Court blocks company from using Obama campaign logo

Story highlights

  • Campaign committee filed trademark infringement lawsuit over use of "Rising Sun" logo
  • Judge says website can't sell merchandise with the image without campaign's permission
  • He says company can't mislead public into believing its products are sponsored by campaign
  • Company says campaign can't claim "immediate harm," suggests logo is in public domain
A private marketing firm has been temporarily blocked from using President Obama's familiar "Rising Sun" campaign logo, after the Obama campaign committee filed a trademark infringement lawsuit.
Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan has issued a preliminary injunction, preventing Washington-based from selling a variety of merchandise -- hats, buttons, balloons and T-shirts -- with the red-and-blue image, without the permission of Obama for America, the president's re-election campaign.
In his three-page order, the judge said that for now, the company cannot use the trademark or "confusingly similar" images in its products, including "engaging in any course of conduct with respect to the 2008 Rising Sun Trademark that is likely to mislead the public into believing that the products marketed and/or offered for sale by defendants are, sponsored, authorized, or otherwise approved by" the Obama campaign.
Re-election officials filed suit on June 1, and a preliminary hearing was held Monday. Further hearings are scheduled later this month.
Obama officials said the issue was time-sensitive, since this kind of merchandise is typically sold in the six months leading up to the November elections. The campaign itself sells its own merchandise through the website, including the logo that shows the letter "O" decorated with a blue half-circle and red stripes.
The Obama team said people buying products through its official website also provide contact information, which the campaign can then use to solicit further monetary donations.
"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," lawyers for Obama said in federal court briefs.
On Tuesday, the website still featured products with the "Rising Sun" image, including a "Veterans for Obama" button listed as a "top seller." The parent company Washington Promotions & Printing has been retailing material supporting Democratic candidates since 1985.
The company denies any wrongdoing, arguing in court filings that the Obama campaign had known of the alleged trademark infringement since 2007 and cannot now claim "immediate harm" from continued use of the logo by private companies. Washington Promotions & Printing suggested that a federal political campaign logo would be in the public domain, not subject to trademark restrictions.
The case is Obama for America v., Inc. (12-cv-889).