Trademark

by Timothy Geigner


Filed Under:
thank you, thanks, thankyou, trademark

Companies:
at&t, citigroup



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.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    David, 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:04pm

    Satire?

    I'd be tempted to guess that the lawyers of Citibank are indulging in a satirical performance here. But I suspect that I'd be overestimating the capacity of arthropods for humor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:06pm

    Lawyers gotta stay employed somehow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:13pm

    Page 16

    And the complaint was signed ... by a lawyer named Fee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zem, 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:14pm

    So, if the trade mark does get expunged, Citi to AT&T
    "Thanks for nothing"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:17pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:35pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    city_kir (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:45pm

    that's why their fees went up

    $49 to reinstate Uverse internet after a lapse in payment due to a credit card replaced due to fraud... sigh. Stop the litigation madness. Tort reform!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shilling, 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:47pm

    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-E XA-4&sa=U&rct=j&ved=0ahUKEwi9jeXjlKvNAhVED8AKHVhxCOgQFgghMAM&sig2=iHXTweu29wv-MHU8zs RPvg&usg=AFQjCNGDW5f78ZOnIJofCO2g9gCN2kYUAw

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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 5:05pm

    This is from The Onion,

    right ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 5:13pm

    "dear citigroup please f**k off thank you" - Ben's Nan, May Ashworth

    [ http://m.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11657580 ]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 5:41pm

    Mike Masnick just hates IP. Simple truth. Nothing but FUD, doom and gloom with this guy. Did you even consider the benefits of this? Of course not, because Mike Masnick hates IP.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Feldie47 (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 5:57pm

    Here's a study which methinks has never been done and is long long past due: What is the IQ distribution of examiners at the U.S.P.T.O?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nerd bert (profile), 16 Jun 2016 @ 11:36am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 17 Jun 2016 @ 1:29am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    CharlesGrossman (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 6:24pm

    End of the "War on Christmas"?

    If Citibank wins over "THANKYOU", then I can see an end to the controversy over saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" -- Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly should just register a trademark for "Happy Holidays" and then everyone will have to stop saying it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2016 @ 5:29am

      Re: End of the "War on Christmas"?

      But then they would have to find something else to bitch about every year.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      So funny, I forgot to laugh!, 16 Jun 2016 @ 3:59pm

      Re: End of the "War on Christmas"?

      Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly should just register a trademark for "Happy Holidays" and then everyone will have to stop saying it.

      Now, don't be too quick to rush to Limbaugh for your levity! He's NO'Reilly!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    aidian, 15 Jun 2016 @ 7:40pm

    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').

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 8:26pm

    After the judge gets rid of Citigroups trademark on "Thank You" he/she should also rule that whatever idiots at the USPTO approved the ridiculous trademark to begin with must be immediately taken out back and shot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 8:43pm

    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."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 15 Jun 2016 @ 9:45pm

    Oh, thank you, for, thank you, fucks, thank you, sake, thank you!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:22pm

    I hope they get laughed out of court with the judge making sure to Thank them for their time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:33pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:54pm

      Re:

      Customer: F**K you, CITIbank.

      We tried to get dibs on this one too, but it turns out that in contrast to "Thank you, CITIbank." it's considered a common phrase.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Ahşap Saksı, 16 Jun 2016 @ 1:48am

    http://www.saksici.net/product-category/ahsap-saksilar

    Uzun ömürlü ve şık görünüm için ahşap saksı tercih edebilirsiniz

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2016 @ 1:48am

    Thank you Techdirt for the heads up. What a bunch of ass hats, indeed.Oops, I used a trademarked word. Wankers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Manok, 16 Jun 2016 @ 5:02am

    "Well (TM Shell Corporation)", "that's (TM That Cupcakes" "kind of stupid (TM Donald Trump)" , "it is clearly (TM The Spectacle Company)" "fair use (TM EFF)" ...but they forgot the attribution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 16 Jun 2016 @ 6:27am

    So it just mean that "that joke" has to go up a notch:

    "I shall trademark the English language and sue you all."

    Considering the version with single common used words just met reality I propose we start speaking Latin again. At least it's already public domain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 16 Jun 2016 @ 8:36am

      Re:

      Red Herring™. Trademark law knows no "public domain" or time limits like copyright law. "Thank you, $someone" is not exactly a recent phrase. Arguably, it's become obsolete enough to make for a recognizable trademark. Latin would be worse in that respect.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 16 Jun 2016 @ 6:33am

    Widely?

    "Citigroup’s THANKYOU Marks are widely recognized by the general consuming public ..."

    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".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Prof. C Irwin, 16 Jun 2016 @ 3:28pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 16 Jun 2016 @ 3:51pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 16 Jun 2016 @ 8:04am

    Evil Genius plan no. 293484

    I am gonna trademark the word fuck and sue everyone on the internet who uses it, It's brilliant! I will make bazillions of dollars!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2016 @ 10:27am

    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.
    Wait, I thought AT&T thanked its loyal customers by kicking them in the gonads and charging them a new fee for the service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 16 Jun 2016 @ 11:48am

      Re: Who knew

      Which is infringing the trademark of CITIbank and its established meaning.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      No Thanks, 16 Jun 2016 @ 3:11pm

      Re: Who knew

      .. thanked its loyal customers by kicking them in the gonads and charging them a new fee..

      That is exactly what these corporations mean when they "Thank You", and that's what the beef is all about. Didn't you get the memo? Like 50 years ago?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 16 Jun 2016 @ 10:43am

    Bored lawyers

    Are these lawyers so bored and have nothing more constructive to do than file a trademark for "THANKYOU" and then sue another company over it? I can sort-of understand doing busywork to pad the billable hours, but this is getting ridiculous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    More than a trademark, 16 Jun 2016 @ 2:54pm

    Void Citibank

    The morons who granted this trademark should have to face the public on the Tonight Show. Thank You

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 16 Jun 2016 @ 3:00pm

    Let's not forget, though

    It is AT&T getting sued!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 16 Jun 2016 @ 3:54pm

      Re: Let's not forget, though

      Just because it's AT&T (a company I shed no tears for) getting sued doesn't mean that the lawsuit isn't ludicrous and wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 16 Jun 2016 @ 11:26pm

        Re: Re: Let's not forget, though

        I should think that either "Thank you AT&T" and "Thank you CITIbank" should likely be subject to deregistration since nobody would ever have cause to say either.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.