Ashe v. PNC Goes to SCOTUS

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Op-Ed: David and Goliath Trademark Dispute

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.