For 120 years, people in Ohio knew their bank simply as “OV.”
Not any more. The bank was forced to change names by one of their competitors.
The ‘Ohio Valley National Bank’ was founded in 1887 and had been doing business under the same name since it was founded over 120 year ago. Impressive, especially considering that no other bank in its market had used its original name for more than 11 years.
Unfortunately for Ohio Valley National Bank, another area bank decided to change names and become ‘Ohio Valley Bank’ in 1994. The new ‘OVB’ immediately applied for trademark protection with the United States Patent & Trademark Office. (Snapshot of the USPTO trademark here.)
Fact: When the USPTO looks at a trademark application, there is a five-year period where if no one contests the trademark, it is approved and uncontestable from then on. It doesn’t matter if someone had been using that same brand name for hundreds of years. It may not be fair, but it’s the law.
According to an article in the Evansville Courier Press, this is apparently what happened to the original ‘OV.’ The original ‘OV’ probably assumed its trademark was safe since it was first and had been using its name forever. The new ‘OVB’ filed for a federally registered trademark in 1994, but the original ‘OV’ never contested the application. Five years passed and… Ooops.
The original ‘OV’ was then faced with a choice. They could either choose to share their name with another financial institution in the same market, or they could change names themselves.
The original ‘OV’ chose to modify its name, dropping the words “national” and “bank” as it became ‘Ohio Valley Financial Group.’
Reality Check: This is a cautionary tale to all those financial institutions who erroneously presumed they safely owned their trademarks – forever. Wrong. Just because you’ve had your name for 100+ years doesn’t mean anything – even from the USPTO’s perspective.
It is your burden and responsibility to protect your trademarks, and if you let someone else use your name (or something similar) for too long, you will forfeit your right — forever — to exclusively use that name.
Bottom Line: If you haven’t federally protected your trademark yet, get started today. You have to attack everyone who threatens the integrity of your trademark(s). Getting litigious may not be your natural instinct, but letting anyone share your trademark(s) is the same thing as saying, “I don’t care if these assets erode and their value depreciates.”
(*Dislcaimer: If you have questions concerning financial trademarks, please consult an experienced trademark attorney.)