Judge orders advisory firm to give up Ariel name

Mar 6, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

By Liz Skinner

When Christopher Bray started his advisory firm three years ago, it seemed like a good idea to name it after his daughter, Ariel, who was 4 years old at the time.

And while there was a mutual fund company already named Ariel Investments, Mr. Bray's registered investment advisory firm was in the wealth management business. Ariel Investments didn't see it that way and sued Ariel Capital Advisors for trademark infringement.

On Friday, a judge agreed with Ariel Investments and ordered Mr. Bray's firm to change its name. Judge Matthew Kennelly of the U.S. District Court in Illinois ruled that the two businesses offered financial services that were similar enough to each other that customers could be confused. Chicago-based Ariel Investments has trademarks going back as far as 1984.

Mr. Bray isn't sure what he's going to do next.

"We're evaluating our next steps," he said on Monday. Options include appealing the judge's decision or renaming his firm Bray Capital Advisors.

Fighting the lawsuit already cost the Naples, Fla.-based firm, which has about $225 million in AUM, "more than I anticipated," Mr. Bray said.

Mr. Bray and his wife named their daughter Ariel — in Hebrew it means "Lion of God" — because he said it seemed to fit her.

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For its part, Ariel Investments said it has worked hard to create a brand built on trust and long-term value investing and is thrilled with the judge's ruling in the case.

"Our reputation is critically important to us and we will continue to vigorously defend our name and trademark," said Merrillyn Kosier, chief marketing officer for Ariel Investments, in an email. "Our shareholders are counting on it."

John Rogers, named an InvestmentNews Innovator last year, founded Ariel Investments in 1983 as Ariel Capital Management and the company took on its current name in 2008. It's the nation's largest African-American-led asset management firm.

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In the court ruling, which came after a three-day bench trial in February, the judge said Ariel Investments had shown that Mr. Bray knew of Ariel Investments before he founded his advisory firm in early 2014, and that there was evidence actual confusion between the two businesses already has occurred.

However, he said there was no reason to think that Mr. Bray was using the Ariel name to lure customers from Ariel Investments and the judge did not order Ariel Capital Advisors to return profits earned during the period of the trademark infringement, which the larger firm had sought.

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