"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Sorry to get Shakespeare on you, but company names, brands, domain addresses, slogans and keywords are an increasingly important strategic marketing and intellectual property asset to companies.
For any business, the above assets and others must be considered, and a legal and branding strategy devised to the advantages of the company, considering its legal and marketing position vis a vis competitors and the general marketplace.
BRAND & TRADEMARKS
Can Avvo change its brand name (its trademark) to Shmavvo? Provided the new name does not infringe on an existing trademark, legally yes. But from a marketing standpoint, it would lose some of its brand equity and customer following because consumers may not recognize the new name.
DBAs (Doing Business As) & COMPANY NAMES
As for a DBA, generally filed at the county level, or a corporation or limited liability company formed at the state level, trademark considerations still primarily govern the liberty new companies have with their names. For example, if one launched a new business providing canned soft drinks, under the DBA "Coca-Cola" filed in Los Angeles County, without filing a trademark application, Coca-Cola Bottling Company could still sue for trademark infringement.
DOMAIN NAMES & URLs
A similar analysis governs domain names. Should a startup mobile app company register www.zynga1234.com (since Zynga.com is of course registered), Zynga, Inc. the famous mobile games publisher and creator of Farmville(TM), would have grounds for infringement.
SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILES
On the same grounds, if the above startup mobile app company markets its product under the twitter or facebook handle @zynga1234, it would face similar legal challenges based in trademark and unfair competition law.
Names aren't what they used to be, they're much more important than ever before. Much to the benefit of business owners and creative branding experts, federal trademark law and common law trademark rules dating back to 17th century mercantile statutes in England, protect brand owners and their domain, pun intended, over these increasingly vital new media assets.
David N. Sharifi is a Los Angeles intellectual property and business attorney with special interest in new media, startups and mobile publishing. He can be reached at 310-751-0181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The content above is a discussion of legal issues and general information; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be used as such without seeking professional legal counsel. Reading the content above does not create an attorney-client relationship.