As we reported back in June, banking giant Citigroup sued telecom giant AT&T over "unlawful conduct" and "wanton trademark infringement" for the latter's use of the word "thanks" in its AT&T Thanks reward programme. Now a New York federal judge has sided with AT&T in refusing to grant Citi's request for a preliminary injunction barring AT&T from using the phrase.
Citigroup claimed in its lawsuit that the "AT&T Thanks" reward programme would likely confuse consumers and cause irreparable to its own "thankyou" reward programme branding. U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, however, last week sided with AT&T in agreeing that "there are and have been dozens upon dozens of goods, services, and entities that made use of variations on the words 'thanks' and 'thank you.'" Money quote from judge Forrest's ruling:
"The present evidentiary record does not permit the Court to draw firm conclusions regarding acquired distinctiveness. Citigroup's loyalty programmes are well-established, but seems to exist in a marketplace in which names similar to the thankyou marks are used by other producers, thus undercutting their distinctiveness... All told, resolution of this point will require a more-developed evidentiary basis."
The ruling against Citi merely denies the company's request for the preliminary injunction; the lawsuit itself will continue. While AT&T will be allowed to continue using the word "thanks" during the lawsuit, Citi could still ultimately prevail in its quest to stop AT&T from using the word and extract punitive damages from the telecom. For their part, AT&T is pleased to have won the first round. Money quote from the company's statement:
"As we said when this complaint was filed, the law does not allow one company to own the word 'thanks' and we will continuing showing thanks to our loyal customers."
Citigroup, meanwhile, has declined to comment to the media on the ruling. We'll keep you posted as the two corporate behemoths continue to wage battle in court.