PhillyDeals: TD Bank sues Vernon Hill over alleged copyright infringement

Vernon Hill, Commerce Bankcorp founder.
Vernon Hill, Commerce Bankcorp founder. (JIM GRAHAM / Graham Studios)
Posted: November 30, 2012

TD Bank, the giant Canadian lender, has sued Commerce Bancorp founder Vernon Hill, claiming he wrongfully stole his own ideas - which the bank says it acquired when it bought Commerce in 2007 - to publish a new book, Fans! Not Customers: How to Create Growth Companies in a No-Growth World.

The copyright-infringement suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Camden by TD lawyer William Tambussi, who also represented Commerce back when Hill was building the company into the biggest bank based in the Philadelphia area, claims Hill "irreparably harmed" TD when he published large chunks of a manuscript he originally wrote when he was still the Commerce boss.

The book describes Hill-derived notions such as "retail-tainment," or hiring jugglers to perform at bank openings, or developing a "Wow!" factor among workers and customers through promotions and parties. It also references marketing practices such as allowing dogs into bank branches to attract pet owners in high-leash neighborhoods like Rittenhouse Square and Manhattan's Upper West Side.

TD says it acquired the manuscript when the bank bought Commerce's assets a year after Hill stepped down as CEO under pressure from regulators who had been investigating bank contracts to firms controlled by Hill and his wife. The investigation was later dropped without charges.

Earlier, two Commerce executives were sent to prison after they were convicted of bribing Philadelphia officials as part of Commerce's attempt to challenge the no-bid contracts the city awarded to rival banks.

The book's forward is by Tom Peters, author of the In Search of Excellence business series. Peters compares Hill's bank to Cirque du Soleil as an example of a nearly perfect organization that spends freely on people and facilities, avoids damaging cost-cutting, and focuses on customers. The publisher is Profile Books.

Though the sale yielded him a fortune of more than $400 million, Hill opposed selling to TD, splitting with board members he himself had chosen. He has since sued the buyer for damages, and that case drags on. Hill, now head of Britain's Metro Bank and an investor in Pennsylvania's Metro and First Republic banks and publisher Profile, has maintained he has the rights to his own story.

Try again

A proposal to build a small, modular, nuclear-reactor electric plant (SMR) backed by Holtec International of Marlton at the site of the federal government's former Savannah River weapons complex in South Carolina has been turned down for initial funding by a U.S. Department of Energy matching fund grant program. Instead, the government has picked a rival proposal by Babcock & Wilcox, Bechtel, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, using suppliers in Pennsylvania and several other states.

The Obama administration waited until after the Nov. 6 election - in which energy subsidies became an issue - to pick a winner. The DOE had been expected to name winners from at least four proposals submitted this year, and to pick the winners by August. But the agency now says it "plans to issue a new funding opportunity announcement" that gives Holtec and others a second chance.

"We are hopeful to get an award on the second round," Holtec officer Pierre Oneid told me. The Holtec proposal is supported by South Carolina's state government, which hopes it will create jobs. Holtec boss Kris Singh is an owner of The Inquirer.


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or follow @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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