The Military Order of the Purple Heart’s fundraising organization is suing Detroit nonprofit Others First Inc. for using its trademarked phrase “Purple Heart” to promote an unaffiliated car donation program.

Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation Inc. filed the case on May 16 in the District of Maryland. The foundation, whose members are Purple Heart medal recipients, raises money for charitable programs. It funds programs that benefit veterans and their dependents and unrelated charities, and it registered the “Purple Heart” mark for charitable fundraising services, which include a car donation program.

The foundation claims Others First is illegally using its trademark to advertise a car donation program. Others First operates the CarsHelpingVeterans.org Web site to seek car donations that it states benefits veterans.

The foundation’s legal claims in the case, Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation Inc. v. Others First Inc., include trademark infringement, unfair competition/deceptive trade practices under the Lanham Act and common law unfair competition.

In addition, the complaint cites an August 2011 Better Business Bureau report urging potential donors to exercise caution because Others First has ties to a man who ran similar programs with alleged improprieties. The complaint states that, although Others First claims to be a charitable organization, “the legitimacy of that claim has been questioned and remains in doubt.”

The foundation’s lawyer, Richard Kovelant of Kovelant & Kovelant in Annapolis, Md., declined to comment at this early stage of the case. Lawyers at Quarles & Brady of Milwaukee, who also represent the foundation, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Others First, which does not yet have an attorney in the case, did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s important for not-for-profits to protect their trademarks because any organization “has trust and goodwill, that if tarnished, can harm its ability to execute its mission,” said Marty Schwimmer, a partner at Leason Ellis in White Plains, N.Y., who isn’t involved in the case.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.