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.
- Does Citigroup’s lawsuit have any merit? Could customers genuinely be confused by the two similarly named loyalty programs?
- 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.