The GP corporate, Primary
Health Care Ltd, cannot legally trademark the words 'primary health
care', reports the Australian Doctor. What impact will
the Federal Court of Australia ruling have on the
naming/renaming of the Federal Government's Primary Health
It has taken seven years, a team of high-cost lawyers and
numerous court dates but the verdict is in: Primary Health Care Ltd
cannot legally trademark the words "Primary Health Care".
The GP corporate wanted to protect its title amid fears that
both doctors and the public may confuse it with other health
organisations that use the words in their own branding.
In 2010, Primary decided to prosecute the Australian
General Practice Network, whose members had been branding
themselves as Primary Health Care organisations.
Four years later, the Federal Government - in the process of
setting up its Primary Health Networks - blocked Primary from
registering the trademark.
Now, after a prolonged legal battle, the Federal Court of
Australia has ruled against Primary, noting that the phrase
'primary health care' has been around for a long time.
The court's judgement, which runs to 50,000 words, makes clear
that this historical fact was lost on Henry Bateman, Primary's
one-time general manager, who apparently did not realise the phrase
related to anything aside from the company founded by his father,
Dr Ed Bateman.
The younger Bateman had told the Federal Court he used the
Collins, Macquarie and Oxford dictionaries to look up the meaning
of "primary health care", but had found nothing there.
His studies left Federal Court judge Anna Katzmann
"The term 'health check' does not appear in the dictionary," she
wrote in her judgment. "Nor, for that matter, does 'ham sandwich'.
Each term, however, has an ordinary meaning."
She added: "Despite the professed ignorance of his son, the
evidence indicated that the name was chosen by the applicant's
founder, Dr Edmund Bateman, because it reflected the services that
would be available to patients attending the centres."
Primary argued that if other organisations used the words
Primary Health Care in their titles, GPs would think they were
linked to the corporate, rather than referring to the concept of
At one point during the long legal wrangle, a judge called 12
GPs to give evidence, finding that at least five understood the
phrase in its everyday sense.
Primary argued that patients also would confuse organisations
using the words "primary health care".
But again the appeal court rejected the argument.
Although patients might not normally think of 'receiving primary
health services', as opposed to 'seeing a GP', they would
understand an ordinary meaning of the phrase if they were
confronted with the three words together, the judges concluded.
Primary will have to pay costs to the Federal Government.