How do I know if I can I use my proposed company name without worrying about any legal issues?

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How do I know if I can I use my proposed company name without worrying about any legal issues?

I want to start a business in Washington, DC giving tourists and locals food tours of the different restaurants in the DC metro area. I want to call it DC Sips and Bites, and want to make sure that I don’t infringe on any trademark issues. I did a Google search, and there is no food tour business called DC Sips and Bites. There is a Greek-Mediterranian diner in Baltimore, MD, called Sip and Bite that opened in 1948, and a cafe called Sips and Bites in Brooklyn, NY. These 2 places are doing a different service (dine-in restaurants vs. food tours), their marks are weak and descriptive,and they are not big companies outside of their geographical locations.

Asked on January 30, 2015 under Business Law, Virginia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

You've obviously done your homework and have identified the main issue--likelihood of confusion, given industries, market, geography--and come to a reasonable conclusion. Based on what you write, it is likely that you could do what you want without fear of infringement, though another good check to do would be to go to the Patent and Trademark Office's online site and do a trademark search ofr Sips and Bites (or reasonable variations thereof, such as the singular instead of the plural, or the words in inverse order) and see if there is a registered mark. If there is, you are more likely to face opposition, even if not well founded--the holders of registered marks tend to be more active about trying to defend them that the users of names not registered as trademarks.

Bear in mind that you can never eliminate the possibility that someone with the same or similar name will try to take action against you for infringement, even if realistically, based on differences in market and product, there is no infringement. I used to work for a company which put out softcover student workbooks called "Coach" books--called that because they "coached" students on how to pass tests. They were sued for trademark infringement by the Coach leather handbag company. Ultimately, the Coach company lost the suit, but it was ridiculous, given the differences in products and markets, that it was brought in the first place. So while you can do your due diligence and assure yourself you're acting reasonably, it's always possible that someone with the same or similar name will come out of the blue to legally harass you; that is a business risk.


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