Trademarking Thanks?

Ask Dr. CopyrightDear Doc:

My Mom always taught me to be extra-polite. Growing up in the South, I learned to call my elders “Ma’am” and “Sir”, and always to say “Please” and “Thank you”. I guess that the 2Big2Fail crowd was raised differently. I just heard that CitiGroup thinks that it owns “Thank You” and that nobody else is ever allowed to say that. Please tell me that this is untrue.

Gracias (cause, you know, I can’t say that other phrase…)

Miss Manners


Dear Ms. Manners (the “Doc” is a modern gentleman, and since we’re busy shattering glass ceilings all over…):

CitiGroup has brought a federal law suit against AT&T. According to the court filing:

For many years, Citigroup has used trademarks consisting of and/or containing the term THANKYOU, including THANKYOU, CITI THANKYOU, CITIBUSINESS THANKYOU. THANKYOU FROM CITI, and THANKYOU YOUR WAY, in connection with a variety of customer loyalty, reward, incentive, and redemption programs (collectively, the “THANKYOU Marks”). As a result of Citigroup’s longstanding, extensive, and widespread use, marketing, and promotion of its THANKYOU Marks and services, Citigroup’s THANKYOU Marks are widely recognized by the general consuming public as a designation of source for Citigroup’s high quality financial services and customer loyalty, reward, incentive, and redemption programs.

So, in other words, Citi owns “THANKYOU”. Here’s proof.   Done, and done. Right?

What did AT&T (that cuddly phone company and telecommunications conglomerate that used to be AT&T, and then was a bunch of “Baby Bells” and then not-so-much, and then Cingular (remember them) and now AT&T (got that?) do, exactly? We’ll let Citi tell it:

Despite actual knowledge of Citigroup’s substantial use of and exclusive rights in the THANKYOU Marks, Citigroup’s use of the marks in connection with AT&T co-branded credit cards, and Citigroup’s concerns regarding AT&T’s proposed trademarks, AT&T launched a customer loyalty program under the trademarks “thanks” and “AT&T thanks” on or about June 2, 2016.  AT&T’s use of the “thanks” and “AT&T thanks” trademarks is likely to cause consumer confusion and constitutes trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition in violation of Citigroup’s rights.  Citigroup therefore seeks to enjoin AT&T’s infringing conduct and to recover damages based on the injury AT&T’s conduct has caused to Citigroup as well as AT&T’s unjust enrichment.

Got that? AT&T said, “thanks”. Are you confused? The Doc isn’t. Of course, not to be outdone, AT&T has applied to the USPTO to register “AT&T THANKS”. How will this all turn out? By making a lot of lawyers a ton of money, of course!  As the Doc’s son, presently in law school, recently opined about a similar case, “Or in other words, a win!” (The Doc is very proud that his son has learned the most important lesson that they don’t teach in law school.)

The Doc hopes that this clears up any confusion that you may have had. If you’re confused about trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets, nondisclosure agreements, noncompete agreements, or any other legal issues, ask the attorneys at LW&H. They’re good at clearing up any confusion and also helping their clients to steer clear of disputes.

Until next month…

The “Doc”

— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.