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Akua's avatar

Is it illegal or breach some kind of trademark law to name my home business after the title of my one of my favorite books?

Asked by Akua (4635 points ) November 28th, 2010

I guess the title speaks says it all. I have had a small home-based business for a couple of years and although I never really made much money from it other than a couple of hundred dollars a year, I never really put much energy into developing it either until now. So I recently got an application for a NYC tax ID number so I can officially start this business but I need a name for it. I started thinking of a name and immediately the title of one of my favorite books by Alice Walker sprang to mind. The name is perfect in every way for the type of business I have and I wanted to know if I could legally use the title of the book for my business or will I get in trouble? Does it violate any type of copyright or trademark? How do I find out?

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15 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

There is a car lot name The Price Is Right, at the Tennessee/Kentucky state line. its been there for years. to me, its a direct conflict with the game show on television. no one has ever complained of the same name useage, to the network and all is well.

In your situation, your business is broadcast to the world and not just a small designated car lot, where no one cares.

Tradmark and copyright enfringments are prosecuted everyday in civil court.

Why not just ask permission to use your selected name for your site? send an email and save a copy of their reply. all they can do is say either yes or no.

MeinTeil's avatar

Probably not. Your business is pretty well removed from books.

It would be quite a different story if you were titling a book.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

I am no a lawyer but here is a site that says a book title is NOT a copyright item, that means you can “color” your store whatever color you wish.

Consider getting a lawyer for setting up you business. Cheaper in the long run.

NanoBiscuit's avatar

Perhaps it depends on whether you begin making cart loads of money and the book publisher or writer notices. They would have to prove your usage of their title is intentional to be awarded anything. And to get to the award or settle out of court, with perhaps 5% on sales, would be costly in terms of time and representation costs.

Akua's avatar

@MeinTeil @Tropical_Willie thanks for your responses. I didn’t think it would be a problem with the name but I just wanted to double check with some fluthers that may be more knowledgable than I am on this topic. I don’t see why it would be a problem since I’m borrowing the title for something other than a book. I’ll check out the link you sent for clarification. Thanks!

Akua's avatar

@Tropical_Willie You’re right! I just read the site you sent and it states unequivocably that there is no copyright on titles and the only trademark infringment would be if I were writing a book and passing off the title and possibly some of the contents of the origianl book as my own work. Which would cause confusion. Since there is no similarities in my business and Ms. Walkers business, it’s moot. Thanks again!

marinelife's avatar

Book titles are not copyrightable.

Akua's avatar

@marinelife thanks to you too.

Jeruba's avatar

It’s true that you can’t copyright a book title. But at the same time some books are part of a marketing brand that is trademarked and zealously protected by a legal department. You would not get very far trying to name your business, no matter how small, after a Walt Disney franchise name such as Winnie the Pooh, nor would I recommend tangling with the owners of the Harry Potter identity.

I would suggest spending some time investigating the particular title you have in mind and doing some web research to see if there are any legal cases out there involving the use of any of this author’s works. That would give you a clue as to whether you’d be attracting the attention of a litigious bunch.

Furthermore, if I were you I would seriously weigh whether a business name that alludes to a book is going to convey the right message to your prospective customers. Will they have read the book or be acquainted with it? If so, what sort of expectation will that create? If they haven’t, does the name indicate anything about the nature of your business, or will it just seem obscure? In other words, what is the purpose of using a book title as a business name, and will it benefit your business if you do?

Jenniehowell's avatar

Generally trademarks cover specific areas rather than blanketing all areas. This means that book titles won’t fall under the same umbrella as a business usually will (depending on the business) so you should be fine. A perfect example – Colin Tipping is the author of a book called Radical Forgiveness – anyone can use the same title for their books or businesses & they in fact have – Tipping, however, has Radical Forgiveness & variations of it licensed with the US patent/trademark office for use as it relates to workshops & self-help related events. This keeps others who’ve written or used the term Radical Forgiveness from using it in lectures & workshops etc. You are probably ok to use it but if you are worried you can always check the patent/trademark office as well as the business names of already approved corporations. Usually the govt. will approve the same name for businesses that won’t be in conflict due to competition – for instance a hair salon would likely not be in competition with a car dealership so if both of them were named the same thing it would cause no conflict.

Jeruba's avatar

…and if a hair salon and a car dealership were named the same thing, it seems unlikely that the name would really be descriptive of both businesses, and maybe not of either one. So one would have to question the wisdom of the choice.

Akua's avatar

@Jeruba @Jenniehowell All very good points. My business is a craft business and I doubt that many people would make the connection between the name of my business and the book carrying the same name. For instance (just an example) I have a business that sells homemade paper products I run from my home and I want to name it after my book title “The Giving Tree”.
A person may not have read the book but title is interesting, colorful and symbolic of the business. Does this make sense to anyone?

HungryGuy's avatar

You probably should ask a copyright lawyer rather than take anyone’s advice here. But did you ever notice how a lot of big corporations invent nonsense words for their business names? I think that’s to avoid copyright problems with using real words that somebody, somewhere has probably trademarked already.

Jenniehowell's avatar

@Akua – I’ve seen businesses or something other than a book with that name – I think it sounds like a cool name for your business. Trademark/Copyright attourneys cost around 350 per hour & in some cases will charge per the job rather than hourly. If I were you – I’d take step one of researching online for the name in the US patent & trademark office – it’s easy to do a search there. If you don’t see anything conflicting then do some research on filing for a trademark yourself without an attourney. If you’ve done your research & filled out the paperwork properly you can save some money & worst case you find out you can’t trademark the name. But if it’s too much or makes you nervous to do it all alone the next step is of course what @HungryGuy already suggested getting the attourney.

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