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Two credit unions, one in Portland, Ore., and the other in Charlotte, N.C., disclosed last week that they stumbled upon a new vehicle for handling infringement clashes on market brands by developing a new “lease agreement” between noncompeting CUs.The pact between Unitus Community CU of Portland and Carolina Postal CU of Charlotte allows both to use the marketing campaign phrase, “Membership Matters,” undertaken by the CUs in their respective markets.The Unitus-Carolina Postal agreement, approved separately by local trademark lawyers hired by the CUs, allows Unitus to use “Membership Matters” ad and logo material for a year, subject to likely renewal.The CEOs of the two CUs hailed the pact as another “shining example of cooperativeness and sharing” by avoiding needless legal expense and time in dealing with potential cease and desist orders on similar marketing campaigns.As it turned out, Carolina Postal CU had actually trademarked the phrase “Membership Matters” in 2006 with U.S. Patent office in Washington and has been using it “generically on taglines, on marketing materials, in our annual report and sometimes as filler,” explained Deb McLean, marketing vice president at Carolina Postal.The Charlotte CU actually received its formal trademark approval last summer, but it wasn’t until this spring when officials of Unitus Community googled the name to find to their dismay that it had already been trademarked.“My staff had created a vibrant membership campaign,” said Pat Smith, president/CEO. On her own, she contacted her counterpart at Carolina Postal, Joy Watts, to see if something could be worked out, and “much to our delight, we found a willing colleague,” said Smith.“The agreement between the two credit unions has worked so well considering we have different fields of membership and a different geographic location, and we both understand and respect the exclusive nature of these kinds of materials,” said Smith.In a statement, Watts cited the sometimes bitter legal and personal disputes than can arise over infringement cases. “We’ve been there,” said Watts. “I knew exactly what Pat was feeling. We’ve had a terrific campaign or a new product just rolled out, only to receive a cease and desist letter from a credit union in another state.”It is particularly frustrating, said Watts “when the other credit unions would not partner with us on sharing the phrase or slogan. Especially irritating was the fact that our territories and member base didn’t cross over or even come close to one another.”Laurie Kresl, vice president of planning and business development at Unitus, said had the lease agreement not gone through with approval by a Charlotte law firm, “we would have had to revamp our whole concept and come up with a new name.”The Unitus six-week “Membership Matters” referral campaign ended March 31, according to Kresl, and was successful in bringing in $620,000 in deposits and 85 members. Under the campaign, special membership cards with special bar codes were handed out by employees to potential members in the branches and elsewhere.McLean of Carolina Postal said her CU, like others, has long worried over cease and desist orders, but now perhaps this kind of lease deal might alleviate the angst.“Those cease and desist letters are written by lawyers, and some of them are so nasty and threatening, the marketing departments and the CEOs are scared to move,” said McLean. “You read one of those letters and it sounds like they will go after your first born,” she joked.Hopefully, the Unitus-Carolina deal may prove a worthy solution, she said.–[email protected]

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