- Open Access
Swiss flag or Red Cross emblem: why the confusion?
© Stahel; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013
- Received: 4 May 2013
- Accepted: 4 May 2013
- Published: 7 May 2013
The Red Cross
Where does the confusion originate?
From an international copyright law perspective, emblems of pure geometrical design, such as the Swiss flag or Red Cross, are not legally protected [8, 9]. Only works defined as “creative art“ can be copyrighted, and an artwork must be sufficiently original to be eligible for copyright [8, 9]. Common geometric forms are precluded from this definition. The appropriate use of national emblems (and its restrictions) is defined by official governmental orders and national laws. The same applies to the official authorization for the use of the symbol of the Red Cross, which is restricted by ICRC regulations, and by national Red Cross organizations and their respective local chapters and branches. Clearly, in light of its underlying humanitarian significance, the Red Cross emblem must be protected within specified limits from unauthorized use or misuse, whether by deliberate intention or inadvertent occurrence. Interestingly, a lawsuit over the use of the Red Cross symbol achieved recent international recognition, when the global pharmaceutical and medical device company Johnson&Johnson sued the American Red Cross over its use of the Red Cross trademark on commercial products [10, 11]. This claim, which was settled after a longstanding dispute in 2008, supports the notion that legal copyright protection is unlikely affecting the appropriate humanitarian use of the Red Cross symbol, either in- or outside of the United States.
In summary, the initial question on the underlying root cause of the widespread confusion is best addressed by a classic quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes : “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” After eliminating legal ramifications as a potential deterrent from appropriate use of the Red Cross symbol, the remaining explanation is simple unawareness about the formal distinction from the Swiss national flag. Until formal clarification, we will continue to encounter emergency departments masked as Swiss embassy satellite offices (Figure 2), and ski patrollers disguised as Swiss citizens in the Rocky Mountains (Figure 1).
For feedback and further insight on the controversial topic discussed in this editorial, we encourage our readers to post a free comment through the article‘s weblink: http://www.pssjournal.com/content/7/1/13> Tools > Post a comment.
I am indebted to Drs. Jeffrey Johnson and Cyril Mauffrey for fruitful discussions and constructive debate on the topic discussed in this editorial.
- University of Colorado Hospital: http://www.uch.edu (last accessed May 1, 2013)
- Complete Flags of the World. 2008, London/New York: DK Publishing, 5Google Scholar
- Wilson J: History of Switzerland. 2002, New York, NY: Elibron ClassicsGoogle Scholar
- Federal Consitution of the Swiss Confederation, September 12, 1848. 1867, C.J. Wyss, Berne, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
- Dunant H: A Memory of Solferino. 1986, Geneva, Switzerland: ICRCGoogle Scholar
- Boissier P: From Solferino to Tsushima - History of the International Committee of the Red Cross. 1985, Geneva, Switzerland: Henry Dunant InstituteGoogle Scholar
- Turk M: Blood, Sweat and Tears: An Oral History of the American Red Cross. 2006, Jackson, TN: Perseus DistributionGoogle Scholar
- Goldstein P: International Copyright: Principles, Law, and Practice. 2001, Oxford, UK: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
- Griffin J, Jin Y, Nair A: Key Facts: Intellectual Property. 2013, London/New York: RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
- Saul S: Johnson & Johnson sues Red Cross over symbol. New York Times, August 9, 2007Google Scholar
- Slater D: American Red Cross defeats Johnson & Johnson in trademark spat. Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2008Google Scholar
- Conan Doyle A: The Sign of the Four. 1890, Philadelphia, PA: LippincottGoogle Scholar
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.