I'm writing a short story and the name of a character happened to be the name of a corporation. The character has nothing to do with what the corporation stands for, it's just the name. It's not a really known corporation and the name is pretty rare so I was amazed that a corporation had that name.
Copyright Infringement Attorney
Probably you can, yes. Even if the corporate or brand name is very distinctive and well-known, the use of it for a fictional name likely would not confuse any readers into thinking the company was endorsing or sponsoring or advertising in your book -- which means it probably doesn't raise any trademark issues. You would have additional protection if there is some artistic justification for the choice of name -- for instance, if the name has a meaning that is significant for that character or the story.
Please note: this answer is intended to inform and educate. It should not be taken as legal advice or a legal recommendation, as that would require a thorough review of all facts and circumstances. You may discuss the possibility of hiring me as a lawyer, but until we have an agreement in writing, there is no attorney-client relationship between us. Thank you, and good luck!
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Intellectual Property Law Attorney
In all probability you can use the name. Copyright law does not protect mere names. While the corporate name might be protected by trademark law, you would only violate trademark law if you created a likelihood of confusion with the company's customers. Since you do not seem to be using the name for purposes of selling products or services that compete with the company, it seems unlikely that you would be accused of trademark violations. The "fair use" doctrine and our First Amendment provide rather robust protection for you in in a situation like this. Nonetheless, to be safe it might be wise to set up a brief consultation with experienced IP counsel in the Chicago area. Without knowing the precise name and corporation involved, I would be reluctant to give you a green light to go ahead with this. There are some times when using a corporation's name could be viewed by the corporation as tarnishing or diluting its image in the minds of its consumers, and you probably should run the details by IP counsel to see whether you have a trademark tarnishment/dilution/defamation problem.
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Intellectual Property Law Attorney
I agree with my colleagues, this is going to be fine so long as the corporation does not perceive you to have picked the name in order to defame them. Then you get in a Tony Twist situation (although not exactly since he was an individual hockey enforcer player) where you might get sued for having tarnished the image and/or infringed rights and would have to spend thousands to win the case.
If you are amazed that a corporation had that name, then the public is likely to similarly disavowed of any notion of connection. The concern I have is that the company might think that your use of such a rare name cannot be accidental. If you get an objection give me a call, or one of the others answering here, as we all offer free initial consultations. I doubt you will draw any objection.
I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.
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