A New Zealand High Court found in favor of Robert Sintes for his use “family search”. Sintes of Auckland, is the owner of familytracing.co.nz which specializes in locating the living lost. The LDS Church owned Intellectual Reserve, Inc. (IRI), objected to his use of the phrase “family search” on his website. IRI, owns the LDS Church’s intellectual property, including copyrights and trademarks. IRI, was seeking to avoid confusion by both groups using the same phrase on their websites.
Those of you familiar with the history of the Mormon Church know that it has a few breakaway groups, the largest of which is known as the Community of Christ. However, until 2001 it was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or RLDS Church, since that title is more than a mouthful. Despite the name change, the Community of Christ maintains the trademark to the RLDS name.
The recent history of the Community of Christ has been one of sweeping policy and doctrinal changes, which have resulted in quite a few breakaway congregations over the years. One recent offshoot is the Devon Park Restoration Branch, which was apparently using the RLDS name and old logo on its signs, stationary, website, etc. The Community of Christ didn’t like this, of course, and sued in federal court for trademark infringement. COC alleged that the Devon Park church violated the copyright (which the COC still maintains) and that the use had a substantial likelihood of confusion.
The federal judge agreed, granting a preliminary injunction. Missouri District Court Judge Gary Fenner wrote that the confusion was particularly great since the Devon Park congregation was located so close to the COC headquarters in Independence, Missouri.
The Community of Christ can fully appreciate the importance of a name. Years ago, before the recent doctrinal changes and attempts to distance itself from the original Mormon Church, the then-RLDS Church offered to deed the Kirtland Temple over to the LDS Church in exchange for the rights to the name “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” One person familiar with the offer explained that the LDS Church declined the offer. The logic was that a piece of property can always be acquired later through various means, but losing a name is permanent.