Starting a business with a similar sounding name of an already existing business

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Starting a business with a similar sounding name of an already existing business

I am planning to start an online store selling jewelry herein Canada. The site
targets customers based both in Canada and USA. I already registered a domain
name slight variation to the actual word but I found that there already exists
a company doing business in USA under a similar name. Will I get in any trouble
selling into USA.

Asked on December 21, 2017 under Business Law, Alaska


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

It depends on whether this other company is doing a similar thing to you, selling to a similar potential customer base. (With internet sales, however, the customer bases are almost by definition the same: anyone who shops online. It's not like brick-and-mortar stores, which typically have limited geographic scope.) There can be businesses with similar names--there are many businesses named "Acme," for example--so long as there is no reasonable likelihood of customer confusion. Example: say that the name you have come up with is "Northern Lights." If there is already a "Northern Lites" online jewler (or retailer which offers jewlery as part of its line), that would likely be illegal due to the likelihood of customer confusion, such as under the Lanham Act. (This answer, by the way, is under U.S. law; no opinon as to Canadian law is hereby rendered.)
On the other hand, if the existing "Northern Lites" is a lighting designer/manufacturer, or sells Nordic-inspired light/diet cuisine, you'd be fine: there'd be no reasonable likelihood of customer confusion.

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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