Why Not Monopolize the Term “for Prevention”?

Eight years ago I went to a conference for young breast cancer survivors. It was pretty useful to be around a bunch of other women who, like me, had been diagnosed with breast cancer in their twenties and thirties. It was also useful to hear doctors who had actually thought about things like long term survival and fertility.

But the most memorable–and creepy–part of the conference was the way they referred to us, the survivors, as “customers.” They explained they did it to emphasize the active role we had in deciding our own treatment. But since the conference was sponsored, in part, by a bunch of drug companies selling a bunch of obscenely expensive drugs, I found the term really disturbing.

In addition to the drug companies, Susan G. Komen Foundation sponsored the conference.

And so it is with great interest that I read HuffPo’s report on Susan G. Komen foundation beating up smaller non-profits–at a price tag of almost a $1 million a year–for using the phrase “for the cure.”

In addition to raising millions of dollars a year for breast cancer research, fundraising giant Susan G. Komen for the Cure has a lesser-known mission that eats up donor funds: patrolling the waters for other charities and events around the country that use any variation of “for the cure” in their names.

So far, Komen has identified and filed legal trademark oppositions against more than a hundred of these Mom and Pop charities, including Kites for a Cure, Par for The Cure, Surfing for a Cure and Cupcakes for a Cure–and many of the organizations are too small and underfunded to hold their ground.


“It’s never our goal to shut down a nonprofit,” [Komen General Counsel Jonathan Blum] said, “and we try very hard to be reasonable, but it’s still our obligation to make sure that our trademarks are used appropriately so there’s no confusion in the marketplace over where people’s money is going.”

Blum told HuffPost that legal fees comprise a “very small part” of Komen’s budget, but according to Komen’s financial statements, such costs add up to almost a million dollars a year in donor funds.


Michael Mercanti, an intellectual property lawyer, said he is surprised by the large number of oppositions Komen has filed against other charities–a number he would expect from a company like Toys”R”Us or McDonalds, but not a charitable fundraising organization. [my emphasis]

It’s perverse enough that Komen is wasting donor money on protecting its brand from other people trying to combat cancer.

Think about the even more perverse aspect of this: if you wanted a really superb brand, wouldn’t it be better to own “preventing” cancer rather than “curing” it? Wouldn’t the really noble goal be preventing women, people generally, from having to undergo the life-threatening “cures,” along with all the other unpleasantness, in the first place?

But I guess that wouldn’t leave open all the lucrative partnerships with drug companies. I guess that wouldn’t be compatible with selling women on the idea that to survive cancer they must be savvy customers.

  1. dustbunny44 says:

    Colbert last night mentioned this, something to the effect that Komen was spending $1M per year keeping other cancer fund-raising orgs from using “for the cure” rather than spending it to cure cancer.

  2. PJEvans says:

    well, since I don’t think it’s either completely preventable or completely curable….

    The Komen people sound like the Olympics people: we own it and we won’t let you even hint at it, no matter how long your usage history is. But the Olympics people have on occasion been forced to back down.

  3. jdmckay0 says:

    Good article Marcy.

    Slightly OT… I’ve mentioned here before we (wifey & I) look after our +/- 90 yr. old parents, & that my dad has Parkinsons. He deals w/it quite well.

    A little while back, dad had a hernia surgery that went terribly wrong… infections, massive swelling for this procedure, and a few other things. His temp hit lows several times below 96… dangerous territory.

    He pulled through, was a trial for all of us.

    I mention this because the primary lingering problem from this, after physical recovery took hold, was his near insomina (dad was always one of these people who’s fast asleep w/in 3 mins of head hitting pillow). There was no consensus from medical people as to cause, but best guess was related to anesthesia “hangover”.

    None of medical people had answers/suggestions (we have superb primary doctor).

    I poked around quite a bit. Long story short: here in ABQ, we have (for reasons I can’t explain) a significant presence of Chinese Medicine practitioners, many of them w/dual certifications in Western Medicine. Got a lot of feedback on this, narrowed Chinese practioners down to a few, chose one, and gave it a shot.

    This was about a month ago. Can’t prove conclusively dad didn’t just “get over it”, but by 3rd treatment his was beginning to sleep. Less then 3 weeks into it (7 treatments), he was back to normal, sound sleep.

    Thing is, this practitioner said she could help w/Parkinsons symptoms as well. And it seems this has occurred: less nodding off is most noticeable.

    What I have found also, much to my amazement, after spending some time around this clinic and talking to many there… it has become a near article of faith that acupuncture shortly after a chemo treatment can greatly minimize (and often completely eradicate) normal post chemo side affects. This seems to be best know amongst female breast cancer patients, as there is a steady stream of them coming/going from this clinic for just that purpose.

    All of ’em… all, that I have spoken to, say w/out hesitation that this works very, very well for them.