Citigroup Sues AT&T for Saying “Thanks”

July 12, 2016

One of the first phrases children are taught to say is “thank you.” This simple expression of gratitude then sticks with us throughout life, acting as the appropriate response to a range of situations both simple and serious. In the eyes of Citigroup, however, “thank you” is more than just a common reply. Since 2004 the banking giant has operated a rewards program called “ThankYou” that allows customers to earn points from their purchases. As a result, the company trademarked its “ThankYou” brand name as well as variations like “Citi ThankYou.”

In fact, Citigroup is so protective of this phrase that it’s suing AT&T for showing gratitude to its customers. According to a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, the telecom company’s new “AT&T Thanks” loyalty program infringes on Citigroup’s trademarks. The suit claims that this could potentially cause confusion for the 7 million people with a ThankYou-branded credit card. In order to prevent any further misunderstanding, Citigroup is seeking unspecified damages as well as a court order to prohibit AT&T from saying “thanks.”

The telecom company doesn’t appear to be too intimidated, though. “This may come as a surprise to Citigroup, but the law does not allow one company to own the word ‘thanks,’’’ said AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook. “We’re going to continue to say thanks to our customers.” Furthermore, in April the company filed for a trademark on “AT&T thanks,” setting the stage for an interesting battle over whether or not large corporations can claim ownership to common words.



  1. Does Citigroup’s lawsuit have any merit? Could customers genuinely be confused by the two similarly named loyalty programs?
  1. Should large companies be able to lay claim to common words like “thanks?”


Sources: Erik Larson, “Citigroup Sues AT&T Over Right to Say ‘Thanks’ to Customers,” Bloomberg, June 10, 2016; Ashley Rodriguez, “Citigroup Is Suing AT&T For Using One Of The Most Common Words In The English Language,” Quartz, June 13, 2016. Photo by Iain Farrell.