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Travelers Sues British Insurer Over Umbrella Logo

The trademark red umbrella of The Travelers Cos. has adorned neckties, lapel pins, TV advertisements, a PGA golf tournament and the halls of the company's Hartford, Conn., offices. Now it's emblazoned on a lawsuit in federal court...

By Matthew Sturdevant, The Hartford Courant
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 03--The trademark red umbrella of The Travelers Cos. has adorned neckties, lapel pins, TV advertisements, a PGA golf tournament and the halls of the company's Hartford offices. Now it's emblazoned on a lawsuit in federal court.

Travelers is suing a British insurer for its use of a multicolored umbrella that it says is too similar to Travelers' cherished logo.

Legal & General Group PLC of London and its affiliates -- including William Penn Life Insurance Co. and Banner Life Insurance Co. -- have used an image of an umbrella, with red, blue, yellow and green segments, in advertising and promotions to build "goodwill in their brand," attorneys for Travelers say in the lawsuit. Legal & General also displays the multicolored umbrella above the entrance to its U.S. headquarters in Urbana, Md.

The British company's use of an umbrella to market and sell insurance and financial services products "is extremely likely to dilute the famous Travelers Umbrella Mark, thus severely harming Travelers," the suit says. In recent years, the document says, Travelers has spent tens of millions of dollars annually to promote its brand using the red umbrella.

It is not clear when Legal & General Group started using the multicolored umbrella. Emails and a phone call to Legal & General Group media relations in the U.S. and Britain were not returned Monday.

The suit says that, before 2011, Legal & General subsidiaries used other symbols. William Penn had a tricorn hat and Banner Life had a flag. The insurer had a significant brand expansion in October 2011 that required its affiliates to drop their logos and adopt the umbrella, the suit says.

The lawsuit is dated Nov. 20 and was filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. Travelers is based in New York City but has major operations in Hartford.

Travelers declined to comment on the lawsuit, deferring to the legal complaint filed in court.

This is the latest turn in the history of the red umbrella.

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Travelers' use of an umbrella dates to an advertisement in 1870, though the insurer officially took on the logo in the 1950s.

The umbrella was swept up by Citigroup when Travelers was acquired in the 1990s. In 2002, Citigroup spun off Travelers Property Casualty Corp., which gave up the umbrella and used a shield logo for five years. A separate entity under Citigroup, Travelers Life & Annuity, used the umbrella until it was purchased by MetLife in 2005. MetLife is known for its own iconic logo: Snoopy.

In February 2007, St. Paul Travelers Cos. Chairman and CEO Jay Fishman announced that the company was dropping St. Paul from its name and bought back its logo from former parent company Citigroup for undisclosed millions of dollars.

A long-time Trademark attorney Siegrun D. Kane, who wrote "Kane on Trademark Law: A Practitioner's Guide," said logos are even more significant than company names.

"Consumers have a tendency to latch onto a logo, and when they see one that looks like it, make an association, assume that the logo they're looking at is the one that they have a general impression of," said Kane, who is not an attorney for either side in the case.

Kane said the British insurer could make several arguments in an attempt to win over the court. For example, she said, it could argue that its customers are sophisticated enough to know the difference between the two umbrellas.

The suit says Travelers and L&G Group have tried to resolve Travelers' concerns for "several years."

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(c)2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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