Able SC Files Trademark Infringement Lawsuit Against Office of the Treasurer

Staff Report From South Carolina CEO

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Able South Carolina (Able SC), a statewide nonprofit empowering individuals with disabilities to live self-directed lives, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the South Carolina Office of the State Treasurer for its use of the name “South Carolina Able” and “SC ABLE” in its marketing for a new savings program for individuals with disabilities.
 
The lawsuit is being filed by the nonprofit following repeated contact from consumers, stakeholders and legislators believing Able SC to be the SC ABLE savings program—a hurdle which has proven to be a source of unnecessary misunderstanding for all parties involved.
 
The nonprofit, founded in 1994 and operating under the name Able SC since 2012, challenges stereotypes, empowers disability rights, and leads social change throughout South Carolina.
 
SC ABLE, the savings program launched by the Office of the State Treasurer in 2016, allows individuals with disabilities to save and invest money without jeopardizing need-based public benefits programs such as Medicaid and supplemental security income.
 
"As an organization led by a majority of people with disabilities, Able SC fully supports this savings program. In fact, we advocated for the national and state legislation to pass,” said Able SC executive director Kimberly Tissot.
 
The lawsuit is a last resort after multiple unsuccessful attempts at negotiations for a compromise with the Office of the State Treasurer in regards to a name change.
 
“Our mission in filing this lawsuit is to protect our consumers, the individuals with whom we work daily,” said Tissot. “Our job is to empower individuals with disabilities to live self-directed lives and to teach them how to advocate for their rights. The treasurer’s decision to market the program as ‘SC ABLE’ has created widespread confusion among the people the law is designed to help. Adding this level of confusion over something as simple as a name brings an unnecessary road block on their journey to do just that."
 
The confusion between the names “Able SC” and “SC ABLE” has also led to road blocks for the nonprofit as a whole.
 
The lawsuit contends that Able SC has been forced to expend valuable time and resources attempting to clear up misconceptions—helping people with disabilities understand that Able SC has no role in overseeing the savings program, and assisting them in contacting the right people in the Office of the State Treasurer.
 
In addition, Able SC has experienced instances when legislators, mistakenly thinking that Able SC runs the savings plan, have asked them to help constituents sign up. This confusion with a state-run savings program has the potential to adversely impact Able SC’s efforts to provide services as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.
 
The lawsuit also argues that the infringement has harmed Able SC’s goodwill, reputation, fundraising activities and its ability to exclusively maintain its trademark.
 
In discussions with Able SC, the Office of the State Treasurer has insisted that the new law requires the use of the name, “South Carolina Able Savings Program,” a contention that the Able SC lawsuit rejects. Nowhere does the law establishing the savings program reference this designation.
 
Able SC’s Board Chair, Dr. David Dawson said "We have two great programs. Our goal is to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to find the information and services they need.”
 
Able SC Board of Director’s Immediate Past Chair, Stacy Thompson said, “Able SC fully supports the South Carolina Able Savings Program, but cannot continue to spend valuable time and resources on clearing up this obvious confusion caused by the Treasurer’s office.  Able SC has repeatedly attempted to resolve this matter with the Treasurer, but all efforts were rejected.  Able SC is rightfully bringing this action to protect its name, goodwill and brand equity and has every hope for a positive outcome and the sustained success of the savings program.”
 
“We are not suing for money, but to protect our name and help those we serve. As an organization, we are so thankful for the support we’ve received regarding this lawsuit,” said Tissot.  “I am optimistic that this issue will be resolved so that we can continue focusing on the important work of making great strides for individuals with disabilities together.”