30 Jan 2017 - by A4ID

Protection of Médecins Sans Frontières Trademarks

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) works in over sixty countries around the world, providing emergency medical aid to people affected by crises.

MSF own over 600 trademarks in over 100 territories, and consider it of vital importance to safeguard clear identification while in the field.

Indeed, the mission of Médecins Sans Frontières is to provide assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict, irrespective of race, religion, creed or political conviction. These values of neutral humanitarian intervention are what are represented in MSF’s identification and trademarks.

Clear identification

Around the world, and particularly in areas where MSF conducts operations, MSF’s identification and trademarks are crucial in facilitating our operations and to allow for the provision of, and access to, neutral humanitarian aid. It is therefore essential that MSF ensures that none of its trademarks are being misused or used without authorisation, and to eliminate any risk of confusion between organisations/other groups with the same or similar names.

In 2014, MSF was informed of a non-humanitarian organisation with a name that infringed upon their trademarks in South Africa. They began a protracted attempt to resolve the matter out of court, but decided in early 2016 to contact A4ID, requesting legal support in their planned litigation against the infringing organisation.

Norton Rose Fulbright

A4ID then contacted Norton Rose Fulbright, a top global law firm, who, through Norton Rose Fulbright’s South African office, agreed to assist MSF with the matter on a pro bono basis. Whilst Norton Rose Fulbright was prepared to litigate if necessary, they recommended attempting to resolve the matter amicably and continuing with the out-of-court process.

Norton Rose Fulbright utilised a more direct approach with the organisation, succeeding in settling the trademark dispute out of court, avoiding the delays and expenses that a court case would bring. The organisation agreed to change its name, website and resolve any other trademark infringing issues.

MSF commended Norton Rose Fulbright as “very efficient” and “always available” to answer any queries. The specialist trademark lawyers of Norton Rose Fulbright’s South African office ensured the optimum outcome, while also assisting MSF in dealing with a journalist’s enquiries regarding the case.


MSF was saved a long and expensive court case that may have pressured their finances, reducing their ability to provide humanitarian assistance across the world. The danger of confusion between humanitarian and non-humanitarian actors was also averted, allowing our partner to continue their work in confidence.