CFA Institute Sues American Retirement Association Over Fiduciary Designation

ARA head Brian Graff said the group was surprised to be sued for trademark infringement.

The CFA Institute is suing the American Retirement Association, claiming that the Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor designation administered by the National Association of Plan Advisors infringes on the Chartered Financial Analyst designation and the CFA trademark.

CFA Institute filed its complaint Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia for trademark infringement, unfair competition and accounting against the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries, NAPA and ARA.

“We were rather surprised to get that news Friday night,” Brian Graff, CEO of ARA, told ThinkAdvisor in a Monday morning interview. “Clearly we don’t agree that there’s confusion, which is why we’re surprised.”

Graff explained that ARA filed for a trademark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office a couple of years ago for the NAPA designation. “CFA Institute had objected to it. It was before the Administrative Tribunal of the U.S. Patent Office, and we thought that’s where it was going to get resolved, and then we were really disappointed that they [CFA Institute] chose to essentially circumvent that process” with a lawsuit.

CFA Institute administers the internationally recognized CFA Program, which is a self-study examination system for investment professionals. “The CFA Program sets the global standard for investment knowledge, standards and ethics, and is highly esteemed worldwide,” the lawsuit states.

“Defendants use and intend to use the Infringing Mark without the authorization of CFA Institute, thereby confusing consumers as to the source of the goods and services and resulting in damage and detriment to CFA Institute and its reputation and goodwill, and harm to its authorized CFA charterholders,” the complaint states.

Graff told ThinkAdvisor that ARA has “never heard” that there’s been confusion.

“Consumers are likely to believe mistakenly that defendants are affiliated or connected with, or otherwise authorized or sponsored by CFA Institute,” the lawsuit states. “Thus, defendants’ misleading conduct is likely to harm consumers. Defendants’ use of the infringing mark is nearly identical to and confusingly similar to CFA Institute’s CFA marks in appearance, sound, meaning and commercial impression.”

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