AT&T sued for thanking customers

Citigroup is a international investment bank based in the U.S. They registered their first  trademark for the term ‘thankyou” for  loyalty schemes in 2004. However, their partner, international telecoms company AT&T, who had been involved in the programme since April recently launched their own scheme using the word ‘thanks’ in their branding.

Citi believes that AT&T’s use of the word infringes on their trademark and hence decided to sue the phone company. According to The Financial Times, the banking group stated that the use of this word by AT&T “is likely to cause customer confusion and … unfair competition in violation of Citigroup’s rights”.

AT&T filed a trademark for their new brand in April but it has yet to be granted.

As with the Coke Zero case, despite being suggestive, Citigroup’s brand was distinctive in the marketplace and was therefore granted a trademark. However, this trademark does not give them the right to use the term exclusively and like Coke Zero, they will most likely have to share the term with other similar brands in the marketplace.

When choosing your trademark name  you want to pick one that is least likely to be rejected by the trademark authorities. The three main types of name that can be successfully trademarked are suggestive, arbitrary or fanciful names. A fanciful name is a made up name that bares no resemblance to the real name or a description of the goods or services, for example “Kodak”. “Dove” is an arbitrary name as it is used for soaps and has nothing to do with the bird. An example of a suggestive name is “Greyhound”, used for the coach company, because it only suggests the possible nature of the goods or service it is used for without describing them. Descriptive names like ‘Zero’ describe a function or feature of the product and therefore cannot generally be registered as trademarks. However, if a descriptive or suggestive brand name develops a secondary meaning by acting as an origin indicator for the goods or services, like ‘Thankyou’ has done for Citigroup, then in some cases it can be eligible for registration as a trademark.

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