Holy smoke! Housebuilder may sue bank over use of Abbey name

Abbey, a little Anglo-Irish housebuilder, is threatening to sue Abbey National, the bank, over the decision to drop "National" from its trading name. Charles Gallagher, executive chairman at Abbey plc, said Abbey National's new corporate identity - unveiled with fanfare and a £15m advertising campaign on Wednesday - would create confusion and could infringe his company's trademarks.

He said: "In every press release, on every occasion, they call themselves Abbey. Well, they are not Abbey, we are. Luqman Arnold is not the chief executive of Abbey, I am. We feel strongly that this promotes confusion where there was less or little before. Normally we would want to live and let live, but we feel this is a step too far".

Abbey National is closing the umbrella on the couple who have been its logo since the Forties, in favour of a new fuzzy, multi-coloured rendering of its shortened name. The plc name, however, is not being changed from Abbey National.

A spokeswoman for the company said it had fully examined the legality of taking the Abbey name for its retail banking operations and strongly rejected Mr Gallagher's claims.

She said the bank was already popularly known among its customers as Abbey. "We have registered the Abbey name as our trademark in financial services. The two companies are in very different fields, and we are still listed at Companies House and on the Stock Exchange as Abbey National".

Abbey plc, which is listed on the London and Dublin stock exchanges, builds residential houses and develops commercial property in South-east England and Ireland. The company, which is valued at £218m, also invests in property and offers plant hire. Mr Gallagher said he was calling in lawyers to examine if he has a case for trademark infringement against Abbey National. "We are a long-established listed company competing for investment funds and for the support and involvement of investors. We are entitled to the benefit of our name".

Wolff Olins, the brand consultancy, was paid £500,000 for work on Abbey National's new identity, which is being accompanied by a blitz on banking jargon.

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