Do I have to change the name of my existing business because it is similar to another business in another city?

UPDATED: Dec 13, 2011

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Do I have to change the name of my existing business because it is similar to another business in another city?

I recently opened a cafe. I followed proper protocol for starting a new business – .fictitious name filing, permits, etc. Then 2 months later, I received a letter from an attorney stating that I needed to change my name. The name has a trade mark and I cannot use it.

Asked on December 13, 2011 under Business Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

The answer is you *may* have to change your name. If someone has a trademark, then if  your name is confusingly similar, that may be infringing the trademark; if you are infringing, they may take legal action to make you stop.

However, to be confusingly similar, there must be a legitimate chance or risk of customer confusion; so, for example, you have to sell to the same market (a cafe in a distant city  might not be able to complain); the types of business must also be similar, even if geographically close (e.g. "Acme Plumbing" does not infringe on "Acme Cafe's" trademark); etc. Thus, whether there is infringement depends on the facts.

Bring the letter to an intellectual property attorney to review. Help him or her out by in advance finding and printing out all information you can about your business and the other one, including what you each do, where you each are located, marketing or advertising material, how long each has been around, etc.

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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