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Executive Letter: WBA Trademark Legal Action Resolution

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Friends are people we all want in our lives both personally and professionally, and I’m very humbled to say that Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) has many friends across the banking association industry. This was very evident as we navigated, since May 2021, the trademark legal matter that I discussed earlier last month involving Western Bankers Association. Since my last communication to you, 10 states in the West sent a letter to Steve Andrews, the president and CEO of Western Bankers, expressing their concerns and requesting that he address them — including the trademark legal matter. Following that, the states involved in the trademark legal matter organized 17 state associations outside of the West and 15 state association board chairs, including the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s, to sign on to a coalition letter to Mr. Andrews and his executive committee, supporting the concerns of the 10 western states indicating that something needs to be done to resolve these issues and repair the fracture that exists across the Alliance of state bankers associations.

I am very pleased to say that I received an email late on Friday, February 12 from our attorneys indicating that Western Bankers had filed on Friday in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) “Surrender of Registration” documents for both CBA and WBA acronyms. This is a long-overdue result but very positive news! With the filing by Western Bankers of their surrender document without our consent, the USPTO, just this morning — pursuant to the rules — granted our Petition to Cancel and entered judgment against Western Bankers in our legal action. This morning’s action by the USPTO effectively favorably ends our legal action and because judgment on the Petition was entered in our favor, the ruling is with prejudice, which means that Western Bankers is precluded from trying to register the WBA mark in the future.

In addition to the public support of 16 other state associations signing on to the coalition letter, several other state association colleagues made phone calls to Mr. Andrews and/or California bankers to support our concerns. Furthermore, Joe Witt, president and CEO of Minnesota Bankers Association, organized a legal fund for the four states involved in the legal action that, had the legal process continued, would have helped offset legal expenses for all four states. Mr. Witt sent out communication to the associations in the central part of the country, along with others, requesting donations and seeding the fund with MBA’s own $5,000 contribution. The outpouring of financial support we received from many other state associations for this fund was inspiring.

All of these collective efforts demonstrate why it is so powerful for the state associations to work together for the benefit of the banking industry. So much good can be accomplished from collaboration and respect for one another. Certainly, this action by Western Bankers Association is a very positive step forward in the right direction toward repairing the fracture that exists in the Alliance. However, I continue to remain concerned about their attempts to cross state borders in selling education without the involvement of the state association, soliciting membership from banks with no physical presence in California, and sending general communications under the guise of “community banking” to bankers across the country. I am deeply grateful for all of your support of WBA and hope that you will continue to keep the issues we still struggle with as it relates to Western Bankers in your mind when you receive emails or other solicitations from them. I know my state association friends across the country who have supported us in this legal matter will appreciate your awareness as well.