This is part of a continuing series on health trademark compliance and training. This installment reviews trademark basics and clearance considerations.
Many healthcare systems and providers still lack a basic understanding of how health trademarks are cleared, approved, and registered. The root cause if often the failure of employee education and compliance training. When health providers fail to properly clear the use or registration of a trademark before commencing such use, the risk to the organization almost always increases. Here are some important things to remember.
Trademark Definitions. A trademark is any word or symbol used to distinguish the goods or services of one party from those of another party. A “service mark” is a trademark that is used exclusively in connection with services. For example, CVS HEALTH may be a service mark for health and wellness education and a trademark for contact lens solution. Examples of trademarks that are eligible for protection include:
- Word marks. Word marks (without any logo or design element) often provide the broadest trademark protection. This is because word marks can be used together with various logo or font variations at the brand owner’s discretion. Examples include Anthem, Cleveland Clinic, Cardinal Health, and Johnson & Johnson. When launching a new health product or service, it is often advisable to seek registration of the word mark alone in addition the word mark and combined design logo.
- Logos. Design marks are commonly referred to as logos. These can be registered either alone (without any words) or in combination with the brand name to which it is associated. Trademarks that incorporate logos can either be filed in black and white or in color. Of the two, black and white affords the broadest trademark protection.
- Slogans. Taglines and slogans are considered to be trademarks. Like other forms of trademarks, taglines and slogans may be registered so long as they are not merely descriptive, generic, or cannot function as a trademark.
Trademark Search Advisory. Prior to adopting a trademark for any goods, services, or marketing campaign, it is advisable to conduct a full search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records and common law listings to determine the availability of the trademark for registration and use. Once the trademark search is performed, it should be reviewed by a qualified health trademark attorney. The attorney should provide a written opinion as to whether the proposed trademark is available for use and registration. If the search results indicate a potential likelihood of confusion with a third-party trademark, then alternatives should be suggested on how to best mitigate any additional risks.