Wednesday, May 28, 2008

AARP provides an example of a non-profit use of trademark

As noted in an earlier posting about MADD, advocacy organizations can have trademarks. Some insurance companies, especially United Healthcare, have been offering various kinds of retiree, Medicare supplementary and drug benefit health insurance through AARP. I found when I called the 800 number and was transferred to another number to discuss the prescription drug benefit (see also today’s entry on the retirement blog), that the recorded announcement included the fact that UHC could use AARP’s “trademark” in offering health insurance coverage, but that the policy was not written by AARP, it was written by UHC.

The reminds me of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance plans. They are supposed to be "not for profit," but as any who has ever worked for them before (I have, indirectly, twice), they are very "commercial".

AARP describes itself as “AARP is a nonprofit membership organization of persons 50 and older dedicated to addressing their needs and interests.”

AARP has a link called “Divided We Fail” for issue advocacy (the domain name is equivalent to the link), with the introductory statement “We believe that health care and financial security are the most pressing domestic issues facing our nation” and also a laudable statement that partisan gridlock needs to stop. USPTO gives this as a registered mark and gives the address of the registrant, but does not say that the registrant is affiliated with or equivalent to AARP (which it is likely to be so in practice; WHOIS for the domain name does mention AARP; I think I’ve heard Hillary Clinton refer to the phrase).

I do have some concerns about registering a catchy phrase of common English words that convey a political meaning as a “trademark” or “brand” (eventually vulnerable to "dilution"). Philosophically, it seems to me that equating a political or social concept to a “brand” could encourage superficial attitudes among voters. Perhaps libertarians (and even the candidates like Bob Barr) would agree with me. But it seems to be allowed and even encouraged.

This reminds me of Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. Even though they are supposed to be "not for profit," they are very "commercial," as anyone who has worked for them (as I have, indirectly, at least twice) can attest.

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