Truist pegs changing course in Truliant copyright suit at $34M

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The latest argument in a high-profile legal battle between banks and credit unions boils down to cost — as in, changing course now would cost too much.

That’s the argument from Truist Financial, the new brand reflecting the merger of SunTrust and BB&T. The company claimed in a recent court document it has already spent $125 million on the new name.

After the bank’s announcement of the Truist brand, the $2.9 billion-asset Truliant Federal Credit Union filed a preliminary injunction in February to stop the use of the Truist brand while a copyright infringement lawsuit was pending. The court documents, filed May 15, were in response to that.

Both institutions are based in North Carolina and operate in similar geographic markets.

Specifically, Truist said it spent $7 million to create the name, $4 million to have it approved by regulators and shareholders, $40 million to configure operating systems to reflect the new branding and an additional $75 million in marketing. If and when Major League Baseball begins its season, the Atlanta Braves will play at Truist Park.

“A preliminary injunction changing the status quo would cause irreparable harm to Truist’s reputation and goodwill, and to the Truist brand,” the bank’s attorneys wrote in the court documents. “After informing clients and the public that BB&T and SunTrust are 'Now Truist,' switching would undermine those relationships.”

The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank also said in the filing that it would cost $34 million to change its name, take six to nine months and require a new shareholder vote in addition to regulatory approval.

Still, the Winston Salem, N.C.-based Truliant claims it could be damaged if the bank moves ahead with the “tru” prefix.

"Despite the investment which the defendants have made in the development of a new name, we remain steadfast behind the facts of the case which demonstrate the strength and vitality of the Truliant name," a Truliant spokesperson said. "No company may infringe upon the name and goodwill of another simply because of the size of its investment."

Earlier this year the credit union commissioned a professor from the University of North Carolina to conduct research to determine potential marketplace confusion between the two brands. Truliant said that the survey's findings showed a 37.8% net likelihood of confusion among consumers within Truliant's geographic field of membership.

But the $461 billion-asset Truist countered that the survey demonstrated no actionable confusion and that the study was biased in favor of Truliant. The bank said that its own survey found confusion was at a level of 3% or less.

Truist admitted the "tru" prefix is similar, but said that more than 7,460 federal registrations use the prefix and that the "three-letter overlap is insufficient to warrant extraordinary relief.” For example, Fifth Third Bank offers a "Truly Simple" credit card while Liberty Mutual advertises "TRU" services.

The bank argued in Friday’s court filing that in addition to the expense of another rebrand, “a second name change — no matter how well orchestrated — will extensively damage Truist’s reputation,” along with customer relations, sponsor relationships and damage the bank within the broader marketplace. The brand rollout, the bank concluded, “has been well received. The legacy banks’ goodwill will not transfer as well to a new name.”

The credit union indicated it expects to keep up the fight as long as necessary.

"Truliant is a commercially solid, $2.9 [billion-asset] credit union with more than 30 locations in three states and has built a strong brand identity. We plan to continue protecting it as any business would," a spokesperson said in a statement.

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