Can a corporation trademark one of the most commonly-used expressions in the English language? That's the question that will soon be before a New York Federal court judge as U.S. banking behemoth Citigroup is now suing telecom technology provider AT&T for violating its trademark by using the phrase "thank you" - or more specifically, "THANKYOU," the name of Citigroup's reward programme - in its own loyalty efforts. While these lawsuits between dueling corporate giants often have the feel of Greek gods hurling thunderbolts at each other atop Mt. Olympus, the lawsuit could have potential implications for loyalty marketers, and thus bears watching.
The report comes courtesy of Ars Technica, which reports that AT&T's use of the phrase "thank you" is considered by Citigroup as "unlawful conduct" and "wanton trademark infringement." Money quote from Ars Technica:
"In its lawsuit, the financial institution says AT&T is infringing Citigroup's intellectual property because of AT&T's brand new marketing campaign connected to AT&T's co-branded, Citigroup credit card called 'the AT&T Universal Card.' AT&T is illegally marketing the phrases 'thanks' and 'AT&T THANKS,' Citigroup claims. This "is likely to cause consumer confusion and constitutes trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition in violation of Citigroup's rights," the suit says."
In the lawsuit, Citigroup seeks "unspecified" damages and also urges the court to invalidate AT&T's own separate trademark request for the phrase "AT&T Thanks" on the grounds that the phrase is too similar to Citigroup's own "THANKYOU" trademark. Evaluation of the merits of Citigroup's suit is above our pay grade - so we'll just say that we hope the two parties can come to an amicable agreement.