Dueling Dr. Drakes Fight Over Cough Cure-All

By CollectorsWeekly.com Staff

April 22nd, 2011

One of the liveliest cases in the arcane world of trademark law concerned an early 20th-century dispute between rival patent-medicine peddlers. The lawsuit over Dr. Drake’s German Cough and Croup Remedy set in motion a fight that went all the way to the Ohio State Supreme Court. We found the story in a post by Show & Tell regular, Marianne Dow, at the Findlay Antique Bottle Club blog.

A box for a later cough remedy by Glessner

The bottle above was once filled with a version of Dr. Drake’s sold by the Glessner Medicine Co., which has a long history in Findlay, Ohio. Dow writes, “According to ‘A History of Northwest Ohio,’ published in 1917, the Glessner family owned the Findlay Daily Courier.

“In 1887, while still working for the family newspaper, Leonard Glessner started the Glessner Medicine Co. with a recipe for what he sold as Dr. Drake’s German Cough and Croup Remedy. He worked out of his home, and soon left the newspaper business to work on the medicine company full-time.”

As it turned out, Dow explains, there was real, live Dr. Drake practicing in Findlay at the time. Glessner got the rights to his Dr. Drake’s recipe from a different Dr. Drake, who practiced in Iowa. Seeing the success of Glessner’s product, the Findlay Dr. Drake felt he was losing out on an opportunity to make money. Besides, he reasoned, Glessner didn’t have the right to use his name. So the Findlay Dr. Drake started selling a competitive product, and marketed it in Findlay with the Dr. Drake’s name.

Naturally, Glessner and the Findlay Dr. Drake sued each other. In a nutshell, Dow says, the Findlay Drake lost, since he was not the Dr. Drake whose name Glessner was using—Glessner had the rights to the original Iowa Dr. Drake name. The judges decided that one cannot trademark a person’s name—and also that the Findlay Dr. Drake was guilty of fraud, as he had purposely intended to deceive his customers into believing his Dr. Drake products were the same as Glessner’s.

Read more about the drama on her blog. Also, if you can get past the convoluted “legalese,” Dow recommends the court report as a fascinating read: “Generic Geographic and Personal Names in Trademarks,” Ohio State Supreme Court case, “The Ohio Law Reporter,” 1903.

One comment so far

  1. Dan Rose Says:

    I m pleased to find your website. I lived 5 miles East of Findlay. For a number of years during WWII my mother worked at Glessners. They still made cough medicine, but the major product was SOFSKIN HANDCREAM. It was truly good…and my Mom brought home samples all the time. The tiny sample glass jars were about the size of a 50 cent piece. I used that hand cream during all my teaching career until about 1975 I could rarely find it. I found out that the formula was bought by Vicks (not totally certain of that). Later I found that it is being sold by a New York company as PLEXO (what a horrid name for a wonderful product!). I buy a 12 case from them each year. Being a science teacher and with my hands in water and ‘other stuff”, the handcream was the only thing that worked. I have a commerative coin (1950 Lincoln penny) which lists “Dr Drake’s for croupy coughs due to colds” on one side and “GLESSCO FOR ADULTS cough relief starts with the first swallow”.


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