Truliant sues the banks behind Truist name, claiming trademark infringement

Truliant Federal Credit Union said Monday it filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit over Truist, the name of the Charlotte-based bank to be formed from a proposed merger of BB&T and SunTrust Banks.

Truliant, which is based in Winston-Salem and has 13 branches in the Charlotte area, said the federal court suit was filed in North Carolina. The filing came after BB&T and SunTrust Banks announced the Truist name last Wednesday, their latest step toward combining the two regional banks.

“This is a clear infringement on our name, and their proximity to our main business region will confuse consumers and undermine the trust we have built in our institution,” Truliant President Todd Hall said in a statement.

“As a member-owned cooperative and community leader, it is very important for consumers to be able to make this distinction,” Hall said.

SunTrust spokeswoman Sue Mallino refused to comment on the suit. BB&T does not comment on pending litigation, BB&T spokesman David White said Monday afternoon.

“The companies conducted a rigorous process to research, select and secure the new name,” White said, referring to BB&T and SunTrust.

BB&T and SunTrust went through thousands of names and Truist “was clearly a winner,” Dontá Wilson, BB&T chief digital and client experience officer, told the Observer last week. The name underscores BB&T’s and SunTrust’s reputations for trust, transparency and honesty, Wilson said.

SunTrust BB&T event.jpg
BB&T and SunTrust revealed their new name to employees during an event Wednesday at the Charlotte Convention Center. Observer staff photo

Truist, projected to be sixth-largest bank in the U.S. by assets and deposits, also announced last week that it plans to establish its headquarters in Hearst Tower in uptown Charlotte.

Regulatory approvals for the merger are still needed. If approved, it would be the largest U.S. bank merger since the financial crisis of 2008.

A spokesman for the Federal Reserve declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said the regulator does not comment on litigation or pending merger applications

‘Equity we have built’

Truliant said Monday that its brand name has been in use since 1999 and is a federally registered trademark.

The credit union also pointed out that Truist will have operations in Winston-Salem, where BB&T is headquartered. Truliant has 15 locations in Greater Winston-Salem, the credit union also said.

“By using a name that is very similar to our Truliant brand name and other ‘Tru’ family trademarks, SunTrust and BB&T will be trading on the equity we have built,” Hall said.

Last week, BB&T and SunTrust said they hired New York-based Interbrand to help create the Truist same. That firm’s clients have included prominent brands such as pharmaceuticals company Merck, technology giant Samsung and cosmetics retailer Sephora, according to its website.

Will consumers be confused?

The success of Truliant’s lawsuit will depend on how likely a consumer is to get confused between the two banks, said Seth Hudson, a partner with the Charlotte office of intellectual property law firm Clements Bernard Walker.

The fact that both Truliant and Truist are financial institutions could add to any confusion, Hudson said.

“I think it boils down to really: would an ordinary consumer believe that there is some affiliation or sponsorship between Truliant and this new BB&T SunTrust (bank), Truist?”

Reporter Danielle Chemtob contributed to this report.

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