Citigroup Sues AT&T Over Right to Say ‘Thanks’ to Customers

  • Bank says AT&T’s customer loyalty program infringes trademark
  • AT&T responds that one company can’t own the word “thanks”

Thanking loyal customers for their business may seem uncontroversial, but Citigroup Inc. has something to say about how exactly you do it.

The bank sued AT&T Inc. on Friday over the telecom company’s use of the trademarks “thanks” and “AT&T thanks” in a new customer-loyalty program. The use infringes several of Citigroup’s trademarks, including "ThankYou" and "Citi ThankYou," according to a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.

Citigroup, the world’s biggest credit-card lender, has been using the "ThankYou" trademark in a customer-loyalty program since 2004, and more than 7 million of its customers have a ThankYou-branded credit card, the bank said. Citigroup wants a court order barring AT&T from using the terms.

AT&T’s use of the phrases "is likely to cause customer confusion," the bank said. The trademark designs also have similar fonts and word placements, according to the suit.

AT&T is balking at New York-based Citigroup’s allegations.

“This may come as a surprise to Citigroup, but the law does not allow one company to own the word ‘thanks,’’’ AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook said in an e-mail. “We’re going to continue to say thanks to our customers.”

Dallas-based AT&T launched the new customer loyalty program on June 2, even though the company was already aware of Citigroup’s use of related trademarks, according to the complaint. The companies even have a co-branded credit card that gives "ThankYou" points to users based on how much they spend, according to the card’s website.

The case is Citigroup v. AT&T, 16-cv-4333, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan)

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