Suit Challenges CUNA’s Right To Trademark Acronym

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WASHINGTON – A start-up company calling itself Credit Union National Forms Association filed suit in federal court here challenging the right of the 85-year-old Credit Union National Association to trademark the universally known four-letter acronym CUNA.

A lawyer for the company, Jason Witten, said it is the start-up’s goal to have companies with credit union experience such as CUNA, Open-Solutions, E-Forms, NAFCU, Oak Tree Business Systems, NACUSO, ConMar, CUNA Mutual, Securian, Creditor Resources and CUES work with credit unions discussing forms-related issues and informing each other about the elements involved in specific forms-related matters. CUNFA believes this presents a highly beneficial resource for the industry. The year-old company says in its suit it has relationships with 9,000 U.S. credit unions.

CUNA said it had not seen the suit yet but stands by a letter it sent to the start-up in October directing it to cease and desist using the CUNFA acronym and symbol because of the potential for confusion with its own business. The letter notes that CUNA has owned a U.S. Trademark on the four-letter acronym since 1935.

“The challenge,” wrote Witten in a written response to questions submitted by Credit Union Journal, “lies in the underlying words ‘credit union,’ ‘national’ and ‘association.’ When CUNA was formed in 1938 it chose a name that simply described what it is using generic words in the industry. It is a national association for credit unions. As a further example of these specific words being descriptive and generic, when the government agency, the NCUA, was formed, it adopted the same letters and words (subbing ‘Administration’ for ‘Association’). As a result, CUNA’s full name did not qualify for trademark registration, and it is why ‘Credit Union National Association’ is not trademarked.”

“As a result, other organizations are not foreclosed from using similarly generic words to describe what they do, as long as they don’t try to pass themselves off as CUNA. The words used within CUNFA’s name are specifically descriptive of what it does and are important for that purpose,” wrote Witten.

“Thus,” he wrote, “the real issue is whether CUNFA and CUNA can co-exist peacefully with their acronym logos. We sincerely believe they can. Indeed, CUNFA would like CUNA to participate in CUNFA’s mission.”

“CUNA is only entitled to trademark protection on the specific combination of letters C-U-N-A. CUNFA’s combination of letters is different, and CUNFA has always been clearly separate from CUNA, such that there is no likelihood of confusion, especially to the professionals in the credit union industry,” he asserted.

 

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