Can my business have the same name as another business?
I am looking to start my own business. I would like to use the name "Tree of Life Studio". I looked this up online, and someone is also using this name for their bus. I am doing a completely different type of bus., in a different state. Can I legally use this name and does a person have the right to this name exclusively? Is this name copyrighted or trademarked?
Important caveat to start out: I'm not a lawyer so everything I say is based on my understanding of the law but might be horribly wrong. Grab that grain of salt, just in case...
Having said that, I think that it should be obvious that there are only a finite number of possible business names and so it's impossible not to have collisions in the namespace. For example, I bet you have a "China Wok" or "China Gourmet" or similar in your town, even though I know of other, unaffiliated restaurants with those names in my own home neighborhood.
That's why your business needs to file a public "DBA" -- or doing business as -- notice, so that you publicize your intended use of a specific word or phrase as your business name. Before you do that, however, your first step should always be to check the Patent and Trademark Office to see if your desired name is trademarked. If it is, you can't use it. A "tm" or "registered tm" trumps everything else, which is the point of trademarking things in the first place.
At the USPTO, you can use TESS (the Trademark Electronic Search System) to dig around and find about possible competitors. I searched for "Tree of Life" and found 66 matches. A search for "tree of life studio", however, produced zero results, so that's a good thing.
In these modern times, the next thing to do is to check Google. Do a search for the company name in quotes and see what you find: "tree of life studio" produces almost a thousand pages that contain that exact phrase.
They're from different sites throughout the world, so ostensibly you can rest knowing that if there aren't any matches in your local phonebook you can do find locally, but the wrinkle here is that you probably do want to have an online presence of some sort, even if it's just a one page Web site. That being the case, are people going to find you if they search for "tree of life studio", or one of the others that are already online?
That's pragmatic, not legal, of course. Legally if there's no trademark confusion and if you aren't using a name that's already registered with your state's attorney general as a fictitious name, you're probably in the clear. However, even in this situation, do remember that you need to actively protect your rights, so if someone else were to claim the name in another town in your state, you might have to pursue them for bringing confusion to the market and if you didn't and they later opened up a branch in your town, well, you might be the one having to change, even if you have actually had your name longer.
This is one reason why people like to use their own names in their business names, so perhaps something like Leroy's Tree Of Life Studio could work better. It would help brand you, a good business strategy, and it would make your name far more unique. Next time you're driving around, pay close attention to the names of the different companies you see. Subtract the franchise operations and you might be surprised at how many have woven their name or the name of the town into the business name.
Good luck with this. Even given the complications I'm outlining, it's true that there's a lot of benefit to a well-named business, and a poor name can really prove to be a liability. A good business name always is both evocative and a reminder of the service or product offered. That's why I think something like "Cheesecake Factory" or "Jiffy Lube" are wonderful demonstrations of the concept.
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