Small veterans’ charity sued for “unfair competition” by Wounded Warrior Project

Posted at 6:51 PM, Apr 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-30 10:25:18-04

The founder of a small Pennsylvania charity helping wounded warriors in that state says the group has spent more than $72,000 defending a lawsuit from the Wounded Warrior Project over their similar logos.

"We're out of pocket a lot of money and I am sure they are out of pocket a lot of money," said Paul Spurgin, the director of Keystone Wounded Warriors and a Marine who served two combat tours in Vietnam.

Keystone LogoThe issue is the similarity of the charities' logos. The famous Wounded Warrior Project logo shows a silhouette of one soldier carrying another on his back.

The Keystone Wounded Warriors logo is also a silhouette of soldiers, but shows one dragging another across the ground. In a federal lawsuit, the Wounded Warrior Project declared it "has suffered irreparable damage to its business, goodwill, reputation and profits" because of the Pennsylvania charity's logo.

The Wounded Warrior Project said the Pennsylvania charity's trademark would likely "confuse" donors. In the most recent tax records available, the Wounded Warrior Project listed an income of $234,682,943. The Keystone Wounded Warriors income was $211,141, which is less than the salary of Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steve Nardizzi.

Nardizzi told NewsChannel 3 most charities change their logos or names when asked. He said he vigorously guards the trademark because it is among the charity's most valuable assets.

"Our logo is pretty sacred to us. It represents everything we believe in as an organization," he said.

Spurgin said his charity once partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project and raised money for it. Later, he and others decided to start a charity for Pennsylvania veterans. He said a high-school student designed the logo, and the Keystone Wounded Warriors were granted a trademark.

Court papers show the Wounded Warrior Project objected and later sued. Spurgin says he and his colleagues decided to defend their trademark.

"As veterans, and especially as a Marine, we don't turn and run," he said.

He said what is the most unfortunate is that both charities have spent money in court that could have been better used helping veterans.

"If we fight, the warrior suffers," he said. "And our philosophy is, it's not about us. It's about the people we serve. It's about them."

Nardizzi said protecting the trademark is so important that it has, in this case, meant suing another charity that also provides services to wounded warriors.

"We need to be protective when folks design logos, use names, and act in a way that might confuse the public, that might lead them to believe (another charity) is the Wounded Warrior Project when they are not," Nardizzi said.

Spurgin told NewsChannel 3 last week that the two sides had come to an agreement. He said all they were waiting for were signatures from the Wounded Warrior Project lawyers. In an email Wednesday to NewsChannel 3, a Wounded Warrior Project spokeswoman denied that and added that there might be consequences for Keystone Wounded Warriors because Spurgin spoke publicly.

"Most recently, we met and thought we had come to a mutual agreement," wrote Ayla Hay, an executive vice president. "However, in light of Mr. Spurgin's decision to go on television and speak about us, we now question his desire to resolve the issue."

When asked if Spurgin's participation in our story would affect the lawsuit's resolution, Hay responded: "Mr. Spurgin's current behavior and false statements indicate he is acting in bad faith as he has done since he ceased fundraising for WWP. We will certainly need to consider Mr. Spurgin's motives as we contemplate settlement."