Will the Real “Best 50” Corporate Citizens List Please Stand Up!

Was it malicious encroachment on intellectual property, or lack of imagination?

From MastheadOnline: Corporate Knights challenges Maclean’s on coporate citizen list

For eight years, Corporate Knights magazine has published a list of the “Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada” and this year’s edition is scheduled for distribution to 95,000 subscribers through the Globe and Mail on June 22. The current issue of Maclean’s, dated June 22, also features a story on “Canada’s 50 best corporate citizens.” Yesterday morning, Toby Heaps, editor-in-chief of Corporate Knights, issued a press release arguing that the Maclean’s feature encroaches on his magazine’s trademark….

A lawsuit is even underway, or at least being threatened.

I’ll let the lawyers squabble over intellectual property law, and whether a phrase like “50 best corporate citizens” can be a legally-protected trademark or not. But an argument could be made that muscling in on KN’s well-established terminology is at least ethically dodgy. Couldn’t Macleans have used a different, equivalent title? I mean, surely there are other ways of expressing the same idea. More on this below.

Now, as it happens, the online version of Macleans’s list doesn’t seem mention citizenship at all, but is instead called Jantzi-Macleans 50 Most Socially Responsible Corporations. It seems, for whatever reason, that Maclean’s editors have had a change of heart.

(The latest Corporate Knights list is due out in a few days. Here’s the link to their methodology, etc.)

Of course, just what either list has to do specifically with citizenship — as opposed to merely being good — is still quite unclear, a fact that’s only emphasized by the fact that Macleans has so easily changed the title of the online version of its report. Oh, heck…”social responsibility,” “citizenship”… what’s the difference? Good question.

5 comments so far

  1. Kevin Goodman on

    I am hardpressed to believe that a description should or can be given ‘ownership’

  2. calmitdan on

    Social responsibility is a set of behaviors / actions that an entity, such as a business, “owes” the communities it affects.

    Citizenship is being a conscientious member of a community. I would argue that a business cannot be a citizen, but it can have policies that are congruent with its employees’ citizenship.

  3. DarryleHuffman on

    Yes a catch phrase can be copywrited in America. They esentially do become a trademark of the company.

    Does business have the obligation to be socaily responsible no they do not. They are there to make profit. Thats thier formost goal. Now Socially responsibility is PR’s way to make the company appear good. Would I be correct in saying it is like an Enlightened Egoist approach.They want to appear they are doing something to help you but in reality it is just for them another avenue to make profit for thge company.

  4. Kevin Goodman on

    You can’t just trademark any phrase and descriptions and I would actually hope that the court fails to see this phrase as being ‘distinctive’ enough to own.

    “Corporate Knights” is a trademark but “50 best corporate citizens” – what is distinct about that? The 50? The use of the term “Corporate Citizen?

    I don’t see any ethical infringement.

  5. DarryleHuffman on

    It can if everytime you think of a product catch phrase and you automatically think of them.


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