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Save the Earth Sues Honda for Trademark Violation

Green marketing runs over property rights in a complex case?

by on Dec.29, 2009

“American Honda merely depicted the commonly used expression ‘save the earth’ in our Civic ad."

An environmental marketing company, Save the Earth Enterprises, has sued American Honda Motor Company and its advertising agency, Rubin Postaer & Company, for allegedly using its “Save the Earth” trademark without permission in an 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 president and founder, Neal Pargman in a statement.

Such claims will have to be  proven during an actual legal proceeding. And not surprisingly there are two very different versions of what is in contention here. Honda says the ads used the phrase “save the earth.” Save the Earth says, not so, the ads prominently depicted people wearing its trademarked t-shirts.

TheDetrotiBureau.com has thus far been unable to view the advertisement in question. We do note, however,  that Honda does not have the commercial available on its website, otherwise we would link to it and let you decide.

Can a phrase be a trademark?

Pargman says that he has been selling merchandise bearing the Save the Earth trademark since 1972 and holds a U.S.-registered trademark. He claims that Honda’s commercial, “showing several uses of Save the Earth trademark,” used the Foundation’s trademark without permission.

Honda ignored “cease-and-desist” letters from the Foundation, Karl Olsen, the attorney representing  Pargman told TheDetroitBureau.com.  “Litigation is not something we take lightly,” said Olson. “We tried to work it out, but we were left with  no choice.”

With all companies now trying to portray themselves as “green” this matter of the commercial use  of a trademark that involves environmental claims is larger than this particular case. Green marketing claims as they increase will likely come under closer scrutiny in matters similar to this one.

“American Honda merely depicted the commonly used expression ‘save the earth’ in our Civic ad to communicate the concern for the environment felt by many people who purchase fuel efficient and low emission vehicles,” Jeff Smith from Honda told me.

Suits!

“We are surprised and disheartened to learn that the plaintiff is attempting to claim sole ownership of a phrase which for decades has been a popular message employed in everyday use by environmentally conscious individuals and organizations around the world, as well as on numerous radio and television commercials and on many types of merchandise, including t-shirts,” he claimed.

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