NYU Langone Health is suing Northwell Health over ads that...

NYU Langone Health is suing Northwell Health over ads that NYU says are "Strikingly similar' to their own. Credit: NYU Langone Health

A Manhattan federal judge has set an Aug. 8 deadline for Northwell Health to respond to a lawsuit by NYU Langone Health charging that its purple-hued ads are “confusingly similar” to its competitor’s.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni on Wednesday granted an extension from the original July 11 deadline at the request of New Hyde Park-based Northwell.

The case was filed June 15 in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, and Northwell was served with court papers on June 20.

In the lawsuit, Manhattan-based NYU Langone alleged that in its ads, Northwell "has engaged, and continues to engage, in an apparent scheme to trade off the good will and reputation of NYU Langone.”


NYU Langone said its “distinct purple color” has been “closely associated” with New York University for more than a century. The university’s subsidiaries, including the group of hospitals and medical offices now known as NYU Langone, also use the color in signs and advertisements, the health system said. The purple hue with teal, orange and white accents and sans-serif fonts create a “distinctive look and feel,” NYU Langone wrote in its lawsuit.

A Northwell spokeswoman, Barbara Osborn, said in a statement Friday, "We have reviewed NYU Langone’s claims carefully and deny that Northwell infringed any rights purportedly owned by NYU Langone. We look forward to responding in Court." 

The health care system alleged Northwell began to use similar colors and fonts in its advertising once NYU Langone expanded into Long Island in 2019 and received national accolades for the quality of its hospitals, “posing a perceived competitive threat to Northwell.”

Northwell said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed, “NYU Langone’s claim that it owns the color purple for health care services is nothing short of preposterous.”

Northwell “is proud of its distinct branding, which uses a wide variety of colors, and how it leverages research, education and clinical excellence to differentiate from others in the market. Northwell is much more than just a color in our ads,” Ramon Soto, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for Northwell, said in the statement.

An NYU Langone spokesman, Steve Ritea, said in a statement Friday, "Northwell has misleadingly claimed that this is simply a fight over a color. But as we detail in our complaint, Northwell attempted to create confusion in the healthcare market by replicating NYU Langone’s distinctive advertising. This lawsuit is an important effort to protect our valued brand, reflected in our exceptional quality, safety and patient outcomes."

In the lawsuit, NYU Langone states that Northwell did not respond to its May 25 cease-and-desist letter. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, attorney fees and a permanent injunction barring Northwell from “confusingly similar advertising.”

NYU Langone included in its lawsuit comparisons of Northwell and NYU Langone advertisements that both featured purple backgrounds with sans-serif text in white and bold colors.

Companies can’t trademark a color, but they can trademark combinations of colors and font styles if they’re distinctive enough, said Stacey B. Lee, a professor of law at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School.

Lee cited Mattel’s use of pink and white and a script font for the Barbie logo: “That format, that font, that layout is specific to them,” she said of the dolls. “The idea is that it becomes so closely identified with the brand that whenever you see those things, you automatically think of the brand.”

If a company believes that its competitor is using similarly styled ads, it could allege in a lawsuit that the competitor is trying to “dip into their goodwill” and create “confusion in the market,” she said.

In such a lawsuit, she said, a judge would ask questions such as “are these competitors in the same market? Are they advertising similar services, using the same media channels?”

“If you can prove that there is financial harm because of this confusion, that they're losing revenue … that could be very persuasive to the court,” she said. “It's really going to turn on the facts of the case.”

CORRECTION: The name of Northwell Health spokeswoman Barbara Osborn was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

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