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“Peace Through Strength” in Reagan’s Trademark Battle

Posted in Litigation, Trademark

In this year’s presidential race, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney revived President Ronald Reagan’s famous slogan, “Peace Through Strength,” to reflect his stance on national defense. President Reagan’s slogan was indeed as a hallmark of his strategy to end the Cold War.   

But now, use of that same slogan has sparked a battle between two groups – each which played a role in developing Reagan’s foreign policy – over rights to the slogan. The American Security Council Foundation, which secured a trademark for use of the slogan earlier this year, has sued the Center for Security Policy in federal district court in Washington over use of the slogan in the Center’s literature and fundraising initiatives.

Trademark law certainly permits for protection of slogans. Trademark rights can be granted where a slogan has acquired a “secondary meaning” or distinctiveness apart from its original meaning so long as that distinctiveness identifies the slogan with the source of a particular product or service. By way of example, some popular trademarked slogans include Nike’s “Just Do It” or Apple’s “Think Different.” In fact, despite the parties’ assertions in this lawsuit, it likely doesn’t matter who invented the slogan “Peace Through Strength” or was the first to use it; what matters is who was first to use the slogan in a source identifying manner. 

The Center, in response to the suit filed by the Foundation in October, asserted that its president Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan official, had been publicly using the slogan for more than two dozen years. In its response, it argued that the Foundation purposefully made materially false statements and misrepresented facts to the US Patent and Trademark Office, further alleging that the Foundation had acted in bad faith when it applied for the trademark.

While it was surely a strategic decision for the Foundation to bring suit in federal court, it seems as though the parties could otherwise find more “Peace Through Strength” by joining efforts to accomplish their shared goals.