Citigroup Sues AT&T For Saying 'Thanks' To Customers

from the you're-welcome dept

Whenver we discuss a particularly egregious case of trademark abuse, usually centered around the trademarking of some insanely common word or phrase, there’s always at least one instance of “that joke” in the comments. You know the joke I’m talking about: well, I’ll just trademark X and sue everyone, where X=super-common word or phrase. For example: “I’ll just trademark “trademark” and sue anyone who uses a trademark!”, or, “I’ll just trademark “the” and sue everyone who uses it!” These jokes play on the common problem of generic terms being granted trademarks, but of course they are examples so ridiculous that it couldn’t happen for those specific words and terms. Still, to our lovely commenters, we say, “Thank you.”

Or not, because it appears Citigroup has a trademark on “THANKYOU” and is currently using it to sue AT&T for using “Thanks”.

Who knew? Banking giant Citigroup has trademarked “THANKYOU” and is now suing technology giant AT&T for how it says thanks to its own loyal customers. This is “unlawful conduct” amounting to wanton trademark infringement, Citigroup claims in its federal lawsuit.

You can close your calendar app on your phone down, it isnt April 1st, and this ain’t no joke. The filing by Citigroup is very real and hilarious in its content and claims. First, the filing establishes just how connected “THANKYOU” is to Citigroup.

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.

In other words, everyone knows that when a business says “thank you” it’s talking about Citigroup loyalty rewards. Duh. As per usual, the first folks to blame over this idiocy are at the USPTO, which granted a trademark on the term “THANKYOU”. Why would you do that, USPTO? Have you lost complete control over your mental faculties? There was literally zero chance that this exact kind of dispute wouldn’t be raised.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t point out that Citigroup is being an asshat here. You’re probably thinking that there’s no way Citigroup is actually suing AT&T for being gracious in its branding, but you’d be exactly wrong. Again, from the filing:

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. 4. 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. 5. 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.

What. The. Hell. The notion that the use of the term “AT&T Thanks” will cause confusion for the customer is so blatantly insane that it’s hard to know where to begin. I mean, it’s got “AT&T” right there in the words, Citigroup. As for trademarking “THANKYOU” and suing over the use of the word “Thanks”? Hell no. There’s no way that should have ever been allowed and I’d be shocked if AT&T doesn’t immediately petition to have the trademarked expunged. And I’d be shocked if that petition wasn’t approved with haste.

But then again, it got approved in the first place. Than-, er, great job, USPTO.

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Companies: at&t, citigroup

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Comments on “Citigroup Sues AT&T For Saying 'Thanks' To Customers”

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49 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Ensuring respect for the US trademark system one disaster at a time

At this point it wouldn’t surprise me if the ‘review process’ the USPTO goes through to determine whether or not a trademark should be given was revealed to be simply flipping a trick coin, given insanely stupid approvals like this.

‘Heads it’s approved, tails it’s rejected’, on a coin where both sides are heads.

Other possible alternatives:

Dart board and blindfolded reviewer to pick which application will be approved that day. ‘Trademark application refusal’ is not one of the possible outcomes, merely delay in approval.

Target and blindfolded reviewer at a hundred paces with a bow, anything but a dead-center bulls-eye means the application is accepted.

The entire USPTO was overrun years ago by a pack of drunk monkeys, and no-one has noticed a difference in performance yet so no-one has bothered to investigate why the budget is increasingly focused on cases of beer and crates of fruit.

Every single keyboard/computer in the USPTO is flawed such that it’s impossible to refuse any application loaded on it, the only way to clear one is to approve it.

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

USPTO SOP

So I am reviewing the USPTO Standard Operating Procedures and realize that according to page 1386. Paragraph 59 Section 18 Subsection 42C the USPTO followed the rules. As 42A states Deny all first request. 42B states to delay any and all additional request. 42C states when either 36 appeals have been made or the desk is now overflowing with request. The officer should immediately approve all applications until deak space can be seen.. So there you have it. Written in size 7 font.

Shilling says:

This is so funny and shows why trademarks are a joke in its current form. If you Google the first trademark THANK YOU 3249982 you find a PDF where citigroup appeals a trademark claim which was denied for ‘thankyou rewards’. In this appeal they claim that there can be no confusion between trademarks as long as the other company uses their house mark prominently with the thank you and even cites a case between AT&T versus another company. I do assume that AT&T uses its own house mark while thanking their customers and are not using citigroups logo.

