The Co-operative Bank has lost a High Court bid to stop a financial services group using the word co-op in its name.
New Zealand Association of Credit Unions is now likely to push on with its name change to Co-op Money NZ after its win.
The NZACU, which represents co-operatively owned credit unions and building societies, announced its intention to rebrand in June.
But Co-operative Bank applied for an interim injunction in the High Court at Auckland earlier this month as part of its attempt to stop the NZACU changing its name to Co-op Money.
No one else in the financial services sector had traded under "co-operative" or included "co-operative" in their brand since Co-op Bank changed its name from PSIS in 2011, the bank argued in a hearing before Justice Raynor Asher.
Co-op Bank had spent $8.7 million on marketing since changing its name and said the new names proposed by the NZACU would be deceptively similar to its name and cause confusion with current and potential customers.
The bank argued NZACU's use of the name would be a misrepresentation that would lead the public to believe that there is a link between the bank's and the association's businesses.
But Justice Asher dismissed the application for the interim injunction in a decision yesterday afternoon.
"The names "Co-op Money NZ, "Co-op Services NZ", and "Co-op Insurance NZ" have a different ring from "The Co-operative Bank". In the NZACU names, no word has more than three syllables, and they have an informality about them which the TCB [The Co-operative Bank] name does not. The word "co-op" co-exists with two other words that are entirely different...," Justice Asher said.
"The Court is unsympathetic to parties seeking monopolies on descriptive words, paticularly descriptive words widely used in the industry such as "co-operative," the judge said.
"In my view, such a monopoly will follow the granting to TCB of the injunction it seeks," he said earlier in his judgment.
"It has not been shown that use of the proposed words by the NZACU involves a mispresentation or would lead to serious confusion," the judge said.
NZACU chief executive Henry Lynch this morning said the "outcome is a win for co-operative principles and democratic rights, and all cooperatives in New Zealand".
There are thousands of organisations, both large and small, in all types of industries describing themselves as co-operatives, including the community banking movement. We represent 20 credit unions and mutual building societies, with over 200,000 mum and dad members," he said.
"The co-operative financial industry has been operating in New Zealand since the mid 1800's, and we have operated as a cooperative for over 50 years. The terms 'co-operative' or 'co-op' are generic and can't be monopolised by anyone."
Even though Co-op Bank could appeal the decision, Lynch said NZACU was likely to push on with the rebrand.
Justice Asher said that if the rebrand went ahead and it was ultimately shown by Co-Op Bank to be unlawful then "damages will be an adequate remedy".