Midlothian investment firm sues Va. Beach competitor in trademark dispute

Midlothian investment firm sues Va. Beach competitor in trademark dispute

Virginia Asset Management’s Midlothian headquarters at 130 Wylderose Drive. (BizSense file photo)

For nearly two decades, Midlothian-based Virginia Asset Management and Virginia Beach-based Virginia Asset Group coexisted in the commonwealth, as each offered similar financial advisory services with similar names, while mainly sticking to their own respective territories in the Richmond area and Hampton Roads.

But after Virginia Asset Group crossed into the Richmond market via acquisition, Virginia Asset Management decided it was time to protect its turf — and its name.

VAM has sued VAG for trademark infringement and unfair competition, arguing in federal court that VAG’s name is confusingly similar and diverting business away from VAM.

According to the Aug. 30 lawsuit, VAM was founded in 1986 and formally registered its name as a trademark with the U.S. Trademark Office in 2019. The firm is headquartered at 130 Wylderose Drive, just off Midlothian Turnpike.

“Through substantial and continuous use of the VAM mark for over 35 years, VAM has built substantial consumer recognition and goodwill in its VAM mark,” it states in the complaint.

The lawsuit states VAG was founded in 2005, offering “bank lobby” financial advisors by operating within the branches of banks in the Hampton Roads area. In its early years, VAG operated out of branches of the former Chesapeake-based Monarch Bank. That kept its physical presence in Hampton Roads and Nags Head.

VAM’s physical presence in Virginia has been mainly in central Virginia, although it has had an office in Norfolk since at least 2012.

But VAM’s view of VAG changed in 2019, the lawsuit claims.

That year, VAG acquired Sona Wealth Management, the financial advising arm of Sonabank, now known as Primis Bank.

A screenshot of Virginia Asset Group’s website. (Image courtesy of Virginia Asset Group)

That deal gave VAG its first foothold and physical presence in the Richmond market due to Sonabank’s presence here. VAG lists four Richmond-area offices on its website in Henrico, Mechanicsville, Ashland and Colonial Heights, all located within existing Primis Bank branches.

“Thus, defendant has recently expanded its physical presence into Richmond, VAM’s long-established principal market,” the lawsuit states.

In addition to using a similar name in its home town, VAM claims it’s worried about the quality of VAG’s services and whether consumers might confuse the two.

“Defendant’s ‘bank lobby’ advisors operating under the Virginia Asset Group name do not have the heightened level of experience, sophistication, or cachet as financial advisors of VAM’s caliber,” the lawsuit argues. “Defendant’s use of a confusingly similar mark presents reputational harm because VAM cannot control the quality of defendant’s services.”

It claims that VAG is deliberately trading on the goodwill of VAM’s reputation and brand and creating a false and misleading perception that the two brands are affiliated in some way.

VAM says it sent VAG a demand letter in February but that VAG has continued its business as usual.

VAM is asking the court for an injunction to force VAG to stop using that name and for unspecified damages to be determined at trial. It also says it’s entitled to recover three times its actual damages.

VAG has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

Chris Williams, an executive at VAM, said the firm had no comment on the case.

A message left for VAG President Darin Ely was not returned Tuesday afternoon.

VAM is represented in the lawsuit by William Poynter of Virginia Beach law firm Kaleo Legal and Richmond attorney Pamela Gavin of Gavin Law Offices.

It’s unclear who is representing VAG.

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