CareFirst cares enough to sue Va. doc group over trademark
In its decade of existence, First Care PC, an 11-physician group in Chesapeake, Va., has never seen a patient covered by CareFirst Blue Cross and Blue Shield. And CareFirst admits it doesn't do business in the part of Virginia served by First Care. That hasn't, however, stopped the Owings Mill, Md.-based health insurer from taking the doctor group to court, saying it infringes on their trademark.
"We fear it will foster confusion in the health marketplace," says Jeff Valentine, director of corporate communications for CareFirst. CareFirst, which was formed in 1998, does business in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Delaware and northern Virginia, areas that First Care doesn't serve.
Nonetheless, Valentine says, "Geography is not a concern in protecting our name."
The lawsuit was filed on March 22 in federal court in Norfolk, Va.
Each year, First Care has about 40,000 patient visits. During its 10-year history, says Marc Mertz, its administrator, the group has never seen a patient covered by CareFirst. "We never actually heard of CareFirst when we chose (our name) in 1994," he says.
In an internal memorandum, First Care's lawyers also said "CareFirst" is a weak trademark because "care" and "first" are commonly used medical terms. It further says that though the insurer asserts its trademark registrations are broad and national in scope, it has failed to police the registration against the many medical companies that use "care" and "first" in their names: Therefore, its trademark is limited in scope.
Valentine says the company has taken action against other companies over the same issue.
Hello, this is your prescription talking
Jerry Mahoney was having trouble reading the tiny print of the instructions on a medicine bottle and an idea was born.
Mahoney is the owner of a 5-year-old company, iVoice, that produces an array of voice recognition software products. It wasn't a big leap to develop a miniature computer chip-and-speaker system that fits on the bottom of a prescription bottle. When pressed, the device says what's in the bottle, how to take it and whether to watch out for side effects or interactions with other drugs or alcohol. The information would be loaded into the computer chip using software at the pharmacy. Instructions for a label would be typed into a computer and transmitted to the chip via radio frequency or infrared signals.
Mahoney says the system, which is not yet in production, will add a few dollars to the cost of each prescription at first, but if it's adopted nationally the cost could fall below $1 per bottle.
"This can help everyone, the visually impaired, handicapped, illiterate and people with cataracts," Mahoney told the Associated Press.
It's a nice idea that might save some lives and needless hospital trips, but it's also coming at a time when the pressure is on to reduce pharmaceutical costs, not increase them.
While iVoice has one international and two U.S. patents pending on its pill bottle technology, it won't manufacture the product. Mahoney says he is negotiating with several pharmacy chains and other companies to license the technology.
"We think this is something that will get a lot of attention, (but) it's going to require a cost-benefit analysis," says Phil Blando, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association. The association represents companies like Medco Health Solutions that ship medicines by mail and process electronic claims at pharmacies for insurance plans.
The system could hit the market within the next 18 months, Mahoney says, but it will already have plenty of competition. At least three other U.S. companies have introduced similar ideas since 2000.
As the idea of using marijuana for medical purposes gains a major foothold in the West, one company is betting on the legalization of the $400 million distribution market.
Toronto-based Amigula, which became a publicly traded company three months ago, already has an office in New York. It is opening a San Francisco office and is applying for a state license to distribute pot to patients there.
More than 100,000 people in the U.S. currently imbibe the drug for relieving the pain and nausea associated with AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other diseases.
Marijuana is safer and more inexpensive than current alternatives, says Warren Eugene, president of Amigula. The number of medical users could soar as acceptance grows-or so the company hopes. Amigula is spreading the company's word through press releases, infomercials and seminars to doctors on the "legalities and procedures surrounding medical cannabis."
"We are waiting for the new government, which will be more liberal under Kerry," Eugene says. "The laws will change within the next 10 years. I'll bet $1 billion on it today."
Wall Street is betting differently on the company. In a recent press release, the company said it might issue a stock split to combat short sellers who are driving down the company's stock price. Its shares were trading in the 60-cent range last week.
Amigula has a Canadian license to grow and sell cannabis there under that nation's liberal laws.
Nine U.S. states, led by California, permit the use of medicinal marijuana. Legalization is under consideration in several other states. In December 2003, a federal court ruled that the federal law prohibiting medical marijuana may not pre-empt state laws.