I have operated a small PR/communications firm in the DC region since 2008. It's called FinePoint Communications LLC and is registered with the state of Virginia. Earlier this year (I believe) another firm with a similar name was established in the area: FinePoint Digital PR. I am concerned that this is an infringement on my brand. I did not copyright the name, but do believe that, at a minimum, I have a common law right to use this name exclusively given the fact that my business has been up and running for the past four years.Can anyone offer advice as to how I should address this?
State/Country relating to question: Virginia
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So your company is set up in Virginia? Is this other company as well, or is it in DC or another state?
Yes, my company is in VA ... the other is in DC.
Thank you. As a practical matter, it would be wise to file your trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office (as this would help you in enforcement and give you greater rights). There's something known as "common law" trademark (not copyright, because you can't copyright a brand name or business). Generally, you gain common law rights to a trademark just by beginning to use it on goods in conjunction with performing services. In other words, a “common law trademark” is a trademark that hasn’t been registered with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”) or with a state. Yet, generally speaking, common law rights only extend to the geographic area of the use of the trademark. Also, you must be the first in your area to use that trademark. If another entity began using a confusingly similar trademark for similar goods and services before you begin your trademark, then that other entity may have superior rights to the trademark, thereby preventing you from using your trademark.
Furthermore, the main issue here is the divergent jurisdictions at issue.
If this company was in Virginia as well, you could easily bring a lawsuit against them.
...same thing as in Maryland.
But DC tort law is a bit different (DC being a different entity than states, it has a court system more like the civil law Louisiana system).
That being said, you can still send a "cease and desist" letter to the company that is operating with this name.
That being said, you need to contact an attorney in your area that deals with trademark cases. Go to www.lawyers.com or www.legalmatch.com to find an attorney in your area. You should be able to find one that will give you a free initial consultation and better advise you of your rights, any problems with your case, likelihood of success, how courts are treating cases such as yours in your area, and what you should do next.
Maybe the threat of a lawsuit would be enough to stop this company from using the name. But if it were to go to court, it could be a "jurisdictional nightmare" because of the different jurisdictions in application.
That's why having a federal trademark would be better (because you could then stop anyone from using that, in any state or jurisdiction subject to US law)
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Thanks very much for your help. This is exactly the sanity check that I was seeking. This was most insightful.
Licensed Texas General Practice Attorney
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