The Church of Scientology was created by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and is based in Los Angeles, California. Its followers include Hollywood actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The Church has several scientology related trademarks registered at the US Patent and Trademark Office, including ‘Scientology’ and ‘First independent church of Scientology’.
In a recent development, a Russian court has ordered a Church of Scientology branch in Moscow to close after a dispute over its registered US trademarks. The Moscow City Court backed calls from Russia’s Ministry of Justice to close the church after accepting the department’s argument that the church cannot call itself a religious organisation if it owns a registered trademark. The ruling came after a lower court dismissed the church’s appeal against the government’s decision to not register it as a religious organisation. Apparently the justice ministry’s position is that the church’s representatives had “many legal conflicts by restricting the religious freedom through the use of trademarks”.
“So it turns out a commercial partnership was spreading the religion, while religion can only be spread by religious organisations,” the ministry said, adding that the church should instead be regulated by consumer protection laws.
Some years ago, I reported on attempts by behalf to register relevant trademarks by of one the contenders for the title Bobover Rebbe, the Grand Hassidic Rabbi of the Bobov clan. These marks were opposed by a Bobov Hassid who is a patent attorney, who claimed that following the death of the fourth Bobover Rebbe, Naftali Zvi Halberstam, in 2005, the USPTO was not the appropriate forum to decide whether his son-in-law Rabbi Mordechai Dovid Unger was the Rebbe, or whether his brother, Rabbi Ben Zion Aryeh Leibish Halberstam was the successor to the throne.
On the other hand, where churches provide religious services or goods, and there are different standards and different doctrines, why shouldn’t they register and enforce trademarks to indicate the source of those services or goods??
In the modern industrial world, Kosher food is widely available and relies on Rabbinic supervision. Many Rabbis providing Kosher food supervision use logos that are protected as service marks. See here and here.
On Campus services to Jewish students are provided by the Hillel Foundation. Does this foundation have a right to enforce the Hillel House trademark against rogue Hillels? Can any radical immature Jewish student house any event he or she likes at a Hillel House and call it a Hillel event?
Does the Church of Scientology only provide religious services or, like most churches, it provides a feeling of community and possibly cultural activities? Should the head offices of such organizations be deprived trademark protection merely because they are primarily religions, or should they be deprived the title Church, Mosque or Synagogue merely because they have some events that require purchasing tickets or because they sell souvenirs?
After Hubbard’s death, who should decide what is true Scientology and what isn’t? Can anyone open a church and call it a Church of Scientology? Should the Russian government have a stand on this?