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Facing lawsuit, credit union takes on new name
Rhonda Diefenderfer, chief executive and president of Avanta Credit Union, discusses changing the name of the credit union to Altana Credit Union.

A decision five years ago to save a buck by not hiring a trademark attorney will be a costly lesson for Avanta Federal Credit Union.

After changing its name from Laurel Federal Credit Union to Avanta Federal Credit in July 2004, Avanta now has to change its name again to avoid a lawsuit.

Advanta Bank Corp., which does business in Utah and is registered in Delaware, has complained that Avanta's name, while slightly different, infringed on a trademark it has owned since 1987. The Utah company in 2008 gave the Billings credit union one year to change its name.

So, on July 1, Avanta will become Altana Federal Credit Union.

President and Chief Executive Rhonda Diefenderfer said the cooperative hired a trademark attorney this time and has applied for a federal trademark on the Altana name.

Finding a name wasn't easy.

"This time, out of more than 300 names, we gave 90 to the attorney," she said. "Maybe four names survived in her formal search process."

Both Advanta and Altana are neological names, meaning they are made up and don't mean anything or refer to a geographical place. That should make them safer choices in avoiding trademark disputes.

Five years ago, the credit union sought and received permission from the state of Montana and from the National Credit Union Association to use the name Avanta, so credit union officials thought they were home safe.

"We thought we'd done due diligence before, but the attorney said it is close enough and you won't win," said Tracy DuFresne, vice president of human resources and marketing.

The name change was announced Saturday at the credit union's 60th annual meeting. To adopt the new name, the credit union must change about 100 items from stationery to e-mail addresses. The big expense in the $80,000 makeover will be changing all the interior and exterior signs at seven locations.

"It's massive. We have different people in different areas taking care of this," Diefenderfer said. "My advice is to work with a professional patent attorney."

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com or 657-1306.

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