California Trademark Attorney® Blog

Blue Cross Sues Universal Health Services For Logo Trademark Infringement

October 15, 2012

medic_alert_bracelet.jpg California - Universal Health Services Inc. came under fire from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association in Illinois federal court on Thursday for misappropriating the association's trademark shades of blue for its own cross logo, in direct breach of a previous settlement barring the use.

UHS has long known about BCBSA's trademark rights to the Blue Cross logo, in part due to its involvement in a previous lawsuit over the trademark, but is now violating the settlement agreement that ended that lawsuit, according to BCBSA's complaint against UHS, UHS of Delaware Inc. and Wellington Regional Medical Center Inc.

BCBSA is a nonprofit association encompassing the oldest and largest family of health benefits companies in the U.S. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield brands are the most recognized brands in the nation's entire health insurance industry, the association claims.

The association owns design logo and service trademarks for its namesake images, as well as the word trademarks Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and licenses those trademarks to its member health plans for healthcare insurance, services, financing and related goods and services.

BCBSA has been using those trademarks since at least as early as 1934 for Blue Cross and 1939 for Blue Shield, and owns over 240 valid federal trademark registrations for their use, which have become incontestable, it says. It also owns similar trademark registrations in 170 countries worldwide under the "Blue family" of names and trademarks, according to the complaint.

UHS, meanwhile, is one of the nation's largest healthcare management companies and operates hospitals and health and surgery centers across the U.S. UHS of Delaware is the management arm of the system, which licenses its trademarks to all UHS subsidiaries.

From 2003 through 2009 BCBSA sent the healthcare provider a series of letters regarding UHS's trademarks consisting of a cross design and accompanying application for federal registration of those trademarks, advising UHS of the association's rights in the Blue Cross trademarks and asking whether UHS's cross design would be blue. UHS claimed it did not intend to use its cross design in any color or shade of blue, according to the association.

The association eventually sued UHS in the Northern District of Illinois in December 2009 for trademark infringement, false designation of origin and unfair competition. That lawsuit was settled in July 2011 with an agreement that provided UHS would stop using one of its particular cross designs in the color blue, and that the entire UHS system would refrain from using any blue-shaded cross.

UHS continued to use another cross design in blue, though, well after the settlement agreement was executed, BCBSA now says. The company is also trying to trademark a cross design that would encompass all colors, including blue, the association says.