Michigan Legal Battle Over Trademark
Raising a number of concerns, the $550 million Michigan First Credit Union said it is moving forward with a suit against First Michigan Bancorp Inc. for trademark infringement.
The CU alleged that the bank's use of the First Michigan Bank name is "in conscious disregard of Michigan First's trademark rights and creates a likelihood of public confusion, in which consumers seeking Michigan First's services will be diverted to the bank, and/or will erroneously believe that the services offered by the bank are offered, sponsored, or endorsed by Michigan First, when in fact they are not." The CU filed the suit May 12 but made the announcement to proceed with litigation July 8.
Michigan First said it has obtained and consistently used several registered service marks since changing its name from Detroit Teachers Credit Union to Michigan First Credit Union in April 2001. These service marks include the credit union's name, Michigan First Credit Union, as well as a variety of products and services including its Michigan First MoneyWorks Banking Centers ATMs and Michigan First Wealth Management Group for its financial and estate planning services. In addition, there are a number of Michigan First branded websites and social media channels.
"These registered service marks are used extensively in our member communication and promotions, creating strong recognition with both our members and the public," said Michael Poulos, president/CEO of Michigan First. "We have taken all the necessary actions to protect these assets, which are consistently used for all of our banking and other financial services, and we will continue to take all necessary actions to protect them."
First Michigan Bank said the CU's claims are without merit and it intends to defend its name.
"First Michigan Bank rejects the claims made by Michigan First Credit Union in a press release regarding their lawsuit against us, alleging that our name is likely to create confusion in the market place with their name," wrote David Provost, chairman and president/CEO of First Michigan Bank in a July 8 statement to Credit Union Times.
Provost said those claims were baseless and the use of the First Michigan Bank name "does not create any likelihood of confusion, particularly given the differences in the marks, the weakness and lack of distinctiveness of Michigan First Credit Union's claimed marks, and the large number of financial institutions that use the terms 'First' and 'Michigan' in their names in varying ways."
"Michigan-based consumers of financial services are discriminating customers who understand the difference between a bank and a credit union, and who seek out the highest level of personal service for the most reasonable price. That is the basis on which First Michigan Bank does business," Provost wrote.
Upon hearing of First Michigan's response, Poulos reiterated Michigan First's stance. "[It] was necessary for us to move forward with litigation and we are fully prepared to fight to protect these assets. At this time, we are not able to provide further information on pending legal matters beyond what was included in the press release."