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.
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.