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Clash Of The Crosses: Sisters Of Charity Sues Blue Cross And Blue Shield In Logo Dispute

It doesn’t pay to mess with nuns.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association seems to think Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System (SCL Health) is infringing its trademark.

The faith-based health provider has used the cross symbol to denote its Christian heritage for decades.

Since 1976, its trademark has consisted of a heart superimposed on a cross. In 2014, it updated the logo to include a splash of blue and duly filed an application with the Patent and Trademark Office.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, a national federation of 36 independent and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, says the updated logo is confusingly similar to its own logo and has demanded that SCL Health cease using it “in combination with any blue color elements.”

At least that’s what SCL Health alleges in a preemptive lawsuit it filed this week in federal court in Denver.

The lawsuit, which seeks a court determination that SCL Health is not infringing Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s trademark, says Blue Cross and Blue Shield has even threatened that it “would never again undertake a commercial relationship of any sort with SCL Health” if SCL Health doesn’t comply with its demand.

It’s not clear that Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, as opposed to its member companies, is capable of doing that, since it’s the members that contract with health care providers, not the association. But the lawsuit makes it clear that SCL Health felt threatened.

If the association were to make good on its threat, the lawsuit alleges, it would result not only in “substantially decreased revenues to SCL Health but in patient hardship…”

Robert Elfinger, a spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the company does not comment on pending litigation. Brian Newsome, a spokesman for SCL Health, likewise declined to comment.

SCL Health operates eight hospitals, four safety net clinics, a children’s mental health center and more than 190 ambulatory service centers in Colorado, Kansas and Montana, according to its website.

It was founded by Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, which is based in Leavenworth, Kansas and dates back to 1858.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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