Entrepreneurship

They Stole My Name! Or did they?

This week, I headed down to our local business incubator to participate in their Morning Mentoring. It is kind of like a version of speed dating, but designed so that entrepreneurs can get advice from different professionals and experts on the challenges they are facing in their start-ups.

One of the groups of entrepreneurs we met with were very difficult to work with (I won’t mention much about the business). I was really disappointed in their unwillingness to work with us on various ideas for improvement. This entrepreneur was just WAY too in love with her baby to even consider it might be a bit ugly.

However, she did make a comment that I thought was worth addressing here. It was about trademarks. We were discussing her business’s name. Her business was a health-related business and my partner made a comment about a technology development firm in California with the same name. The entrepreneur wanted their contact information because she said that she had the name trademarked. This was a big window into her lack of knowledge surrounding entrepreneurship.

Now, I am no lawyer of any sort, but there are some basic knowledge framworks one should have regarding certain issues. A trademark is a pretty basic concept that anyone in business should understand.

A company can have the exact same name as you if they are conducting a different type of business. It all depends on how many identifications a trademark has ownership to. These identifications are designated by the US Patent & Trademark Office. For the full list, take a look here: http://tess2.uspto.gov/netahtml/manual.html

Let’s look at say, an alcohol producer. Depending on they type of alcohol they are producing, depends on how many government assigned identifications they should associate their trademark with:

Alcoholic aperitif bitters
Alcoholic beverage produced from a brewed malt base with natural flavors
Alcoholic beverages of fruit
Alcoholic beverages except beers
Alcoholic beverages containing fruit
Alcoholic beverages, namely, {indicate specific beverages} [cannot include beer since beer and related products such as ale, porter, stout, etc. are classified in Class 32]
Alcoholic bitters
Alcoholic cocktail mixes
Alcoholic cocktails containing milk
Alcoholic coffee-based beverage
Alcoholic eggnog
Alcoholic energy drinks
Alcoholic essences
Alcoholic extracts
Alcoholic fruit cocktail drinks
Alcoholic fruit extracts
Alcoholic malt coolers
Alcoholic punch
Alcoholic punches
Alcoholic tea-based beverage

Regardless of how many types of alcohol the producer thinks they are producing, they should follow what the government has set up for types of alcohol.

Another example: two local knitting shops could not both be named Fuzzy Wuzzies, but a local knitting shop and a local dog groomer could certainly share the same title.

After I’ve talked about this in groups, a common question I hear is: how is Disney able to monopolize their name? Well, for two pretty simple reasons.

1. I can’t think of much Disney is NOT involved in.
2. And this is the primary reason – do you have the money it would take to fight Disney?

So in the end, similar to a patent – they are only as valuable as you are willing to pay to defend them.

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