Three weeks ago, the Friday Footnote focused on the confusion of whether or not the Eagle was a part of the FFA emblem. The resolution to the confusion was an affirmation that indeed, the eagle was officially a part of the FFA emblem.
Then, two weeks ago we learned that to get a trademark on the FFA emblem, the eagle had to be removed because it looked too much like the eagle on the Seal of the United States. So, for trademark purposes, the eagle was removed from the FFA emblem.
It was believed that obtaining a trademark on the emblem (even with the eagle missing) would prevent commercial misuse of the emblem. Even though the trademark was for the emblem without the eagle, the FFA still used the emblem with the eagle on it.
In 1950 (August 30) the FFA received a federal charter (Public Law 81-740). One of the reasons for pursuing and obtaining a federal charter was the belief that this would protect the FFA emblem from unauthorized use now and forever. However, the wording of Section 16 of PL 81-740 basically had the opposite effect. It reads:
The corporation, and its duly authorized chapters and associations of chapters, shall have the sole and exclusive right to use the name of Future Farmers of America and the initials FFA as representing an agricultural membership organization and such seals, emblems, and badges as the corporation may lawfully adopt. (bold mine)
So, who has control over the emblem? It did not take the national organization long to realize there could be a problem with the wording of Section 16 of PL 81-740.
In this Friday Footnote, we will look at concerns the national FFA organization had concerning the Chapter Supply Company of Danville, Illinois regarding trademark infringement. I have struggled with how best to tell the story and have decided a breakdown by years would be the best approach. This Footnote is Part I of a three-part series.
Prior to the establishment of the Future Farmer Supply Service, the national FFA authorized various companies to produce FFA supplies and merchandise. Minutes of the FFA Board of Trustees during this era reveal that considerable time was spent reviewing proposals from various companies. The Facts for Future Farmers published for use in Arizona in October of 1945 identified 13 different companies who sold FFA products (p. 39). One of the companies listed is the Chapter Supply Company of Danville, Illinois. Tenney, in The FFA at 50, indicates there were 16 companies at one time providing FFA supplies and merchandise.
The Chapter Supply Company of Danville, Illinois had a written contract with the national FFA to sell FFA merchandise (including FFA jackets) directly to FFA members and chapters. The contract covered January 1, 1945 to January 1, 1948. Royalties were to be paid to the FFA.
In 1945 the FFA received $142.61 in royalties from the Chapter Supply Company.
The FFA Board of Trustees at their July 18 meeting discussed the need for a FFA Supply Service and recommended that one be established. This would prevent FFA advisors from having to work with 13-16 suppliers to obtain FFA merchandise.
The FFA received $218.51 in royalties from the Chapter Supply Company.
Delegates at the National FFA Convention voted to establish a FFA Supply Service. The FFA agreed to loan the FFA Supply Service $10,000 to get it started (the loan was repaid in 1949).
The financial report for the year showed the Chapter Supply Company had paid the FFA $118.76 in royalties.
The FFA Supply Service started operating in February. Of course, the FFA Supply Service had to purchase merchandise to sell. The Chapter Supply Company sold FFA t-shirts through the FFA Supply Service.
The FFA received $2,709.79 in royalties from the Chapter Supply Company.
The FFA received $387.26 in royalties from the Chapter Supply Company
Curator’s Side Note: The 1949 Advisors Handbook for the Future Homemakers of America lists the Chapter Supply Company of Danville, Illinois as suppliers of “sweaters, scarfs, aprons, beanies, mittens, secretary books. scrapbooks, pennants.” The Chapter Supply Company had numerous other clients other than the FFA.
Figure 1. An excerpt from the Future Homemakers Advisors Handbook.. Balfour also made the FFA pins and jewelry
President Truman signed PL 81-740 into law on August 30 giving the FFA a federal charter. Please note the wording of Section 16 in the introduction.
The FFA received $361.94 in royalties from the Chapter Supply Company.
The FFA received $188.18 in royalties from the Chapter Supply Company.
In 1951 the Chapter Supply Company made a “deal” with the Texas FFA Association to sell FFA jackets, t-shirts, and other merchandise to Texas FFA members and chapters. A 10% royalty was to be paid to the Texas FFA on all sales. In return, the Texas Association published free advertisements for the Chapter Supply Company in the Texas Future Farmer magazine. The May issue had an ad from the Chapter Supply Company that stated, “We have just secured permission from your state FFA association to sell Corduroy Jackets and other items of clothing with your state name, chapter name and emblem imprinted.”
At the FFA Board of Directors Meeting in June (Minutes, p. 1):
A discussion was held concerning an advertisement which appeared in the recent issue of the Texas Future Farmer. The advertisement was from the Chapter Supply Company and featured FFA jackets bearing the official FFA emblem. It was moved by Mr. Johnson that Dr. W. T. Spanton send a letter to the Chapter Supply company asking them to cease and desist in advertising and selling items bearing the official emblem of the Future Farmers of America the letters, “FFA,” and the words, “Future Farmers of America”; motion seconded by Mr. Naugher and carried.
The National FFA Board of Directors met again on July 26 and 27. Considerable time was spent discussing the “unauthorized” manufacturing of merchandise carrying the FFA emblem. The following excerpt from the meeting underscores the situation (Minutes, p. 1-2):
The problems involved in connection with the manufacture and sale of official FFA merchandise were discussed. It was explained that a number of companies were selling merchandise bearing the official emblem of the Future Farmers of America, the letters “FFA” and/or the words “Future Farmers of America”, without authorization by the national organization. It was moved by Mr. Humphrey that the manufacture and/or sale of all FFA merchandise bearing the emblem of the Future Farmers of America, the letters “FFA” and/or the words “Future Farmers of America”, be restricted to those manufacturers and dealers that have authorization from the Board of Directors to manufacture and/or sell such supplies; motion seconded by Mr. Downes and carried.
