COLUMBIA/HCA FIGHTS OVER NAME IN ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN


With the theme "Healthcare has never worked like this before", Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.'s [COL] new national advertising campaign has "worked" to bring it an unsightly lawsuit. Columbia University, which operates Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York hasn't taken kindly to another Columbia using the same name in a national ad campaign and on Sept. 13 filed a lawsuit against the healthcare giant in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. New York-based Columbia University sued Nashville-based Columbia/HCA for infringing on the "Columbia" name in the hospital giant's new multi-million-dollar national marketing blitz. "[Columbia/HCA] is openly developing Columbia as a trademark and trade name for its network of hospitals and healthcare facilities that have no connection with our world-renowned medical center Columbia-Presbyterian," said Elaine Metcalf, spokesperson for the Columbia University's medical center. "The Columbia name is one of the most prestigous in American medicine ranking with the likes of Johns Hopkins, Harvard or Yale." According to Metcalf, Columbia-Presbyterian officials did not sue Columbia/HCA previously because its sporadic ads did not shorthand reference its physicians as "Columbia" physicians. But the new campaign, it claims, does. Columbia/HCA has also created direct name conflicts by renaming the Presbyterian Hospital in Oklahoma City as the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and the University Hospital in Tamarac, Fla., as the Columbia-University Hospital. In addition, Columbia/HCA introduced a nationwide medical information service using the telephone number 1-800-Columbia. Columbia's million-dollar ad campaign, developed by The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., kicked off last month with 30-second spots on 14 prime-time programs from "Monday Night Football" to "Murder She Wrote." Print ads are running in national publications such as USA Today and Family Circle. The campaign, which will continue through mid-December, also will appear on local stations and in local publications. "When people think about health care, we want them to think about Columbia," Columbia/HCA spokesman Jeff Prescott said. Columbia's national campaign is the latest layer of a marketing program that is perhaps the most sophisticated in the industry. It already boasts a growing presence on America Online [AOL] and the Internet's World Wide Web (http://www.columbia.com), where its site gets well over 100,000 "visits" a week from users doing such things as finding the nearest Columbia specialist or retrieving healthy recipes. But this lawsuit, scheduled for a trial in January, charges Columbia/HCA with trademark infringement and unfair competition and would bar the company from using the "Columbia" name to promote its medical services. Columbia/HCA officials say they are puzzled by the lawsuit. "We don't operate a medical school, so we have a hard time understanding why this suit was filed in the first place," said Prescott. However, trademark attorneys see the case differently. "It is basic trademark law, it has a "confusing similarity", said Al Fressola, a Connecticut-based trademark attorney. Fressola said the courts use 14 different factors to determine trademark infrigement, including use of the trademark, similarity on goods and services, types of customers and channel of commerce. Columbia/HCA will be able to continue to use the name in its advertising, until the court makes a decision on the permanent injunction. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction preventing Columbia/HCA from using the Columbia name as a trademark in connection with any hospital, ambulatory care, home care, physician and related health services, and asks that Columbia/HCA be ordered to pay Columbia University any profits generated from use of the name. (Fressola, 203/261-1234; Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, 212/305-3900; Columbia/HCA, 800-265-8624)

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