The NY Times reports that Stephen G. Goetz, a credit card marketer in San Francisco, is suing American Express over their tagline "My life. My Card," which they have been using in a national advertising campaign since last autumn.
Lawsuits accusing companies of stealing trademarked slogans are common, and many are routinely dismissed. But Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled earlier this week that the issues in this case of brand identity theft can go to trial, possibly as early as December.
At issue is whether American Express independently conceived the idea for the campaign that began in November, or took it from Mr. Goetz, who claims he used it in a sales pitch to the financial services company in July.
The ad agency responsible for the AE campaign is Ogilvy, which is not commenting on the situation and is referring all calls to AE. They of course aren't talking either, which is no surprise considering they are in the middle of litigation.
Here's the break-down of the case:
According to an initial court filing, Mr. Goetz had sent a written proposal to an American Express executive on July 30, 2004, to gauge the interest in technology allowing consumers to place personal photographs on their credit cards. At the top of the proposal, the complaint maintains, was the slogan in bold type: "My Life, My Card.™ American Express delivers personalized cards to its cardholders!"
American Express maintains that it developed the campaign in the spring and summer of 2004; the Ogilvy agency, American Express said, came up with the tagline before July 30. American Express did not introduce the campaign until November 2004.
Mr. Jacobs, however, said that American Express had not been forthcoming with any materials showing how they developed the tagline. "So far, it has refused to produce any evidence showing that its ad agency independently conceived of this slogan," he said. Ogilvy, he said, has also been uncooperative.
Still, there are discrepancies. On Sept. 1, 2004, American Express registered the mylifemycard.com domain name for the campaign's Web site. Mr. Goetz maintains that he operated a similarly named Internet site.
In addition, Mr. Goetz said in his complaint that he filed a "My Life, My Card" trademark application with the patent office on Sept. 8 for "computer software for financial credit/debit card content management."
American Express, however, said in its own court filings that without any knowledge of Mr. Goetz's application, it applied a week later to use "My life. My card." for a range of credit and debit card-related business services.
Brain sync or stolen line? We'll have to wait to see what the courts say.