Can you use the name of a business thats no longer in business?

UPDATED: Feb 3, 2019

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Can you use the name of a business thats no longer in business?

I have wrote a fictional book named after a company
that is no longer in business. Is this legal or is
copyright still involved?

Asked on February 3, 2019 under Business Law, Texas


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Trademark rights in a name (this would be a matter of trademark law, not copyright) do not necessarily go away when a business goes out of business--they often do, especially with smaller or less-established or less-valuable businesses, where the name has no instrinsic value, but if the business was large enough, old enough, etc. that the name/brand may have a value outside of the business itself, it's possible that someone is maintaining the rights in the name. You can check on the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (USPTO) website to see if there is still any active trademark in the name.
If there is no active mark, you are most likely ok unless the name was closely associated with a family  (e.g. it was a family name), in which case, they could possibly challenge your use (e.g. sue) you on one or both of the following bases:
1) You are using their family name without permission for your commercial benefit (assuming you sell, etc.) the book; or
2) If anything in the book is negative about that name or family, possibly based on defamation.
So there are some risks to using a real business's name. You may be best off making up a new name.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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