Kevin Conrad is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. He’s currently in Bonn at COP23, the United Nations climate conference, as part of the delegation of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In May 2017, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations Secretariat put in an application to register “REDD+” as a trademark in the USA.
In February 2017, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations Secretariat applied to register “RRU” and “REDDPLUSX”.
This is a strange story. We’ll take it in stages, starting with Kevin Conrad.
Conrad grew up in Papua New Guinea, the son of US missionaries. He managed to convince Papua New Guinea’s prime minister Michael Somare that the country could get more money from selling carbon credits if it kept its forests standing, than if it continued logging them.
In 2004, Conrad set up the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. It was more of a twosome than a coalition: Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica. In 2005, at COP11, in Montreal, the two countries presented an 11-page proposal to the UNFCCC: “Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: approaches to stimulate action”.
From 2005 to 2014, Kevin Conrad was part of the Papua New Guinea delegation to UN climate change meetings, as the country’s climate change ambassador.
Then Conrad became Panama’s special envoy for climate change and development. And now he’s joined the delegation of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Coalition for Rainforest Nations
The Coalition for Rainforest Nations has grown from two countries in 2004, to having 52 member countries today.
On its website, CfRN explains that,
The Rainforest Coalition is an Intergovernmental Organization with a Secretariat in New York City. It operates as a forum to facilitate consensus among participating countries on issues related to domestic and international frameworks for rainforest management, biodiversity conservation and climate stability.
The address given on the CfRN website is 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10017. But the Secretariat is actually registered as a non-profit corporation in Washington DC, with a branch on the 43rd floor of the New York Times building in New York.
The director of the Washington DC CfRN Secretariat is Federica Bietta. She was part of the Papua New Guinea delegation with Kevin Conrad. She’s now part of the DRC delegation. Both Conrad and Bietta have an MBA from Columbia University.
Here they are in action as part of the PNG delegation:
Conrad and Bietta are the only people who receive a salary from the Coalition for Rainforest Nations Secretariat.
According to the company’s 2015 tax exemption filing, Conrad received US$213,444 from CfRN, plus US$63,388 from related organisations. Bietta received US$154,327 from CfRN, and US$38,247 from related organisations.
The other (unpaid) directors are Cristobal Sequeira, Geoffrey Heal, Ruben Kraiem, Andrew Bishop, Mark Grundy, Thomas Negints.
Conrad is director of four other companies, which give as their address 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, suite 1401: Triple C Estates, LLC; Catalytic Fund, LLC; Conrad Estates, LLC; Italia Foodie, LLC; and Excantia Wines, Inc.
According to Mark Trademan of the the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Information Network,
A trademark is generally a word, phrase, slogan, symbol, or design, or combination thereof, that identifies the source of your goods and services and distinguishes them from the goods and services of another party. That is, a trademark lets consumers know that the goods or services come only from you and not from someone else.
It’s a brand, in other words. So, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations Secretariat is trying to register “REDD+” as its brand.
The USPTO rejected the application, for two reasons:
- “Registration is refused because the applied-for mark merely describes the subject matter of applicant’s services.”
- “Registration is refused because the applied-for mark, as used on the specimen of record, does not function as a service mark to identify and distinguish applicant’s services from those of others and to indicate the source of applicant’s services.”
(The other two applications, “RRU” and “REDDPLUSX”, were approved subject to the CfRN Secretariat submitting a “Statement of Use” within six months – a statement about how the mark has been used commercially.)
This attempt to register “REDD+” as a trademark raises a few obvious questions:
- What on earth was Kevin Conrad thinking?
- Who knew about this trademark application, before it took place?
- Did the 52 member countries of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations know that the organisation’s Secretariat was planning to register “REDD+” as a trademark?
- Did all the directors of the CfRN Secretariat know about the trademark applications?
- Did the chair of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, know about the application for trademarks? Mpanu-Mpanu is the director of the Sustainable Development Department in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development. He’s also lead negotiator of the DRC delegation to COP23.
- If the members of the Coalition did not know that the Secretariat had applied to register “REDD+”, “RRU”, and “REDDPLUSX”, where exactly did the Secretariat get its mandate from?
REDD-Monitor has asked Kevin Conrad for his response to this article, and I look forward to posting his reply when it arrives.
UPDATE – 9 November 2017: Kevin Conrad’s response is available here.