PDF: https://www.google.co.uk/url?q=http://surftheboard.azurewebsites.net/SiteMap/Docs/ttabvue-78756342-EXA-4&sa=U&rct=j&ved=0ahUKEwi9jeXjlKvNAhVED8AKHVhxCOgQFgghMAM&sig2=iHXTweu29wv-MHU8zsRPvg&usg=AFQjCNGDW5f78ZOnIJofCO2g9gCN2kYUAw

Guess j.keven fee needed to buy his gf/wife a present from the billable hours.

nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: USPTO

I have a fair number of patents. How many do I think are “real” and justified rather than just filed to make the company happy? Not many.

When the PTO was forced to finance itself with fees, they became quite liberal in granting patents and quite remiss in doing anything with prior art. The situation with silly patents and trademarks is understandable when you realize the examiners are overloaded and under pressure to grant rather than reject, with all the extra work that causes them (appeals, repeated submissions, etc).

I remember when I was at a very large company and the legal department came to me for help because a company was coming after us for a circuit I’d designed. I pointed out that the patent was completely invalid due to prior art, and the lawyers asked me to due a literature survey. I tracked back similar circuits all the way to vacuum tube implementations from the 50s and pointed out that just because something is made in CMOS instead bipolar or tubes doesn’t make it patentable.

The only downside to the whole incident was that I couldn’t get rid of the lawyers for years afterwards. They kept coming to me every time some two-bit company came after ours. Management wouldn’t let me get out of consulting because IP licensing brought in over $1B/yr and the lawyers pointed out that their use of my time made the company a whole heck of a lot more money than the profits from the products my division actually made.

David says:

Re: Re: USPTO

The only downside to the whole incident was that I couldn’t get rid of the lawyers for years afterwards. They kept coming to me every time some two-bit company came after ours. Management wouldn’t let me get out of consulting because IP licensing brought in over $1B/yr and the lawyers pointed out that their use of my time made the company a whole heck of a lot more money than the profits from the products my division actually made.

Which means that the customers pay a whole heck of a lot more money for the “intellectual property” machinery than for actual production, while the actual R&D departments even of large outfits tend to be funded at the 5% level or less. Which means that the legal system is a very inefficient way of funding research. Research basically gets the scraps falling from the legal departments’ tables.

aidian says:

This could actually be useful

If this prevents massive, evil, blood sucking companies from trying to pretend their friendly and personable, then it cold actually be a good thing. AT&T saying please and thank you is somewhere between a waste of words and an actual insult (since it’s usually something like ‘Please pay us too much for substandard service because we bought your political system and you have no other choice, Thank You’).

Anonymous Coward says:

No "Thank You," Citi (NOT "No, Thank You, Citi")

Dude, theses are the guys that engineered the original fusion of insurance, investment houses, and banks and thereby broke the economy with their lying, shady shit. No “thank you” due there. Of course they are capable attempting this for real.

I worked for them and finally had to say, “No ‘thank you,’ Citi,” due to large numbers of vile business practices. For similar reasons, I said “No ‘thank you,’ Citi,” and moved my accounts out of Citi’s control.

“No ‘thank you,’ Citi,” should be the first sentence on everyone’s lips, and, much tho’ it pains me to credit AT&T for ANYTHING, “Thanks, AT&T; you helped reveal Citi’s latest asshhattery.”

Anonymous Coward says:

At the end of a transaction at CITIbank:

CITI: Will that be all, sir?
Customer: Yes, that’s all. Thank you!
CITI: Sir, I’m afraid you have just violated our trademark. These are the details of the lawsuit we will be bringing against you. Our lawyers will contact you within 5 working days. Will that be all, sir?
Customer: F**K you, CITIbank.

Prof. C Irwin says:

Re: Widely?

I’d never heard of it before. When I think “Thank You”, I’m more inclined to think of “Hallmark” and go buy a card than I am of “Citi”.

More than just that, and this goes way back to the etymology and linguistics pronunciations of certain special letter combinations, thusly when a ‘c’ immediately precedes an ‘i’, the proper pronunciation is a ‘sh’ not a ‘s’ or ‘ch’ as some scholars might have supposed. This is a Middle English ethos analysis and its very surprising someone hasn’t previously pointed this out.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Widely?

That stuck out to me as well. I’d certainly never seen Ctigroup’s mark. But then, I’m not a Citigroup customer, so they wouldn’t be thanking me.

The other thing I find amusing is that Citigroup’s mark is “THANKYOU”, not “thank you”. That’s certainly because you can’t trademark a plain common phrase like “thank you”, but “THANKYOU” is not commonly used at all.

And yet, Citigroup isn’t suing because someone used their mark “THANKYOU”, they’re suing because someone is using an untrademarkable common phrase.

That’s really scummy, but then we’re talking about Citigroup — a company that is famous for being as scummy as they can get away with.

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