from ITSELF! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

        Nah, just kidding.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Let's say. Honda, actually trying to do something more environmentally conscious (but also saving consumers money by trying to be more fuel efficient)... save the earth? Are they researching technologies to make cars more fuel efficient? Researching better ways of obtaining and refining gasoline? Practical alternative fuels? No? Because that's what a lot of car manufacturers are doing these days. Holding up a sign and putting "save the earth" stickers on your car does not "save" the earth.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm going to trademark "Global Warming" and "Climate Change".
      • 5 Years Ago
      I should have my company go and trademark "thank you" - i could make 10's of billions of dollars beacuse it's said all the time during business transactions.


      Personally if I was toyota -- I would stick the word "help" in front of their little slogan... and then use any extra money they have to help bankrupt whoever was running the no-name hippy green company that started this mess.


      moral of the story is - the green movement is just as susceptible to corruption and dumbass people who don't give a crap about actually helping. Riding the whole feel good enviro movement to fame and fortune spits in the face of anyone who actually wants to help.

      Protip - sending in 100 dollars a year to some faceless green company doesn't do a single thing except pad their ad campaign. If you want to help, go clean up your neighborhood, or spruce up your house to be more energy efficient. The key is to not give a crap what some public speaking hippy tells you to do... or what your douchebag neighbor is doing, do it for yourself.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Amen Chris
        • 5 Years Ago
        Jeff:

        I'm going to assume that you own a car. Let's say that your neighbor steals your car and uses it to take their parents to the airport. When they are done, they return the car to your driveway. By your way of thinking, your neighbor would not have done anything wrong. After all, cars are meant to transport people and items, right? That's all your neighbor would have done. So, obviously, that's not the point...

        The point is that Honda's ad firm did not do basic research. When Honda was notified of the anadvertent misappropriation of a registered trademark, they simply ignored the C&D letters. At that point, the misappropriation becomes outright profit from theft.

        I agree that it is probably more effective in most cases that you should take money intended for an environmental group, and instead use it directly for the cause. That said, you are getting WAY too bogged down with the fact that the wronged party happens to be an environmental organization.

        Legal protection applies regardless of whether or not you think the company is worthy of it.
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