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BB&T, SunTrust file lawsuit response denying Truliant trademark claims over Truist

BB&T, SunTrust file lawsuit response denying Truliant trademark claims over Truist

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With the debut of Truist Financial Corp. just two days away, its combining members filed Wednesday a blanket denial of claims made by Truliant Federal Credit Union in a pull-no-punches trademark infringement lawsuit.

BB&T Corp., based in Winston-Salem, and SunTrust Banks Inc., based in Atlanta, announced Feb. 7 that BB&T is buying SunTrust in a $30.4 billion megadeal in which BB&T shareholders would have a 57% stake.

Truist will have $463.7 billion in total assets in its 17-state network.

By comparison, Truliant, based in Winston-Salem, has $2.6 billion in total assets as one of the largest credit unions in the Carolinas.

The transaction, with all federal and state regulatory approvals secured, will be completed at midnight Friday, the banks said.

The banks want the federal court for the Middle District of N.C. to dismiss the Truliant complaint with prejudice, meaning it can’t be re-filed. An initial pretrial conference has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 22 at the federal courthouse in Durham.

The banks announced June 12 — to mixed reviews — Truist Financial Corp. as the name for their new combined holding company and Truist Bank as the retail brand.

Five days later, Truliant filed its complaint.

BB&T and SunTrust said Truist was chosen from what the banks and global marketing firm Interbrand said were “thousands” of choices. Free defines Truist as “unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.”

“Truist is the first signal of our bold future together,” the banks said. “It reflects a shared belief in building a better future for our clients and communities.

“The companies conducted a rigorous process to research, select and secure the new name,” BB&T spokesman David White said in June.

Truliant has said that “we remain resolute in our position that the best outcome is for BB&T and SunTrust to select another name.”

Truliant claimed the Truist brand would create “digital marketplace confusion,” particularly in the Triad and Charlotte, producing “irreparable harm,” and that the banks were acting “with the reckless disregard of Truliant’s rights.”

Truliant president Todd Hall cited as an example that “when a consumer searches online for a Truliant location or information about a Truliant product or service, while typing in ‘Truliant’ a search engine may automatically populate results including ‘Truist’ and redirect consumers to that entity, especially given the direct geographic overlap in the respective markets.”

“We see difficulty for consumers who can’t distinguish between our names being led down the wrong path as they increasingly interact with elements like voice tech, digital assistants, machine learning and artificial intelligence, which may not necessarily incorporate visual brand elements.”

The banks were served Sept. 4 with a series of documents aimed at compelling a response, or risk a default judgment against it. The parties agreed Nov. 1 to give the banks until Wednesday to file their response.

The banks acknowledge in the response that Truliant has trademarks for “credit union services,” as well as Truliant’s trademark for Truliances covers automobile buying, insurance agency, financial planning and investment brokerage services.

The banks denied Truliant’s allegation that they “are attempting to establish a brand reputation and goodwill in the Truist mark in advance of completion of the merger.”

They denied Truliant’s allegations of the likelihood of consumer confusion between Truliant and Truist, in particular because Truist would be a large super-regional bank and Truliant a credit union.

Truliant has wanted the banks to be prevented from moving forward with marketing Truist at retail or online sites, including applying for Truist trademarks. Truliant wants any Truist-branded products to be destroyed. Truliant also wants to be awarded any profits made via the Truist brand as compensatory monetary damages as well as requesting punitive damages.

BB&T applied June 11 for five sets of trademarks with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The last update on the agency’s website is a request it made Sept. 6 to BB&T for more information on the application.

Truliant faces a significant challenge to winning a trademark-infringement lawsuit against the banks, according to analysts and industry officials.

An online search came up with several “Tru” financial services brands, including: TruMark Financial Credit Union in Pennsylvania; TRU Financial Services Inc. of San Diego; Tru Financial Group of St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada; TruFund Financial Services in New York; Tru Insight Wealth Advisors in New York; and TruWealth Financial in North Dakota.




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