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`Christian Science' not a trademark, court says

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled yesterday that ``the existing generic name `Christian Science Church' cannot be appropriated as a trademark by The Mother Church.'' The court handed down its decision in a dispute between The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston and a disaffected congregation in Plainfield, N.J.

A trial court had earlier ruled that The Mother Church had a protectable trademark interest in the term ``Christian Science'' when used in or as part of the name of the church. The lower court held that there was a likelihood of confusion or potential damage by the congregation's use of the name ``Independent Christian Science Church of Plainfield, New Jersey.''

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An appellate court, however, and now the state Supreme Court reversed this finding.

In a split decision, the majority ruled that the phrase Christian Science is ``used to refer to the name of the religion rather than the name of the Church.''

They added that ``the defendant's proposed name is sufficiently distinct from the name of the plaintiff's church to avoid a danger of confusion in the minds of the public.''

Two dissenting justices, however, argued that ```Christian Science Church' is not a generic term, but rather a descriptive term that signifies a church's affiliation with The Mother Church.''

``As such,'' the dissenting justices wrote, ``there is adequate, substantial, and credible evidence to support the trial court's finding that `Christian Science Church' is a protectable trademark.''

The court noted that Christian Science is a religion founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866. And it pointed out that local branches of The Mother Church consist of churches formally designated ``First [or Second, Third, etc.] Church of Christ, Scientist,'' followed by a geographical designation. This manner of designating branch churches is prescribed by the Church Manual and provided for by New Jersey law.