Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., maker of Valium, one of the most prescribed drugs in America, is leading an unusual fight against a new Ralph Nader book criticizing the popular, controversial tranquilizer.
Hoffmann-La Roche isn't claiming the Nader book, called "Stopping Valium," libels the drug. But it complains that the book uses the name Valium to refer to similar drugs of other manufacturers, and in the process infringes its trademark.
If Hoffmann-La Roche doesn't actively protect its trademark, Valium--a $190 million product last year--could become another generically used term such as aspirin, linoleum or escalator, the company said.
Although trademark infringement suits by companies against its competitors aren't unusual, cases against publications for alleged abuse of trademarks are rare.
"Corporations such as Coca-Cola send letters to authors complaining about the use of 'Coke'," said attorney Brian Leitten. "Usually it doesn't get to the lawsuit stage." Leitten, a trademark expert, said he had never heard of another suit like Hoffmann-LaRoche's, but there could be a few obscure cases somewhere.
The Valium lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks to stop publication of the book distributed by Nader's Public Citizen Health Research Group, and require the consumer organization to recall the 12,500 of 25,000 printed booklets already sold at $3 a copy.
The book discusses the potential for addiction to Valium and similar drugs by the millions of their users, dangers of using the drugs and promotion used by their manufacturers. A short preface to the book said the tranquilizer-type drugs produced by other companies are often referred to in the book as Valium for simplicity and when the specific Hoffmann-LaRoche product is used it will be distinguished by the trademark sign, Valium .
However, the health research group yesterday called a news conference to deny the allegations of the drug company that it is infringing the trademark Valium and to charge the drug giant with conducting a bookburning campaign.
The book used the term Valium "for the sake of simplicity" to refer to a group of tranquilizers in the benzodiazepine family, which the group says has the same effect as Valium, according to Sidney M. Wolfe, an author of the book and director of the Nader health group.
Wolfe said the lawsuit is an infringement of the group's First Amendment rights to free speech and press. The drug company didn't sue the Nader group on grounds that the information is false, because the book is truthful, Wolfe charged. A trademark infringement suit was the only way the company could attempt to stop publication of the material attacking Valium, Wolfe said.