It has been estimated that over the next decade, the United States will have 8-10 national health systems and approximately 150-200 regional systems.  Due to the fast pace of acquisitions and mergers, only 20%-25% of hospitals will remain independent.

When a hospital rebrand is being considered, legal issues arise that could have serious implications to the brand’s reputation and value.

Here are some legal tips for your marketing team when considering a hospital rebrand:

Step 1:  Select your brand architecture.   Many healthcare brands opt for the monolithic or umbrella brand naming model. This is usually the name of a larger health system that is acquiring a smaller, regional system.  Or, it could be a regional system that is acquiring independent hospitals and physician practices.  In either case, the umbrella brand is used as the primary name, with the name of a regional or local practice group secondary.  Health systems may alternatively opt for an endorsed brand format, where the name of a local hospital or practice group is dominant and the name of the regional or national healthcare system of which it is a part used as the tagline.

Step 2:  Conduct a trademark search.  Once the naming architecture is chosen,  a full search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records (USPTO), state trademark office records, and unregistered common law uses should be conducted.  The purpose of this is to ensure the availability for use and registration of the preferred brand name.  Be sure to have the search conducted by experienced trademark counsel and ask for a written legal opinion. It is important to make sure that the chosen trademark is available in all states where the health system intends to do business.

Step 3:  File trademark applications.   A federal trademark application should be prepared and filed with the USPTO as soon as any new name or tagline is chosen.  The application may either be based on use in commerce, or an intent to use in commerce if the brand name is not yet in use.  As part of the application process, it is a requirement to list all of the goods and services on which you intend to use the mark.  The list should be as broad as possible at the category-level so as to be able to enjoy the broadest trademark protection.

Hospital rebrand note:  The above steps are the first in a series to ensure that all health brand marketing and advertising materials are protected and in compliance with applicable federal and state laws.  Consulting with a health marketing attorney early in the process will help to mitigate the risk associated with a hospital rebrand.