Public Citizen Defends Environmental Nonprofit from Texas Energy Company’s Trademark Lawsuit Threat

Oct. 24, 2006

Public Citizen Defends Environmental Nonprofit from Texas Energy Company’s Trademark Lawsuit Threat

Downwinders at Risk Challenges TXU’s Use of Trademark Infringement to Stifle Political Free Speech

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter sent today to TXU Corp., Public Citizen defended the free speech rights of a Texas environmental nonprofit organization against trademark infringement lawsuit threats by the energy giant.

TXU objected to the group Downwinders at Risk’s use of the TXU logo, along with the logos of other pollution-causing corporations, on a float depicting Gov. Rick Perry kissing a dirty smokestack. The float was part of a protest to represent the close political and financial relationship between the governor’s office and the energy industry. TXU threatened to sue the organization for trademark infringement and dilution unless it removes the logo from its float and any published materials.

To prove trademark infringement, companies must show that use of their logo was commercial in nature and caused consumer confusion. In this case, the logo was part of a political protest by a nonprofit organization not involved in commercial activities and clearly not affiliated with the company it criticized.

“TXU’s claim that this grassroots group must ask the company for permission to depict and criticize it is patently absurd,” said Paul Levy, an attorney for Public Citizen defending Downwinders at Risk. “The company’s real motive is to use the threat of costly and intimidating lawsuits to stifle the political participation and free speech of citizens who are legitimately concerned about the effects of TXU-caused pollution.”  

Downwinders’ float, titled “Rick Perry’s Smoke Stack Love World Tour,” will continue to appear at Perry campaign events beginning Wednesday, Oct. 25 in Dallas.

Public Citizen has a strong record of defending the First Amendment rights of ordinary citizens against trademark threats made by large corporations. Dallas civil liberties litigator Michael Linz serves as co-counsel for Downwinders at Risk.

To read TXU’s demand letter, click here. To read Downwinders’ response, click here, and to view Public Citizen’s response, click here.

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