WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Spendology used and applied for the SPENDOLOGY trademark first. However, that didn’t stop PNC Bank from applying for the same mark 7 months later, sending a cease and desist letter, and then taking action in the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeals Board resulting in the cancellation of Spendology’s trademark application for the SPENDOLOGY trade name.
Spendology founder, K. Alexander Ashe, leveraged social media platforms including Reddit, Pinterest, Imgur, and Twitter to present the matter in the court of public opinion. Mr. Ashe hosted an online discussion about the matter via Reddit’s “Ask me Anything” forum. PNC Bank has not made any public statements regarding the matter.
About the Company
Spendology develops apps that activate financial intelligence. The company is based in the Washington, DC metro area. Spendology will be launching the Instant Budget app soon. Instant Budget will calculate a smart, local, personal and visual budget for consumers in just minutes. Spendology was founded by K. Alexander Ashe. Mr. Ashe is a graduate of Florida A&M University and Columbia University. He previously worked as a management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and the Corporate Executive Board.
My company, Spendology LLC, started using the SPENDOLOGY trademark first and applied for federal trademark protection 7 months before PNC Bank. Nonetheless, the bailed-out bank hired one of the largest law firms in the US to persuade me to “abandon the trademark and adopt a new one”. The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. or PNC Bank has succeeded in its attempt to use legal action to prevent my company from registering its trademark and namesake. The story starts a few years ago when I decided to start a company that would use psychology and analytics to advance intelligence. I had an ambitious goal – I just need a name for it.
It was a bright summer morning in 2010 when I woke up and had an epiphany. It was on that sunny July morning that I finally put a name to it, SPENDOLOGY, the psychology behind why we spend and how we can spend more wisely. I searched to see if the name had previously been trademarked on the US Patent and Trademark website. I also conducted several Google and web domain searches to ensure the name was not being used by company. As it turns out, there were no registered trademarks, trademark applications, or search results showing companies using the SPENDOLOGY trademark in July 2010.
I had recently read Dan Ariely’s first book, Predictably Irrational, which looked at behavioral economics research showing that people don’t always make optimal decisions. I previously worked as a management consultant making decision support tools for senior executives. I thought it would be great to put these powerful tools in the hands of everyday people. I wanted to combine insights from behavioral economics with the power of smart algorithms to help people make better decisions. Next, I developed the Instant Budget Calculator, an online financial calculator that has enabled over 1500 Spendology customers to create a smart, local, and personal budget in less than 10 minutes. Creating a budget is difficult. The 2014 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey found that a whopping 61% of consumers do not have a budget.
I decided that I should protect the namesake of my company by seeking federal trademark protection. I submitted a trademark application October 25, 2011. The SPENDOLOGY trademark application was published in the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Official Gazette on June 12, 2012. The PNC Financial Services Group applied for the Spendology trademark on June 12, 2012 and sent me a cease and desist letter dated June 13, 2012. On October 10, 2012, PNC filed a Notice of Opposition with the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeals Board with the goal of preventing my firm from registering its trademark. One of the largest banks and one of the largest law firms in the United States were successful in combining forces to cancel my firm’s trademark application.
I thought about quitting. I hired and fired several lawyers. Many lawyers I spoke with suggested that I give up. This was regulatory capture at its best. PNC Bank, a recipient of TARP bailout funds, was Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Jail and Too Big to Be Wrong. The Department of Justice and Federal Regulators refuse to take Wall Street to task for willfully crashing the economy. Main Street is still reeling from the financial crisis. PNC is continuing to wage War Against Main Street.
Big companies with deep pockets, like PNC, can use “legal force” to cancel the trademark applications and registrations of startups or small businesses – even if the startup used the mark first. The implications of this far-reaching. Moreover, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a landmark case (B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc.) on December 2, 2014. The Supreme Court’s decision will directly impact the matter between Spendology LLC and PNC Bank.
I founded Spendology so that I could empower people and organizations to make better financial decisions. Now, I am in a battle for my company’s namesake; albeit, the matter goes beyond my company’s property rights. I am fighting to prevent another entrepreneur or small business woman from being deprived of their property rights despite having done all the rights things. This is a struggle that can be likened to the battle between David and Goliath. Yet, we all remember that, in the end, David triumphed over Goliath.
