Who is a Mormon? This is a fundamental question of self-identity, religion, and even Wikipedia. One would think, however, that that answer would not be found in trademark law.
Intellectual Reserve, Inc. (IRI), which owns and manages the trademarks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has made a series of trademark claims against small startups and organizations using the term “Mormon” in their names and URLs, including our client, the Mormon Mental Health Association (MMHA).
We first heard of IRI making claims to own the word “Mormon” when they got into a legal dispute with a company called “Mormon Match.” IRI claimed that both the company name and the associated URL infringed on IRI’s trademarks in the terms “Mormon” and “Mormon.org” (among others).
Although that case later settled, IRI continued to pressure others to change their names and URLs if they contained the word “Mormon.” This time, they have targeted the MMHA, a registered 501(c)(3), professional association for mental health providers, clinicians, educators and advocates who are interested in or are working with members of the LDS Church, as well as members of any church tracing back to the restoration movement of Joseph Smith. As it makes clear on its website, it is not affiliated with the LDS Church.
As we recently explained to IRI, MMHA uses the term “Mormon” to accurately refer to the community it serves, which includes both those officially affiliated with the LDS Church and those that aren’t. It’s not surprising that people use the term “Mormon” in a broader sense. There is no other term that so accurately and precisely describes those who follow what they see as the teachings of the Book of Mormon (whether through the LDS church or otherwise), or who are members of the broader community.
As the Supreme Court has said, trademark law should not be used to "deprive commercial speakers of the ordinary utility of descriptive words." We’re disappointed that IRI is seeking to prevent MMHA and others from self-identifying as Mormon in the name of “consumer confusion” that does not exist.
Trademark law does not give one company the right to control language. IRI should immediately cease this trademark campaign that results in community tensions that need not exist.