The future of Red Nose Day could be at risk as an Australian charity takes legal action to revoke the trademark in New Zealand.
Cure Kids, which uses the red noses to raise money for research into child illnesses, has been told it can't use them any more because the trademark belongs to the National Sids Council of Australia, a sudden infant death syndrome charity.
Cure Kids chief executive Vicki Lee insists the trademark is safe and has called the intellectual property move "an underarm bowl".
The Kiwi charity ran red nose days from 1989 to 1997, before reviving them in 2010. Its Red Nose Day Comedy For Cure Kids event in August - which featured Flight of the Conchords song Feel Inside (And Stuff Like That) - raised $1.3 million for its research.
It is the 13-year break in the red nose tradition that appears to be at the heart of the trademark dispute.
"We were looking to bring it back," Lee said. "So I called up Australia and said, how about we buy some of your [red nose] stock off you . . . There's been exchanges in years gone by with stock and other things.
"They went quiet and then the next thing I know our trademark people [called].
"We are so disappointed," she said of the legal threat. "It's frustrating. I'm puzzled by it - we both have successfully run red nose days for years with no trouble.
"Red Nose Day can run in any country in the world, and we own the trademark in New Zealand."
The case has been before the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand since June 29, 2010, when the Sids council first took legal action, filing five applications for trademark revocation.
"They want us to assign our trademark to them, for them to then assign it back to us. I just think it's Australian Big Brother mentality."
Sids council chief executive Leanne Raven said she wanted to align the two charities more closely.
"It's about protection of a very strong brand. That's where we are coming from. We've built it over 25 years."
She said the concern was that the two charities would be confused - even though red nose days are run in several countries. The Australian and Kiwi versions ran two months apart this year.
"People need to be clear what they are donating finds to," Raven said. "It's about transparency. If Cure Kids could work with us . . . then there's no issue.
"We are not interested in stopping Red Nose Day. [But] we will be proceeding for revocation and we expect to be successful in those proceedings. We believe we have an excellent case."
But Lee is equally adamant. "There's no risk at all, we own it. It's ours. Full stop."
Fundraising Institute of New Zealand chief executive James Austin said he had never heard of two charities fighting over a brand.
"Branding is as critical for charities as it is for businesses. It's very important that you protect your brand because it's marketable," he said.
- The Dominion Post