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One of the nation’s biggest banks must rename its branches in a corner of western Pennsylvania to avoid trampling on a tiny competitor, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday that Citizens Financial Group infringed the trademark of the smaller, but much older, Citizens National Bank of Evans City, when it bought hundreds of Mellon Bank branches in Pennsylvania in 2001 and renamed them Citizens Bank. “Neither the principles of equity nor the federal Constitution favor the rights of the powerful over the rights of the weak merely because of size,” Judge Max Rosenn wrote for the three-judge panel. The merger seemed to confuse some customers in the market Citizens National had carved for itself north of Pittsburgh, the company said. Founded 13 years after the end of the Civil War, the bank suddenly found its branches competing with a rival with an almost identical name. Citizens Bank customers mistakenly tried to deposit money at Citizens National Bank branches, used the wrong ATMs and called the wrong customer service numbers for help with their accounts, the company said. Compounding the problem, the two banks had similar logos and slogans. A jury found that Citizens Financial Group had infringed on Citizens National’s trademark, but a judge said it would be too troublesome to order such a big bank to change its name. Instead, the judge told the smaller bank to stop referring to itself as “Citizens,” and use its full name, Citizens National, in all marketing materials and letters to customers. That order was overturned on appeal Thursday. A lawyer for Citizens Financial Group, a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland, did not return a call seeking comment. Margaret Irvine Weir, president of Citizens National Bank, said her company felt vindicated. “We have been here for 126 years, and justice is not decided on size,” she said. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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