NYU Langone has been left seeing red over a court ruling in a purple branding dispute with Northwell Health.

A federal judge ruled late last week that NYU Langone Health doesn’t own the use of the color purple in branding and advertising.

The ruling comes after NYU Langone sued its competitor, Northwell, last year over claims that the New York-based hospital system copied NYU’s signature purple brand colors in its own advertising campaigns.

In its original filing, the trademark lawsuit noted that the color purple has been “closely associated” with NYU Langone for more than 150 years.

NYU Langone has been using color combinations of purple, white and yellow in its marketing materials since 2017. 

Meanwhile, Northwell began using similar colors in 2019, which also happened to be the year that NYU Langone expanded into Long Island — where Northwell’s two flagship hospitals are located. In 2020, NYU renamed Winthrop Hospital into NYU Langone Hospital – Long Island.

The lawsuit alleged that Northwell “appears to have changed its approach to advertising and marketing services” as a reaction to NYU Langone’s expansion into Long Island.

However, District Judge Valerie Caproni ultimately decided that NYU’s claims were too vague and dismissed the case. In an 18-page ruling issued on March 1, Caproni noted that NYU Langone’s allegations describing its trade dress were “confusing and expansive.”

“The complaint provides a laundry list of elements… that encompasses such a wide variety of features that it would be difficult for competitors to know whether their advertisement falls within the trade dress,” she added. “Even among ads that are predominantly purple, the shade of purple varies; some have all-cap white writing; some have all-white sentence case writing; and some have a mix of white and other color writing.”

Northwell Health noted in a statement that the lawsuit was “unfounded” and that the hospital system was pleased by the decision.

“Northwell Health has a very distinct and bold advertising style,” said Ramon Soto, chief marketing officer at Northwell, in a statement. “We continue to push and challenge traditional health care marketing through our purpose-driving marketing.”

Northwell has been busy on the advertising front in recent years, launching its #RaisingHealth campaign in 2023, which highlighted its recent progress in clinical innovation in a 30-second TV ad called “The Solvers.”

NYU Langone, meanwhile, rolled out its #TheBestOutcomes campaign last year, involving a series of short films focusing on the hospital system’s cutting-edge medical work.

While this chapter of the legal wrangling has come to a conclusion, the broader battle may not be over.

Caproni has given NYU Langone the option to file an amended complaint and the hospital system hinted at taking further steps in a statement.

“We are pleased the court recognized that NYU Langone may have an actionable claim against Northwell’s imitation of NYU Langone’s distinctive advertising and look forward to providing the court with greater detail,” NYU Langone spokesperson Steve Ritea said in a statement. “The striking side-by-side comparisons continue to demonstrate how Northwell is attempting to confuse the public by capitalizing on our unmatched reputation for exceptional quality and safety outcomes, which is a disservice to patients seeking the best care.”

To read a March 2024 article on NYU Langone’s films illustrating a bold approach to health messaging, click here.