Houston Business Owner Sues ACE For Infringement, Unfair Competition Over Certification Name

Michael Jones argues that he owns a common law trademark to the Medical Exercise Specialist name, using it in his business as early as 1994.(Photo by Thinkstock.)

This article was updated on April 26 to reflect statements that Michael Jones provided to Club Industry.

A Texas man is suing the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in federal court for trademark infringement and unfair competition over the organization’s usage of the term “medical exercise specialist.” If the matter is not resolved, it will go to trial on July 25.

Michael Jones, founder of the American Academy of Health, Fitness & Rehabilitation Professionals (AAHRFP), first filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas Houston Division in November 2015. According to court documents, Jones alleges ACE violated federal and Texas state law by issuing “copycat” and “knock-off” certifications and materials using his unique medical exercise specialist designation.

In Jones’ Nov. 5, 2015, complaint, he argues that he owns a common law trademark to the medical exercise specialist name, using it in his business as early as 1994 as part of a program that trains and certifies fitness professionals who work with post-rehabilitation patients. If an individual completes Jones’ program, he licenses the individual to self-advertise as a medical exercise specialist, according to the complaint.

Jones provided the court with evidence that he has sold more than 7,000 medical exercise specialist courses and has advertised the designation through flyers, electronic newsletters, mass-mail advertisements mailed to gyms and print advertisements in news publications. Jones also said he purchased the domain name "medicalexercisespecialist.com" in 2000.

According to an Oct. 18, 2016, court document, Jones requested that ACE certify his program as “ACE approved” in the late 1990s, which the organization did for a fee. Eventually, Jones allegedly stopped renewing this approval fee.

Jones argues that ACE launched a competing certification called advanced clinical exercise specialist from 2008 through 2015, when the designation was changed to medical exercise specialist.

In a statement to Club Industry (see below), ACE representatives argue that medical exercise specialist is a common term that Jones never legally protected. On these grounds, ACE is seeking a dismissal of the case.

In a March 29 order, District Judge Gray H. Miller said the court is "unconvinced that the mark is generic simply because it consists of a combination of generic terms." Miller said Jones "met his burden" of demonstrating that the mark is not generic, and ACE's usage of the same term in the same industry "gives rise to a presumption that confusion exists."

"The court finds ACE’s points entirely disingenuous since its own materials say the change to 'Medical Exercise Specialist' was a name-change only," Miller said in the order. "ACE was offering the same type of exercise speciality training without using the term 'Medical Exercise Specialist.'"

Jones said ACE is “being unjustly enriched by its infringement,” for which he is seeking “recovery of [ACE’s] profits, all damages sustained by [Jones], [Jones’] costs, and [Jones’] attorney’s fees.”

In an April 26 statement provided to Club Industry, Jones said the "need for legal action is saddening," but he has resolved to protect and maintain the standards of his medical exercise specialist certification.

"The court obviously finds our petition of merit and has granted me my day in court to protect the name I've spent 23 years developing, expanding and promoting," he said.

ACE provided the following statement to Club Industry on April 20:

The American Council on Exercise is the defendant in a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (4:15-cv-03270) brought by Michael Jones, who sometimes operates as the American Academy of Health, Fitness and Rehabilitation Professionals.  Mr. Jones claims to own an unregistered trademark in the job title “Medical Exercise Specialist” and has sued ACE for trademark infringement and unfair competition for offering its ACE Medical Exercise Specialist Certification. ACE has denied Mr. Jones’ allegations and continues to believe that the job title “Medical Exercise Specialist” is a common term, like “Personal Trainer” and “Group Fitness Instructor” and may be used by anyone with the proper qualifications. ACE has recently asked the Court to dismiss the case upon a number of legal grounds and, if the Court denies ACE’s applications, a trial of the matter is scheduled for late July 2017. ACE continues to be confident that it will ultimately prevail in the case and encourages interested parties to follow the case online at www.pacer.gov.

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