The phrase ‘Tough love is real, and it’s coming to you’ is synonymous with the word ‘toughen up’.
Now, as the world’s first trademark for ‘tactical and non-lethal military-grade medical equipment’ begins to be applied, there are fears the phrase could be used in the future to disparage or discriminate against those who are seeking medical help.
The trademark application, filed in the US Patent and Trademark Office on Friday, covers a range of devices including medical scanners, body armor, and other items for use in the field of medical research.
A medical scanner with the slogan ‘Toughened up’ is pictured at the US National Archives in Washington, DC, USA, December 5, 2017.
A body armor vest with the phrase “tough care” is pictured on the left in a photograph taken at the UK General Hospital in London, Britain, on December 4, 2017, and the word “toughening” is seen on the right in a picture taken at a London hospital.
The application says the slogan will be used to “promote the use of military-level medical equipment in the healthcare industry”.
It says it “would be appropriate for the trademark owner to mark the phrase in an official fashion, but not to disparagedly describe medical products or medical care”.
US President Donald Trump’s administration is moving quickly to revise US trademark law to allow the US to register medical products with foreign companies, and many US companies, including General Electric, have begun to use the phrase.
Trump’s first attempt to register the medical devices trademark came in June 2017, but the US Supreme Court upheld that decision and blocked it, saying the US had “no interest in preventing others from using the term” in the public domain.
The new trademark application says it will be “appropriate” for the US government to “register the trademark, but will not prevent others from referring to the medical equipment as ‘trouble-maker’.” The trademark will be applied to “medical-grade equipment” that is “capable of being operated by trained personnel, and can be operated by any qualified person”.
The application also says the trademark is “patentable” in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, and Canada.
But the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) has warned the application “is premature”, saying it “could be interpreted as an attempt to exclude other uses of the term, such as medical devices for use by military personnel”.
The TTAB is also concerned about the term “tacticals” being used to describe military-type medical equipment, and that “tacticons” could be interpreted to mean anything from “trying to teach children to do something”, to “treating people with chemical or radiological weapons”.
The trademark could be invalidated if it is used to disparate medical equipment or medical treatment, TTAb President Gregory Bensinger said.
“The TTAF has received information that some other uses are also being considered,” he said.
The TPAB also said it is concerned the trademark application may be used “to disparage medical devices or medical procedures that do not contain a specific name, such that it could mislead the public or others about whether or not the medical device or procedure is or is not medical”.
It added that the TPAb has already issued warnings to a number of companies using the phrase, saying “they could be held liable for trademark infringement by the US Government if they use the trademark in any way that is likely to mislead the American public or mislead their competitors”.
However, the TTABs warning about the trademark has been welcomed by some medical experts.
Professor Daniel Bier, who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said the trademark could “advance the field” and be used by people “who are just trying to do good”.
“It might make a difference for those in the military and their families,” he told the BBC.
He added that while he was not a fan of the trademark and said it could have been used more broadly, he would be happy to consider it if it did not contain the words “treat”.
“There’s some potential for the military to be using it as a marketing tool to advertise that they’re using it and that they want people to use it,” he added.
“There are other ways they can use it, for example to advertise the military-issue medical devices that are now available in the market, and to use that to promote them.”
Medical equipment, which is used for medical research and medical use, is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the Department of Defense.
Medical equipment that uses non-invasive techniques to treat patients can be seen in a handout image provided by General Dynamics on March 14, 2017 in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
A picture taken