Marine Corps Shoots Down Trademark Use by Congressman

Advertising Law

The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) recently issued a cease-and-desist letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) requesting that the congressman stop using its trademarks in his campaign.

Rep. Hunter, who was in the Marines from 2002 until 2005, had featured on a campaign mailer the official Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem of the Marine Corps and the phrase “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy,” both of which, according to the USMC’s letter, are registered trademarks and cannot be used without permission.

The letter stated that the emblem is further guarded by federal statute and regulation and requires the written permission of the Secretary of the Navy for its use. Specifically, 10 U.S.C. 7881 provides that “(a) [t]he seal, emblem and initials of the United States Marine Corps shall be deemed to be insignia of the United States,” and “(b) [n]o person may, except with the written permission of the Secretary of the Navy, use or imitate the seal, emblem, name or initials of the United States Marine Corps in connection with any promotion, goods, services or commercial activity in a manner reasonably tending to suggest that such use is approved, endorsed or authorized by the Marine Corps or any other component of the Department of Defense.”

Characterizing the campaign’s use of the two trademarks as “likely to convey the impression that the Marine Corps favors” the congressman’s “candidacy over another, or ‘endorses’ … [his] views on a particular issue,” the Marine Corps stated that it cannot grant permission for such use.

Accordingly, the Marine Corps requested immediate removal of both marks from all campaign materials, including websites.

However, the Marine Corps advised the congressman that he can “simply and accurately state” that he is a Marine Corps veteran, and it also offered him the option of using a Marine veteran logo to indicate his “pride in service.”

To read the letter from the Marine Corps, click here.

Why it matters: The letter illustrates that the Marine Corps takes protection of its marks seriously, even when the use is by a veteran congressman. It is important to note that while it is generally permissible to make a factual biographical reference to the Marine Corps (or, for that matter, another company or government organization), any use of an emblem, logo or other trademark to make such a reference will likely require permission.