A little later during the July 26 meeting of the Directors, we find this (Minutes, p. 2):
A jacket being sold by the Chapter Supply Company of Danville, Illinois was exhibited and discussed. Since the jacket has the emblem of the Future Farmers of America on it and it is being sold without authorization by the Board of Directors, it was agreed this was a direct violation of the regulations [passed just a few minutes earlier] governing the manufacture and sale of official FFA merchandise. It was moved by Mr. Humphrey that the Chairman of the Board of Directors be authorized to write the Chapter Supply Company and demand that the company cease and desist selling jackets and other items bearing the Future Farmers of America emblem, the letters “FFA” and/or the words “Future Farmers of America”; or appropriate legal action will be taken; motion seconded by Mr. Hansucker and carried unanimously.
A letter was sent to the Chapter Supply Company demanding they “cease and desist” from infringing on the trademarked emblem on July 26.
The FFA Board of Directors met on October 6 preceding the National FFA convention. The following action was taken (Minutes, p. 3):
It was moved by Mr. Fatherree, seconded by Mr. Humphrey, and carried, that steps be taken by the Board of Directors of the Future Farmers of America to bring suit in the courts, if necessary against any company, or concern, or individual that is manufacturing and/or selling FFA :supplies bearing the emblem of the FFA, the letters, “FFA”, or the words, “Future Farmers of America” without authorization of the National Board of Directors of the Future Farmers of America.
At the October 11 morning session of the National FFA Convention (p. 21) “It was moved by Pfefferkorn of Maryland that the Board of Directors and Board of Student Officers take any steps necessary to protect the official FFA emblem and the letters “FFA”; motion seconded by Maxwell of Montana and carried.
After the FFA convention (on November 14) another “cease and desist” letter was sent to the Chapter Supply Company. A letter was then sent to a Texas FFA official on November 20 from W. T. Spanton, National FFA Advisor. The letter said in part “It is unfortunate that you have misconceived the extent of the rights and powers of State associations in this connection.”
The Texas FFA Association and the Chapter Supply Company were not deterred by the actions taken by the National FFA. The editor of the Texas Future Farmer magazine wrote several letters to Robert Romack, the owner of the Chapter Supply Company during 1952, that showed the eagerness of the Texas FFA Association to continue their relationship with the Chapter Supply Company. The Texas association continued to receive royalty checks as late as November and deposited the money in the association’s treasury.
The National FFA received no royalties from the Chapter Supply Company during 1952.
The phrase “fish or cut bait” could be applied to the FFA Board of Trustees July 23-29 meeting. Mr. Humphrey (State Supervisor, Missouri) stated (Minutes, p. 14) “…it is time for a showdown—time to find out where we stand.” It appears the Board shared this sentiment. The Board decided to act! The time for talking was over (Minutes, p. 14):
Dr. Spanton said that at the October 1951 meeting of the Board of Directors and the Board of Student Officers there was a motion passed that steps be taken to bring suit against companies using the FFA emblem or manufacturing articles without authorization of the Board of Directors. Steps have been taken. The firm of Davies, Richberg, Tydings, Beebe and Landa was selected to prosecute the case, because they specialize in unfair trade practices and trademarks. Dr. Spanton read a letter from the law firm in which they expressed a willingness to take the case. Dr. Spanton also read a letter which he proposed to send to the law firm authorizing them to prosecute the case against the Chapter Supply Company and asked for the wishes of the Board before the letter is sent.
It was moved by Mr. Johnson, seconded by Mr. Naugher and carried that the letter to the law firm prepared by Dr. Spanton be approved.
What did the letter say?
July 29, 1952
Mr. James T. Welch
Davies, Richberg, Tydings, Beebe & Landa
1000 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington 5, D.C.
Dear Mr. Welch:
I have read your letter of July 21 which outlines the terms and conditions which you and your law firm indicate are agreeable to you for prosecuting the case against the Chapter Supply Company, of Danville, Illinois. These conditions appear to be reasonable, and, in accordance with instructions I have received from the Board of Directors of the Future Farmers of America, I am therefore authorizing your law firm to proceed immediately in taking such action as is necessary against this particular company. It is my further understanding that before final settlement of the case is made with the Chapter Supply Company, your law firm will exert every effort to secure from them financial restitution sufficient to cover court costs, attorneys’ fees, etc., if at all possible to do so. We are, therefore, requesting you to proceed with the case at your earliest opportunity.
Very sincerely yours,
W.T. Spanton, Chief
Agricultural Education Branch
At the October meeting of the Board of Directors, A. W. Tenney gave a detailed report regarding the status of the lawsuit. The minutes of the meeting did not contain the details.
In the words of Sherlock Holmes – The game is afoot. In next week’s Friday Footnote we will learn what happened. Did the FFA actually sue the Chapter Supply Company? If so, who won? What did the court(s) decide? Was the wording of Section 16 of Public Law 81-740 a factor in the case? Stay tuned.
Cline, R. W. & Cullison, J. R. (1945). Facts for Future Farmers. The University of Arizona. http://uair.library.arizona.edu/system/files/usain/download/azu_s533_f8_c55x_w.pdf