A small chiropractic office in Franklin is being sued by LifeWay Christian Resources, of the Southern Baptist Convention, for trademark infringement.
Lifeway Chiropractic, headed by Dr. Gillian Guin, opened in 2006 near downtown Franklin. The office’s name, Middle Tennessee location and alleged use of Christian-themed graphics has attracted the ire of one of the world’s largest dealers of Christian products and services.
“We do feel there is confusion being caused,” said Rob Phillips, a spokesperson for LifeWay Christian Resources. “The concern is with the confusion.”
As of press time, no counter-filing from Lifeway Chiropractic was in court records, and Guin could not be reached for comment.
The word “lifeway” in an entity name is not particularly unusual, Phillips acknowledges. There is a Lifeway Foods, which is a publicly traded company, as well as numerous churches across the country with the name “Lifeway.”
Between 1891 and 1998, LifeWay Christian Resource’s name was officially the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. The company sought a name change to better describe the range of resources the company provides, Phillips said, and has owned trademarks and products under the LifeWay name since 1971.
“Lifeway”-named entities are common, Phillips said, because of a verse in the Bible. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way of the truth, and the life.”
So is LifeWay Christian Resources attempting to monopolize a verse of the Bible?
According to Phillips, the crucial difference is that most entities bearing the word “lifeway” in their names aren’t easily confused with LifeWay Christian Resources. Lifeway Foods is in an altogether different business, and most churches with the name “Lifeway” don’t publish curriculum or publish print materials.
“There’s really no confusion over the use of a church’s name,” Phillips said.
According to the suit, part of the problem with Lifeway Chiropractic is the office’s location in Middle Tennessee, where the use of LifeWay trademarks has been most extensive. The suit cites the highly visible, approximately 919,609-square-foot LifeWay corporate headquarters in downtown Nashville.
“The ‘LIFEWAY’ trademark that is prominently placed on the headquarters is seen by any visitor to downtown Nashville,” the suit reads.
The suit argues that the concentration of LifeWay Christian Resources employees – 1,240 in Nashville and 138 in Lebanon – as well as stores – six in the greater Nashville area, plus seven elsewhere in the state – add up to increased “recognition” and “fame” of the brand in the Middle Tennessee area.
Another argument the suit makes is that Lifeway Chiropractic “attempt[s] to promote their services in a religious manner” through its alleged partnership with Graceworks Ministries Inc. and use of a cross symbol.
Neither the association with Graceworks nor any sign of religious graphics are readily apparent on the chiropractic office’s Web site or signage. Phillips said he has seen a print advertisement with the name of Lifeway Chiropractic featured with the Graceworks Ministries logo, which includes a cross.
Phillips said LifeWay Christian Resources has received a small – though undocumented – number of phone calls from Middle Tennessee-area customers, asking when LifeWay Christian Resources entered the chiropractic business.
Phillips also said LifeWay Christian Resources filed the suit as a last resort, after first contacting Guin in late 2006. He says he can’t think of another time his company filed a suit for this reason, though the company has contacted other entities such as Lifeway Chiropractic about the issue.
“Ordinarily, we’ve been able to resolve these with direct contact with the company,” Phillips said.
Representatives of both parties are scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Oct. 1. The attorney filing the suit on behalf of LifeWay is Ed Lanquist, of Nashville firm Waddey & Patterson PC.