KeyCorp of Cleveland is suing Key Bank and Trust, a $250 million-asset bank in Owings Mills, Md., over its use of the Key name.
KeyCorp, the 14th-largest U.S. banking company, has spent more than $200 million over the last few years to build its brand identity. Its suit in U.S. District Court in Cleveland accuses the smaller bank of infringing on a trade name and benefiting unfairly from its use.
The $67 billion-asset KeyCorp wants Key Bank and Trust to stop using the similar name, pay KeyCorp any profits it earned while using the name, and pay an undetermined sum for damages.
The president and chief executive of Key Bank and Trust, which has been using that identity since last October, has promised to "vigorously defend" his company's right to use the name. "It appears they're going to blow out our legal budget," David H. Wells Jr. said in an interview.
Mr. Wells contended that his company, which has made a name for itself outside its market as an issuer of secured credit cards, is the rightful owner of the name. Mr. Wells said he expects to file an answer in court by July 1, which will ask KeyCorp to stop using the Key name.
Key Bank and Trust changed its name last fall from Key Federal Savings Bank in October after converting from a savings and loan charter. It was founded in 1961 as Key Savings and Loan Association, named after Francis Scott Key. KeyCorp, which merged with Society Corp. three years ago, said it has used the Key name since 1967.
KeyCorp officials are most concerned about the words Key and Bank together.
"Like many companies, KeyCorp has placed great value and has invested significantly in its name and brand identity," said spokesman William Murschel. "Therefore, we'll take the necessary steps to protect this asset from those who might mislead the public."
But Mr. Wells said his company also has much invested in the name and views KeyCorp as throwing its weight around. "We're being bullied by a $67 billion gorilla," he said, noting the Cleveland company doesn't compete for bank customers in Baltimore.
Key Bank and Trust has six branches in Maryland and one in Virginia, but it does market credit cards nationally that bear the Key Bank name, mainly to people who maintain deposits as security for their credit lines.
KeyCorp also claimed the Maryland company has used its trademark Key Advantage, but Mr. Wells said his bank hasn't used that name for five years.
Mr. Wells was aware of KeyCorp. The thrift received a letter from KeyCorp 12 years ago saying it was "concerned" about the use of the Key name, but Mr. Wells said nothing came of it.