F--k Cancer's Yael Cohen loses obscenity trademark battle
Federal Court denies celebrity activist's bid to take trademark away from original F--k Cancer founder
Everybody, it seems, wants to "F--k Cancer."
So much so, that two women took to the courts to battle for the right to use the term in their fundraising and awareness campaigns.
But Vancouver jewellery designer Susan Fiedler says she's spent nearly $50,000 battling celebrity activist Yael Cohen for Canadian trademark of the obscene phrase, which Fiedler began using to raise money for charity the year before Cohen founded her organization.
Now, a Federal Court judge has sided with Fiedler in rejecting Cohen's bid to advance a unique argument that would have seen both women denied the opportunity to trademark the phrase because it contains an obscene word.
"It has created a lot of what they call brand confusion, and it's also created a lot of stress for me," says Fiedler. "I chose to defend myself because I couldn't see giving up. It didn't seem right. I was there first. It was my idea."
Fiedler began making bracelets inscribed with the words "F--k Cancer" in May 2008 after a battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
She says she realized immediately she could use them to raise funds and awareness and, with the support of celebrity "ambassadors," including Sarah McLachlan, has raised more than $200,000.
"Despite the fact that it might not seem like the most elegant way to put things, it's really how we all feel," Fiedler says.
Cohen started her charity in 2009 after making a "F--k Cancer" T-shirt for her mother, who was battling breast cancer. According to the organization's website, they're committed to raising awareness by educating the public about cancer as opposed to fund raising for a cure.
The initiative has made Cohen a celebrity, with numerous appearances on Canadian and American network TV.
The Globe and Mail named her as one of 12 people who were transforming philanthropy in 2011. And last July, she married Justin Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun.
The two "F--k Cancer" charities came into conflict when Cohen applied to register an "F Cancer & Design" trademark.
Fiedler had never registered the brand, but the Trade-Marks Opposition Board held in her favour, finding she had used the phrase in Canada prior to Cohen and that there was substantial similarity in sound, appearance and idea between them.
Scandalous, obscene or immoral
According to a Federal Court decision, Cohen applied for a judicial review of the board's decision, on the grounds that Canada's Trade-marks Act prohibits recognition of any trademark consisting of a "scandalous, obscene or immoral word."
"If I were to accept this argument, it would, of course, leave Ms. Cohen at liberty to continue using her own 'F CANCER' mark and design in Canada," Judge Anne Mactavish wrote, rejecting the application and awarding Fiedler $5,000.
"For Ms. Cohen to argue that the trade-mark she herself applied to register is scandalous, obscene and/or immoral only after she has been unsuccessful in the opposition proceedings justifies an elevated award of costs."
Even with the court victory, Fiedler says she doesn't have the funds to enforce her trademark. She says she would like to find some way to settle the issue with Cohen.
"Nobody wants to hear about two cancer fundraising organizations fighting. It's very disappointing that we haven't been able to resolve this," she says. "It's been not only very expensive and — I think — needless, it's just sucked a lot of energy away from doing more positive things."
Cohen could not be reached for comment.
Read the Federal Court decision. On mobile? Click here