Trademark protection is essential for physical therapists and their practices. By effectively securing trademark rights, including a federal trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, physical therapists protect one of their most valuable assets – their brand.
Protect Your Trademark Rights
Work with an experienced attorney to protect one of your company’s most valuable assets.
Gerben IP has helped clients register over 6,500 trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and offers flat-rate trademark registration services for physical therapists and their practices. We are always happy to provide a complimentary consultation.
If you are a physical therapy professional, then you know how difficult it can be running your practice while still providing top-of-the-line services for your clients. It could be that your “brand” is the last thing on your mind. However, the key to long-term success is effective business planning and that includes recognizing and protecting your intellectual property, including your trademarks. Whether you are an established office or are just striking out on your own, every physical therapy professional should consider their “brand” and work towards protecting their trademarks.
Physical therapy services are one of the fastest-growing parts of the healthcare industry. Whether patients are getting back on their feet from a major injury or engaging in preventative care, physical therapy is usually a part of their outpatient rehabilitation plan. And there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to finding a provider. According to Harris Williams LLC, an investment banking company, no single participant has more than 5% of the market share. In addition, there are over 5,000 “live” trademark filings with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the government agency responsible for registering trademarks for “physical therapy” related services. Therefore, it is essential to recognize your intellectual property assets and protect your name, business, and any logos or slogans.
Can I own a trademark in the name and logo I use with my physical therapy services?
- Can I protect a name or logo under trademark law?
- Can I protect a slogan?
The name and logo you use to identify your physical therapy services, whether you are a free-lance therapist or own a large practice, can be usually protected under trademark law. For example, the large therapy company ATI owns at least eleven physical therapy-related trademark filings with the USPTO, including ATI PHYSICAL THERAPY (3 registered trademarks) and ATI HOME HEALTH.
You can protect not only your name and logo, but also the distinctive names of any sub-programs you have and potentially catchy slogans that you use for your services. However, before you can protect a trademark, you must consider a few things:
- Does your trademark merely describe your services?
- Is someone else using a similar word or phrase?
If yes, then you will not be able to monopolize words that others should be allowed to use to describe their product. For example, Physical Therapy Associates is unlikely to be protectable, because it could identify any physical therapy practice, not just yours. However, if you uses Physical Therapy Associates in a distinctive logo with a design, then you may be able to stop others from using a similar logo.
Once you have identified your trademarks (or have come up with new brands) you should have a trademark attorney perform a comprehensive search and analysis to see if anyone else is already using a similar trademark for similar goods. The analysis will also include a determination on whether your mark is “descriptive” or “generic” and advice on how to proceed based on your specific results.
Once you have identified (or created) your trademarks, you should consider registering them with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. There are many, many benefits to trademark registration, but one of the biggest is that it puts competitors on notice that you are the owner of this trademark, and that they should use a similar name or design at their own peril.
Can someone stop me from using my name and logo? What’s the worst that could happen?
Has there been trademark disputes in the physical training industry in the past?
Trademark rights are valuable and you should not use a name or logo without checking to see if someone else is using something that is “confusingly similar.” A comprehensive search will help with this, but if you are using a trademark that is confusingly similar to one already used by a competitor in the marketplace, then they could stop you from using the trademark and seek damages for any damage you caused to their brand.
This isn’t merely hypothetical. In Pro Fitness Physical Therapy Center v. Pro-Fit Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, P.C., Pro Fitness claimed that Pro-Fit had infringed on their trademark of their business since they both operated inside the boroughs of New York City. After an exhaustive legal battle that involved several court opinions (and likely tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees) the two practices appear to have settled the matter out of court.
In another case, physical training practice Athletico Management, LLC filed to prevent Pristine Health LLC from registering the mark ATHLETICORE SPORTS PERFORMANCE & PHYSICAL THERAPY with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Athletico has 15 live trademarks on file, 11 of which have the word ‘Athletico’ in it. Ultimately, it appears Pristine Health agreed to abandon their mark, and Athletico then withdrew their opposition.
Even in the best-case scenario, a legal proceeding is expensive and time-consuming. By having an experienced trademark attorney perform a comprehensive search and analysis, you will have a better idea of your risk level and could avoid a serious issue with your brand in the future.
Other Trademark Considerations – When can I use other’s trademarks?
- When can I use other companies’ trademarks?
- Should I get their permission?
In addition to your trademarks, consider how you use the trademarks that belong to other companies as well. In general, physical therapists should not use other companies’ (or individual’s) trademarks or names in ways that would imply a connection or affiliation, or would cause confusion in general. As a best practice, before using a trademark that you do not own, contact a trademark attorney and/or seek permission from the trademark owner (and get that approval in writing.)
For example, a therapist may pay a licensing fee to a company to be “the Official Therapist” of the company, or other promotional agreement. One notable example was an agreement was between the Brooklyn Nets, the NBA team, and the New York-based Boro Park Therapy Center. The Brooklyn Nets allowed Boro Park to use their trademarks as part of their sponsorship agreement. However, Boro Park continued to use the trademarks once the agreement lapsed. As a result, the Brooklyn Nets filed a lawsuit against Boro Park for trademark infringement in March 2015 alleging trademark infringement, as Boro Park no longer had permission to use the Nets’ trademarks.
Considering these issues before they come up can help save money and allow you to invest in effective marketing and branding in order to grow your practice. It is important for everyone who offers physical therapy services to evaluate their “brands” and protect their valuable trademark rights. If trademarks are a part of your business plans, then you can not only avoid preventable issues, but you can also set yourself apart from the competition.