Co-operative Bank continues court fight over name

The Co-operative Bank says it doesn't want a monopoly over the word "co-operative" but consumers will get confused if the NZ Association of Credit Unions (NZACU) changes its name to Co-Op Money. 

As reported earlier this year, the Co-operative Bank took action against NZACU to protect its $8.7 million rebrand undertaken by agency Y&R three years ago. The Co-operative Bank had been known as PSIS until 2011.  

The brand tussle went back to the High Court at Auckland today. 

NZACU, which represents 22 co-operatively owned credit unions and mutual building societies, had decided to rebrand to Co-Op Money but, facing legal action, had held off until today's hearing (scroll to bottom to see its proposed new logo). 

Today before Justice Raynor Asher, the bank's lawyer MinterEllisonRuddWatts partner Zane Kennedy asked for an injunction preventing NZACU from changing its name.

The Co-operative Bank said there have been breaches of the Fair Trading Act and passing off. It is also wants to stop NZACU registering a new logo as a trademark.

Mr Kennedy said it was obvious someone who is a co-operative is would want to brand themselves as such but, until The Co-operative Bank, nobody in the New Zealand financial services sector had. 

He says the brand development, including 1700 TV commercials, radio, bus shelters, print and branded items, increased the bank's member base by more than 7% and led to rapid growth in unprompted awareness when assessed by Nielsen.

"It can't be anyone else because no one brands themselves as a co-operative," he said.

Mr Kennedy drew similarities with the Court of Appeal ruling of NZ Tax refunds, which he said was a similar case because it also involved a descriptive brand. The appeal court finding in favour of NZ Tax Refunds over, he said, meant that brands with similar descriptive names can be ruled to be distinct.  

The lawyer said the bank did not want a monopoly on the word "co-operative" but just that NZACU would be confusing to people due to the similarly between Co-op Bank and Co-op Money. He said that consumers seeing the two names would assume some affiliation between the two competing organisations. 

NZACU's lawyer Bell Gully litigation partner Alan Ringwood is expected to give his argument later today.

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