IU Health sues Methodist Sports Medicine, claiming trademark infringement

For nearly four decades, doctors at Methodist Sports Medicine have treated athletes’ broken bones, concussions and dislocated shoulders.

And for much of that time, the independent, privately-owned organization operated in close relationship with Methodist Hospital, where it began as a walk-in clinic in the basement of the Indianapolis hospital, before moving to Carmel in 1995.

But that relationship has frayed in recent years, and now Indiana University Health, the parent of Methodist Hospital, wants the sports medicine group to drop “Methodist” from its name.

IU Health has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, claiming trademark infringement and unfair competition. It is asking a judge to order the smaller operation to change its name.

The suit, filed Nov. 1, claims Methodist Sports Medicine is in the process of relocating its primary practice to a new orthopedic hospital campus in Carmel operated by Franciscan Health, a competitor.

Officials at Methodist Sports Medicine, however, dispute that they are breaking a trademark.

“Methodist is a very common name used by more than 100 entities in Indiana alone,” Marty Rosenberg, CEO of Methodist Sports Medicine, told the Indianapolis Business Journal. 

“We find it greatly disappointing that IU Health would use valuable healthcare resources to litigate the use of ‘Methodist’ in our company name when it’s been in use by our practice for nearly 40 years,” he added.

Nevertheless, he said the company plans to change its name within the next two months, dropping the word “Methodist.” He declined to say what the new name would be.

The company, which is an independent, physician group practice, had more than 180,000 patient visits last year for a wide variety of ailments, including concussions, spine injuries, rehabilitation, and sports and orthopedic injuries.

It has clinics in Carmel, Avon, Westfield, Greenwood, Bloomington and Tipton. It is the official sports physicians of numerous high schools, colleges, coaching associations and the Indianapolis Colts.

The operation began as Thomas A. Brady Sports Medicine Center PC in 1983, named after its founder, a pioneer of sports medicine in Indianapolis.

According to the lawsuit, in or around 1990, the Brady Medicine Center branded itself as Methodist Sports Medicine with permission from Methodist Health Group Inc., the longtime owner of Methodist Hospital.

In 1997, Methodist Hospital and several other health care organizations were consolidated to create IU Health, then known as Clarian Health Partners.

As part of that consolidation, Methodist Health Group licensed to IU Health the exclusive right to use and sublicense the Methodist mark in connection with health care services, programs and all related activities, the complaint said.

IU Health continued to allow Methodist Sports Medicine to use the Methodist name under the licensing agreement.

The two operations set up a joint venture to operate outpatient surgery centers and maintained close ties.

But in 2019, IU Health learned Methodist Sports Medicine intended to relocate its primary practice location from the Carmel campus, at 201 Pennsylvania Parkway, to a new campus being built by Franciscan Health about two miles away, at 10777 N. Illinois St., “effectively ending … (its) close working relationship” with IU Health.

Franciscan and Methodist Sports announced in 2019 they were partnering to build and staff a new, $108 million orthopedic specialty hospital, where doctors will perform hip and knee replacements and sports medicine services.

The Carmel City Council approved a rezoning that paved the way for the two organizations to build the specialty hospital, ambulatory surgery center and medical offices at 111th and Illinois streets. The land is owned by Meridian Development Services, a sister company of Methodist Sports Medicine. The campus is scheduled to open in the spring of 2022.

In August 2021, IU Health sent a letter to Methodist Sports Medicine, inquiring about its rebranding strategy in light of its “plan to end its close working relationship with plaintiffs.” It said it did not receive a response.

In October, IU Health sent another letter to Methodist Sports Medicine and terminated permission to use the Methodist trademark.

It said that Methodist Sports Medicine has failed to change its name and is continuing the “unauthorized use” of the Methodist trademark, which is “likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception in the market … and to falsely suggest that … its services are sponsored by, connected to, or associated with plaintiffs.”

“The Methodist mark has not only amassed substantial and valuable goodwill — it also has amassed substantial consumer recognition as consumers have come to closely associate the distinctive and valuable Methodist mark with Plaintiffs and the associated health care services,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit charges Methodist Sports Medicine with trademark infringement, false designation, unfair competition and deception.

IU Health is asking a judge to award triple damages from all profits and damages due to Methodist Sports Medicine’s “willful trademark infringement and false designation of origin.”

The case was assigned to Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson.

The case is Indiana University Health, Inc. and Methodist Health Group, Inc. v. Thomas A. Brady Sports Medicine Center, P.C., 1:21-cv-0276.

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