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Court Gives Freedom To AT&T To Use Thanks

Reuters is reporting that U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest has maintained that AT&T’s usage of “AT&T thanks” would not confuse consumers or cause “irreparable harm”.

Last Thursday, Citigroup’s bid for a preliminary injunction was denied by the Manhattan judge to stop AT&T from using the phrase in a customer loyalty program. The New York based bank has been using “thankyou” since 2004 in its own customer rewards program and said that the company knew they would sue over the phrase, possibly jeopardizing the co-branding relationship established in 1998. 

According to evidence presented to the court, negative online comments showed customers dissatisfaction with the branding. However, upon further review the complaints were against the telecommunications services such as data plan prices and phone purchase options, not the loyalty program itself. If the loyalty program is mentioned, it is only in comparison to programs offered by other telecommunications companies. Thus, there is minimal risk to Citigroup that consumers will be confused. 

The judge said in her ruling, "'The classification of a mark is a factual question. The factual issue presented is how the purchasing public views the mark'...On the factual record presented by this motion, the fact that thanking a customer is a fair and common description of the purpose of loyalty programs generally suggests a lesser scope of protection."

In the ruling, AT&T and Citigroup are not competitors due to the individual nature of each business. One is a telecommunications company and one is a bank despite 1.7 million members of Citigroup’s 15 million members having AT&T co-branded credit cards. 

Judge Forrest has also said that AT&T provided concrete evidence that requiring them to change the phrase to something other than "AT&T Thanks” would be too costly and would cause too much disruption. Citigroup has not commented on the matter, but AT&T has released a statement expressing their satisfaction with the outcome.

There is nothing in her ruling on whether AT&T infringed Citigroup’s trademark.

Author

Jessica Scheering

Jess is a native Venezuelan who loves good theology, arepas, chicken pot pie, and the Intermountain West.