behind the scenes of the fight to save triggerpoint
behind the scenes of the fight to save triggerpoint

Behind the Scenes of the Fight to Save Triggerpoint

By Massage Today, Editorial Staff
March 10, 2021

Behind the Scenes of the Fight to Save Triggerpoint

By Massage Today, Editorial Staff
March 10, 2021

There are a myriad of ways massage therapists work to advance the profession they love. The profession they know benefits the clients who come to them for help, whether that’s relieving stress, dealing with anxiety or managing chronic pain. You might choose to join legislative efforts to get massage therapy better defined and respected within your state. You might engage your local Chamber of Commerce to network with other health care providers so they better understand the benefits of massage therapy. You talk to your clients and potential clients about the role massage therapy can play in their overall health and well-being.

Many massage therapists, too, join organizations like the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) because they know their membership dollars are returned to the massage therapy profession in the form of research, financial initiatives like scholarships and, perhaps most importantly, advocacy.

In many ways, the advocacy work being done by the association's partnership with its members is apparent, whether that’s chapters providing state-specific support and networking opportunities to local members or the larger government relations team supporting both local and broad legislative efforts and building key relationships within the integrative health care arena.

“AMTA’s mission is to advance our profession and serve our members and everyone in the massage therapy industry,” says AMTA President Steve Albertson. “So, when we see something happening that can have a very real negative impact on massage therapists, we step up and speak for our profession.”

Triggerpoint: The Trademark Battle

In March 2017, AMTA became aware of a pending application to register the generic term “triggerpoint” with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), which would effectively restrict the use of the term trigger point by any other person or organization without prior approval from Implus Footcare, the company that filed the application. This would have limited the ability of massage therapists, massage therapy educators and continuing education (CE) providers to use the term freely unless they received permission.

At that same time, the USPTO approved Implus Footcare’s application, the last stage of the trademark process before a certificate is issued and a trademark is registered. After a trademark is registered, it’s nearly impossible to reverse it. For massage therapists in some circumstances, that would mean the term trigger point would be unavailable for years, even decades, without express approval from, and possible payment to, the trademark holder. “AMTA felt that was neither fair nor just for our profession,” says Albertson. “We have used the term for decades and many have published materials about trigger points as an integral part of massage therapy.” 

Implus Footcare had begun sending cease and desist letters to organizations that were using the term trigger point—at least one of whom was a publisher—demanding that they stop using the term without the company’s approval. Knowing that Implus Footcare’s application for trademark sought the exclusive right to use the term in commerce, AMTA decided the only way to protect massage therapists from statutory damages for using the term—and keep the term available for use by the massage therapy profession—would be to step in and challenge the trademark application. 

“If forced to pay statutory damages for every use of the term trigger point, AMTA understood massage therapists, educators, and writers could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars for innocently describing massage work they’ve been doing for years,” says Albertson.

How AMTA Fought—and Won—Against the Trigger Point Trademark

At the direction of AMTA’s Board of Directors, the association filed a formal opposition to Implus Footcare’s trademark application. By submitting a formal objection, AMTA paused the trademark approval process, giving massage therapists and other interested parties time to file petitions and requests of their own.

A petition initiated at the 2017 AMTA National Convention not only brought this issue to the larger massage therapy community’s attention, but also garnered more than 13,000 signatures from individual massage therapists and schools opposing the trademark application. Additionally, more than 40 businesses and individuals filed requests for more time to consider opposition to the trademark.

AMTA has been the only professional association in the massage therapy profession to defend the rights of massage therapists, educators and others to continue using the term trigger point freely and without restriction. “This is how AMTA continues to lead with its commitment to doing what is right for massage therapists and the massage therapy profession,” explains Albertson. “AMTA not only opposed the claim to restrict use of the term, we sought legal assistance to both block the potential trademark registration and to encourage the company to change its position.” 

After a three-year effort, AMTA was successful in the case, and the rights of massage therapists and educators were protected. Implus Footcare agreed to amend its trademark application so the term will be a trademark only in connection with certain massage products and devices. Individuals and organizations throughout the massage profession can continue to use the term otherwise without restrictions.

Why This Fight Matters to Massage Therapists and the Massage Profession

In the most basic terms, a trigger point is a tender area in a muscle that causes generalized musculoskeletal pain when overstimulated. Whether massage therapists use the term trigger point daily, only occasionally or never, the principle of the fight to keep trigger point available for general use is simple: To keep options available for what language massage therapists and others in the health care field could use when describing their impact on pain and tension.

For massage therapists who spend their professional lives taking care of their clients, pursuing continuing education so they can stay updated on the latest research and massage techniques, and educating the general public and health care communities on the benefits of massage therapy, having full access to terms that help you describe the work you’re dedicated to and passionate about is imperative.

AMTA, in partnership with massage therapists, believes that access is worth the fight. “We saw this as fighting for what is right, and we won,” Albertson says. “Implus Footcare has agreed to amend its trademark application to the restricted right to use the term as a trademark only in connection with its massage apparatus/devices. So, the company will not have the right to control how we use the term, except when referring to certain massage therapy products. Trigger point continues to be a term that everyone can use in a descriptive and general way.”

For more information on these efforts, visit triggerpoint.org.  

Check out these related articles:

Massage Therapy Employers Reflect on the Impact of COVID-19

Industry News