Despite a recent spate of bad press, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. is holding onto its good name.
Late last month, a federal judge in New York upheld the Nashville-based healthcare chain's use of the name "Columbia" by dismissing a trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Columbia University in New York last fall (Sept. 23, 1996, p. 3). The university's healthcare arm is Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.
U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl struck down each of the university's claims, citing the university's own admission that it doesn't have exclusive rights to the Columbia moniker.
In announcing the ruling, Columbia passed up an opportunity to gloat. The company's five-paragraph press release merely restated the judge's opinion and described its healthcare network.
In recent weeks, Columbia has weathered a storm of negative publicity stemming from a federal raid in March on its facilities in El Paso, Texas, and HHS confirmation of a federal probe into Medicare billing practices by some of its hospitals.
Lawyers for Columbia University were reviewing the federal court ruling last week and will make a decision shortly on whether to appeal, a university spokeswoman said.
Koeltl's 52-page opinion in the case of Columbia vs. Columbia culminates an eight-day bench trial held in January (March 3, p. 30). In court, Columbia University tried to show Columbia's use of the shorthand Columbia in signs, ads and Internet sites is confusing. But Koeltl said the plaintiff presented little evidence of confusion.
He also rejected the university's claim that in healthcare the name has become synonymous with the 200-year-old New York institution. "Even the vice dean of the Columbia faculty of medicine and senior vice president for the health sciences division of Columbia University (Thomas Q. Morris) conceded that the plaintiff does not have the right to use the Columbia name for healthcare or educational services," Koeltl wrote.
Also, the university failed to demonstrate how Columbia has used the mark "to tarnish, blur, or dilute the plaintiff's service," he added.