Blue Cross / Blue Shield Says Study Pointing Out Failures Of Its Doctors... Violates Its Trademark

from the that's-not-how-tardemark-works dept

Don't mean to sound like a broken record, but the purpose of trademark is consumer protection from confusion. The idea is that someone shouldn't be able to sell you "Bob's Cola," while labeling it "Coca Cola," because that's a form of fraud on consumers. Tragically, over the last few decades, lawyers have been able to reposition trademark law not as a "consumer protection" law, but as "intellectual property." This leads trademark holders to increasingly pretend that trademark law grants them additional rights and abilities and to use trademark law in ways that simply are not granted under the law.

For example, the Massachusetts Blue Cross/Blue Shield apparently thinks that you can't publish a study criticizing its doctors without permission thanks to trademark law. The company's VP of Communications contacted the authors of the study (which pointed out that BCBS doctors didn't always respond well to patients needing psychiatric care), telling them:
“We are VERY concerned about the use of BCBSMA’s name and brand in a published study without BCBSMA authorization. We’d like to talk with you about that.”
You may be concerned, but shouldn't you be a bit more concerned about the results of the study that call into question the practices of your doctors? Because the use of the name is perfectly legal and in no way touches on trademark law. No moron in a hurry is going to have a "likelihood of confusion" here, thinking that this study was somehow a product of BCBSMA. And, of course, in trying to intimidate the study's authors, all BCBSMA has done is... draw a lot more attention to the study and the reported failings of the organization.

Filed Under: doctors, study, trademark
Companies: blue cross blue shield

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  1. icon
    John William Nelson (profile), 27 Jul 2011 @ 1:18pm

    Re: "Coca-Cola" is a registered trademark of the "COCA-COLA COMPANY",

    A physical good can not be trademarked. Physical objects can, but that is different. For example, packaging can be trademarked. A Coca-Cola bottle design is indeed trademarked because it operates as a source identifier for the good being sold—with Coke, it would be the soda.

    On top of that, trademark protects against the use in commerce of the mark by another. Referring to Blue Cross doctors in a study is not using the term in commerce. This is so even if the study is being sold.

    The reason is that the 'use in commerce' requirement is a use wherein the trademark is being used to identify a good or service being offered for sale. In the study example provided here, Blue Cross is not being used to identify a good or service being offered for sale, but rather it is being used to identify doctors that are part of the Blue Cross network.

    I've touched on various aspects of trademark law on my blog through various posts in the Trademark tag here:

    Or the Trademark category here:

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