Credit Union Sues Bank Over Trademarked Scarlet Letter

Trademarked red ‘M’ triggers lawsuit

Two Pennsylvania financial institutions will square off in court over who can — and can’t — use a big, red “M” in their logo. In a court filing, Members 1st FCU is accusing Metro Bank of trademark infringement over its use of an “M” monogram that the two companies currently share as their logo.

Members 1st says it’s been using its current red “M” logo since March, 2003, and received a federal trademark protection on its logo from the USPTO in January, 2006. Metro Bank debuted its new red “M” just last month.

In its filing, the credit union asserts Metro Bank adopted the M logo “in an effort to capitalize on Members 1st’s goodwill and thereby obtain a competitive advantage.”

Keep in mind that both these financial institutions share the same service areas in Pennsylvania.

In an article about the lawsuit, Members 1st spokesman George Nahodil said the two logos are so similar that the credit union has learned of cases where a Metro Bank customer came into a Members 1st branch, thinking he or she was in a Metro Bank. He said the credit union has also heard of Members 1st customers walking into a Metro Bank and thinking they were in a Members 1st.

“We’re significant players in the central Pennsylvania financial market. We felt we had to defend our logo and our brand,” Nahodil told the Patriot-News. The credit union has $1.5 billion in assets and well over 150,000 members.

The big red “M” isn’t the only trademark trouble the folks at Philly’s Metro are facing. Last November, The Financial Brand noted the serious potential trademark problems posed by the Metro name itself.

Metro Bank was created when Pennsylvania Commerce and nearby Republic First agreed to merge and change names late last year. The problem is that there were no fewer than four other banks who were already using Metro before Pennsylvania Commerce + Republic First chose it as their new name.

People frequently — and incorrectly — assume that it’s okay for an organization to use a name as long as no one else in their market is already using it. Wrong. A bank 3,000 miles away with only one branch and $10 million in assets can stop you dead in your tracks… provided they have secured a federally registered trademark from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Bottom Line: Picking something similar to what someone else in the financial industry is already using…

  1. Doesn’t differentiate you, which undermines your brand.
  2. Can get you sued, costing you a truckload of money. And then you’ll have to start from scratch… which will cost a second truckload of money.

If you haven’t yet taken to heart The Financial Brand’s advice about protecting your financial institution’s brand assets, what are you waiting for? A lawsuit? You should contact a trademark attorney immediately and talk about (for starters) registering your name, logo and slogan with the USPTO.

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