With elections coming up at the end of the year everyone expects candidates and their campaigns to be all over television, but everyone may just be surprised at why President Obama’s campaign is in the news within recent days. The president’s campaign, Obama for America (OFA), is suing DemStore.com for trademark infringement.
The campaign claims that the online store is using trademarked icons to earn money for their company. Many people would wonder why the campaign wouldn’t want as much advertising as possible with an upcoming election, but statements from campaign workers fully explain what is going on.
In a complaint filed on June 1st OFA claimed that DemStore.com was selling merchandise bearing trademarked material, including the distinctive rising sun logo that is synonymous with President Obama’s campaign.
The campaign claims that the online store is unauthorized in doing this and says they are taking advantage of OFA’s “hard earned reputation and goodwill.” The Executive Chief Officer of DemStore.com, Steve Schwat, didn’t deny the wrongdoing, and simply said “there are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies selling material with the Obama sunrise on it.” He felt as if OFA was selectively enforcing trademark laws.
This is not the first time OFA has had a run in with this online retailer. This is actually the second lawsuit brought forth by OFA on the company. In October 2011 a similar lawsuit was brought forth with the same claims in a U.S. District Court in Illinois. The case was dismissed before any resolution due to a lack of jurisdiction. The current lawsuit also claims that they sent letters asking the respondent to cease and desist their violations, but the company did not comply with the request.
Alternatively, this could be something the OFA could settle through arbitration, but without cooperation from the parent company, that seems unlikely at this point.
Obama Campaign Concerns
Some are wondering why OFA is making an issue out of the situation. Many people would consider free advertising from the website a good thing during a campaign season, but the president’s campaign does not see it that way. By selling merchandise bearing presidential logos, DemStore.com is taking money away from the Obama campaign.
An Obama shirt from the company’s website can sell for around five dollars, while a similar shirt sold via OFA costs around thirty dollars. The money from the merchandise OFA sells is used for the campaign. Selling items bearing Obama campaign images are basically a fundraising method for the campaign, and they claim that when another company sells trademarked merchandise they are taking money away from the campaign.
The Obama campaign also claims that these infringements effect future donations and chances at promoting their campaign. Whenever official Obama merchandise is sold, even small purchases, a person provides their contact information. This information is later used to further promote the campaign and request further donations. When DemStore.com sells their merchandise no such information is provided to the campaign.
What the Campaign is Asking For
It seems as if DemStore.com may have angered the Obama campaign by not complying with the initial cease and desist request, because they are not just asking for a ceasing of production of trademarked material. OFA has requested that the court seize all merchandise bearing trademarked material that was unauthorized, which is all of their merchandise.
The campaign is also asking the court to award them money damages and is seeking further punitive damages due to their belief that DemStore.com was knowingly committing trademark infringement. This is all on top of the request to halt the website from producing further trademarked materials.
With the second lawsuit being filed in the correct jurisdiction this trial will most likely go forward. It is hard to believe that since the facts show that the symbols DemStore.com is using are trademarked that they will not end up on the losing end of this case.
Since the website sells shirts for $5.49 if a person purchases 500 shirts, with OFA selling them at thirty dollars, it is plausible that the campaign lost $15,000 on each order of this size by not receiving the orders that DemStore.com received. With such large losses being a possibility, if DemStore.com doesn’t win the case their company could likely be crippled.