A dispute over who owns the rights to the name of a long-standing credit union real estate institution appears to pit a mortgage consultant within one of the institution's chapters against the leading provider of private mortgage insurance for credit unions.
At issue is who owns the trademark to the word CUREN, an acronym for the Credit Union Real Estate Network, an informal organization of credit union real estate professionals that predates the founding of the American Credit Union Mortgage Association. ACUMA is the current trade group for mortgage issuing credit unions.
Mike Martella, a mortgage consultant with 267,000 member Patelco Credit Union, inadvertently launched the dispute when he revived a trademark application he had first made in 2004 to trademark the name CUREN. According to records with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, Patella made his application in September 2004. Martella said he abandoned the trademark in 2005 because he ran out of resources. He said he revived it in August 2011 out of concern that a for-profit firm might do so.
That concern appeared to be well-founded when the lawyer handling the trademark application for Martella received a letter from a law firm representing CUNA Mutual Mortgage Insurance. The insurance firm demanded that Martella abandon the trademark application and allow his ownership of the web domain curen.org to expire.
“CMGMI has been using the mark CUREN throughout the United States as a service mark in connection with a broad range of services related to the mortgage insurance industry since at least as early as 1999,” the Oct. 26 letter said.
The problem is that neither Martella nor any other CU real estate professional participating in CUREN contacted by Credit Union Times sees the organization as a marketing or service arm for CMGMI.
CUREN began in Los Angeles in the early 1990's, according to ACUMA President Bob Dorsa and other long-time credit union real estate professionals and had a local emphasis from the beginning.
“CUREN was a place where credit union real estate professionals could meet to discuss local developments, best practices, contacts, that sort of thing,” Dorsa said, emphasizing that the local nature of real estate markets made it seem obvious that CURENs, also, would be local.
A wide variety of venders have been involved as CUREN sponsors, according to Dorsa, including CMGMI. In fact, Dorsa and others reported that CMGMI held a predominate sponsorship role especially in the beginning when CMGMI executives helped get the groups organized. But Dorsa also pointed out that just sponsoring meetings does not and should not mean that CMGMI owns the name or that CURENs are a part of the mortgage insurance firm.
Martella said this issue of control is precisely why he filed the applications on behalf of credit union members of CUREN.
“This trademark belongs to the credit unions,” Martella said in an email about the letter from CMGMI. “I’m trying to do the right thing and prevent an insurance giant from claiming a free enterprise enjoyed by credit unions."
An executive with CMGMI stressed that some of the same concerns motivated the firm's concerns about the CUREN name.
Jim McCoy, associate general counsel for CMGMI said the insurer wanted to make sure that one entity owned the trademark to make sure that it remained strong and viable for credit unions to continue using.
“What people may not realize is that if everyone owns a trademark, in effect nobody owns it,” McCoy said, explaining that this could lead to the trademark being diminished and losing its market value. CMGMI would be better positioned to own the trademark since it has resources to defend it and keep it strong, he contended. He also stressed several times that CMGMI was not interested in the trademark as a money making asset or anything like that and that it would license it to credit unions or local CURENs that wanted to use it without charging anything.
McCoy said he anticipated CMGMI would apply to register the trademark in the future.
CMGMI has always been one of our sponsors, said Gloria Morris, mortgage lending manager at the 90,000 member Tennessee Valley Credit Union and President of the Southeast CURREN group. “But they have only been one of sponsors, not the only one.”