AT&T can continue to say “thanks” to its customers – for now, at least

(Credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr)

AT&T can continue to say “thanks” to its customers – for now, at least.

A U.S. District Judge said AT&T can continue to use “AT&T thanks” for its loyalty program, rejecting a bid by Citigroup for a preliminary injunction that would have forced the carrier to drop the commonly used phrase. Citigroup claimed AT&T’s branding was too similar to “thankyou,” a trademarked moniker the bank has been using since 2004.

Citigroup sued AT&T for trademark infringement in June, claiming that the “AT&T Thanks” campaign would likely confuse consumers and cause irreparable damage to the goodwill and reputation associated with its own “thankyou” branding. But Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York said that, among other things, Citigroup failed to demonstrate that consumers would be confused by the two campaigns, or that its own branding was distinctive enough to warrant trademark protection.

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AT&T will be allowed to continue using its phrasing while Citigroup’s lawsuit continues. In addition to seeking to stop AT&T from using the phrase, Citigroup’s suit asks for unspecified triple and punitive damages.

“The present evidentiary record does not permit the Court to draw firm conclusions regarding acquired distinctiveness,” Forrest wrote. “Citigroup’s loyalty programs 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.”

Forrest also noted that the two campaigns address different markets and use different logos and colors.

AT&T thanks is a loyalty program that launched several weeks ago, offering customers goodies such as buy-one, get-one-free movie tickets, special content for DirecTV subscribers and pre-sale ticket offers from Live Nation. Interestingly, AT&T thanks came online just weeks after T-Mobile launched its own loyalty campaign, dubbed T-Mobile Tuesdays.

For more:
- read Judge Forrest’s decision (PDF)
- see this Bloomberg report

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