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Commerce Bank sues TD Banknorth; Names confuse customers.

Byline: Bob Kievra

WORCESTER - Commerce Bank & Trust Co. asked a federal judge yesterday to block TD Banknorth Inc. and Commerce Bancorp Inc. from doing business in Massachusetts as TD Commerce Bank.

Commerce Bank made the request in a 17-page lawsuit and in a motion for a temporary restraining order filed in U.S. District Court in Worcester. The complaint came 12 days after TD Banknorth and Commerce Bancorp. said they would begin doing business as TD Commerce Bank. Portland, Maine-based TD Banknorth yesterday completed its $8.5 billion purchase of Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Commerce Bancorp.

In acquiring Commerce Bancorp., TD Banknorth doubled its U.S. business by adding 470 branches and $50 billion in assets across eight states and the District of Columbia.

Commerce Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Brian W. Thompson said his $1 billion bank, founded in 1955, could not let the issue go unchallenged.

"We have no choice,'' Mr. Thompson said in an interview. "This is a tremendous risk to us. We sent them a letter and have had no response. A name is everything in banking. It's what you promote and it's how you identify yourself.''

Jennifer L. Carlson, a spokeswoman for TD Banknorth, said the bank would have no comment on the matter, citing the pending lawsuit

TD Banknorth, which had $58 billion in assets before acquiring Commerce Bancorp, has its Massachusetts headquarters at 370 Main St. The headquarters of Commerce Bank, at 386 Main St., are across Elm Street from TD Banknorth.

Mr. Thompson said the two banks go head-to-head in the region and customers have already become confused after TD Banknorth unveiled its new brand and logo last month. Commerce Bank of Worcester said it has spent $6.3 million promoting and marketing its service marks in Massachusetts since 2001.

Commerce Bank said it first notified Commerce Bancorp. about its trademarks in 2002 when Commerce Bancorp. was contemplating expanding into Massachusetts.

Commerce Bank sent a cease-and-desist letter at the time, but received no response. More recently, Commerce Bank sent a March 20 letter to TD Bank Financial Group in Toronto, the parent of TD Banknorth, and Commerce Bancorp.

The chairman of Commerce Bank, David G. Massad, said in a statement there has only been one Commerce Bank in Massachusetts for more than a half-century.

"Just because they are a big bank doesn't mean that we're going to let them steal our name and attempt to steal our customers," Mr. Massad said. In its lawsuit, Commerce Bank claimed trademark dilution, trademark infringement and unfair competition. It asked the court for a hearing on an injunction as soon as Friday.

In court documents, Commerce Bank said the use of "TD" does nothing to distinguish the two banks. "The `TD Commerce Bank' service mark is confusingly similar to Commerce Bank's service mark. The language and use of the phrase `Commerce Bank' is identical," Mr. Thompson said in an affidavit.

Some Commerce Bank customers believe the bank is merging with TD Banknorth, while others have asked about possible branch closings, what impact the news will have on employees or whether they can now cash paychecks at other banks.

"This is tremendously confusing to customers,'' he said. "We have 30,000 customers in this market and we're going to protect our customers and our brand."


CUTLINE: Mr. Thompson
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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