The world is rife with problems. As of late, issues like war, Ebola, income inequality, and climate change have been on the front page. We live in a complex world with many voices and many points of views. However, there are moments like the Arab Spring, Occupy Central with Peace and Love, and national elections when groups of people can speak with one voice and make a change. Coming together to affect positive change requires recognition of the situation and forces of power, standing up to the status quo, finding common ground, and playing to the strengths of the agents of change.
Occupy Central with Peace and Love
Hong Kong was formerly a colony of the British Empire following the First Opium War. On July 1, 1997, the United Kingdom signed a treaty transferring the sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. A professor by the name of Benny Thai had a vision that Hong Kong citizens could move closer to a democratic society by having the right to vote and elect their own leaders. Benny Thai started the Occupy Central with Peace and Love with the intent to use civil disobedience to win the right to vote. I was personally touched and amazed when I saw images of Hong Kong protester’s used the same “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture used in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Desert of the Real
I recently wrote about Ferguson and the challenge of being a black male in America. The reality is although white people are more likely to deal drugs, blacks are more likely to be arrested for it. Stop and frisk, shopping while black, standing while black; and, even following the orders of law enforcement can result in bodily harm or even death. Brutal honesty and critical analysis is necessary prior to building a coalition and facing a giant. The Matrix is my favorite film. Morpheus introduced to Neo to the “Desert of the Real”, the bitter truth hidden from humanity. Accepting reality for what it is can be difficult. Yet, this realization coupled with the urgent desire for change can awaken amazing creativity. It can also reveal the path forward. Thurgood Marshall utilized the law to effect change. Ghandi and Martin Luther King utilized civil disobedience. Analyze the options in the same manner that a war strategist like Clausewitz or Sun Tzu. It is paramount to have clarity of purpose and specific desired outcomes to develop a winning strategy.
I Love My Congressman, I Hate Congress
The United States has many different political groups despite being stuck with a two-party system (for now): conservative, progressive, libertarian, independent, green, etc. I have marveled at conversations between conservatives and progressives that ignore the fact that there are common values. For instance, some liberals and libertarians may agree on same-sex marriage but for different reasons. There is even a Tea Party group in Georgia that teamed up with the Sierra Club to support Solar Energy in Georgia. Having a clear purpose can hopefully overcome persistent dissatisfaction with the US Congress. People hate Congress: 83% of people disapprove of the job Congress is doing while 50% of people think their Congressperson deserves to be reelected. Yes, gerrymandering is an issue but it is exacerbated by having too many candidates in “safe” districts and threats of primary challenges. Effecting change requires focusing on common goals to overcome inertia, build momentum, and prevent divisions from slowing down a movement.
Play To Your Strengths
Don’t strive to be well-rounded. A well-rounded person is average; thus, they do not stand out in anything. Author Malcolm Gladwell goes into detail on the importance of focusing on one’s strengths in his recent book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Gladwell tells a few stories about small, ill-equipped forces battling military giants throughout history. Gladwell pointed out that the smaller forces won over 60% of the time when they focused on their strength. Examples include Toussaint L’Ouverture of Haiti defeating the French army and Hannibal of Carthage defeating Roman forces. Moreover, it is important to be flexible so as to take advantage of Goliath’s weaknesses and miscalculations. Wars, movements, and revolutions have been fought and won with these tactics.
My Fight Against a Giant
I can’t continue writing about all of these important battles without mentioning a battle that my company has been facing for several years. My company, Spendology LLC, started using the Spendology trademark and applied for Federal trademark protection with the USPTO before one of the largest banks in the United States. This bank went on to file a notice of opposition (like a lawsuit in administrative court) that resulted in blocking my company from registering the trademark Spendology. Fortunately, there are common law rights to trademarks, thus my firm can continue to use its trade name. The bank, a recipient of a taxpayer bailout, is PNC Bank. PNC continues to use my firm’s name and they have refused come to the table to negotiate. At the same time, a major trademark case is headed to the US Supreme Court that deals with one of the key issues in my firm’s ongoing dispute with PNC Bank.
My firm does have many available moves left on the chess board. I’m fighting this fight because the danger of corporations establishing Eminent Domain for intellectual property is simply unacceptable. I’m also hoping that this encourage other entrepreneurs, consumers, and citizens to courageously confront the giants in their lives. Rights must be fervently fought for and exercised; otherwise, they are, at best, only hopes and wishes. Make sure you vote in the upcoming national election this November. Your voice is your vote. In places like Hong Kong, people are taking to the streets to fight for the rights we take for granted in the US.