Is Cochrane Violating Nordic Cochrane’s Trademarks?

The title might sound like an odd question to some, but it is a quite serious legal question. Cochrane’s existence as a collaboration has led to difficult legal questions about who owns various Cochrane trademarks. Cochrane and the Nordic Cochrane Centre came into existence around the same time. Both were independent organizations working as collaborators. Cochrane has trademark rights to the names ‘Cochrane‘ and ‘The Cochrane Collaboration‘, and they have registered those marks (although the registration for the latter expired in 2017). But Nordic Cochrane has registered trademarks for the names ‘Nordic Cochrane Centre‘ and ‘Nordic Cochrane Centre for Evidence-based Medicine‘. And they will have enforceable trademarks for similar names they have used. I have not seen any documents that transfer legal ownership of these trademarks to Cochrane itself. If those documents exist, I would like for someone to bring them to my attention.

Absent any transfers, it appears to me that Nordic Cochrane owns the trademarks on its name(s). By seizing Nordic Cochrane’s website and posting its own messages, and continuing to maintain that website, Cochrane appears to be in violation of the Nordic Centre’s marks. They are currently publishing information to the public and representing the source of that information as Nordic Cochrane. This is not trivial. If they do not own those trademarks, they are deliberately publishing information under someone else’s mark – misleading the public about the source of the documents they have published.

There are even more complex questions surrounding the Nordic Cochrane logo. Assuming Cochrane owns the main graphic, Cochrane encouraged the centres to incorporate its graphic into their own logo. Each centre’s logo is almost surely a trademark owned by that centre. The question becomes: what license was given by Cochrane to incorporate the logo image in the centre’s own logo? Does Cochrane have the right to revoke the use of the image? This seems a difficult question. I do not have access to case law search engines to research the matter. My instinct would be that when a party encourages another to incorporate their image into their trademark, they have given a perpetual license for that use, mainly for reasons of fairness. There does not seem to be a good legal answer to these questions. This is why IP lawyers strongly discourage collaborations from an IP standpoint. The legal issues are a mess. The only way around this is to provide very clear contractual and ownership arrangements from the beginning, but it appears none of this was done in the case of Cochrane.

Finally, I said above “assuming” Cochrane owns the main graphic used in the logo. But this is not clear to me based on Cochrane’s history. I do not have enough information to determine whether Cochrane exclusively owns this image, or whether the founding centres have an ownership stake. That would depend on how the work for the graphic was contracted.

If anyone has any documents relating to this or any case law on point, please let me know, as I would be interested in reading them. And if no such documents exist, how much legal advice do you think the Cochrane board is getting before making these decisions?

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