Campus & Community

University Asks That Harvard Pilgrim Trademark Case Be Heard in Federal Court

2 min read

Facing a state court deadline last week to respond to the Attorney General’s lawsuit about Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s use of the Harvard name, the University has responded by requesting that the case be moved to Federal Court, citing the court’s “jurisdiction over trademark disputes in interstate commerce.”

In a letter to state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly on March 15, Provost Harvey V. Fineberg said the University is “simply trying to ensure that the University’s name continues to be used in a way that is appropriate and consistent with the original understanding at the time Harvard Community Health Plan [now known as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care] was formed.” Of particular concern to the University, according to Fineberg, is the “assertion that the Harvard name is an asset of Harvard Pilgrim that could be sold at will.”

Negotiations over the use of the Harvard name have been underway for 18 months, long before the HMO was placed in state receivership in early January. Fineberg said those negotiations were “prompted by our concern that Harvard Pilgrim was filing applications for federal trademark registration for marks including ‘Harvard.’”

According to Fineberg, the University proposed a plan — at no financial cost to the health plan — allowing Harvard Pilgrim to continue using Harvard’s name for its core business as a not-for-profit “with significant ties to teaching and research at Harvard Medical School.” That proposal went by the wayside, however, when the attorney general filed a lawsuit against the University in February.

Fineberg said the state declined a University request to drop its lawsuit, allowing negotiations to resume, after the attorney general announced Harvard Pilgrim would be taken out of receivership. Facing a court deadline, Fineberg said, the University turned to the Federal Court for a ruling.

The Provost concludes his letter to Reilly by stating that the University remains “hopeful that an amicable resolution can be reached.”