Tuesday, April 7, 2009

International Business Name Trademark Inquiry

[Note to readers: This is day #4 of anti-celebrity week and the Dear Rich staff is currently pondering more celebrity issues including: (1) Are celebrities bad for children?,  and (2) Do celebrities make better diet wafflles? More next week ....]
Dear Rich: Can you legally have a business name in Minnesota, USA that is the same as another company's name in Europe? They are both a similar industry (holistic health advocacy products and services, and creative arts services and products including writing, art, inventing, verses, music, poetry, and homeopathy). Does it also matter if both companies are the same type of business entity (limited liability company)? How can I find out if the other company has an international trademark (as I might like to get a U.S./international trademark)? I'm so glad you asked. The answer to your questions (in order of difficulty) are: No, it doesn't matter if both companies are LLCs. Yes, a U.S. company can have the same business name and/or trademark as a foreign company. There will be no conflicts if the services or products are unrelated. If the services or products are related, there will be no problem if each company operates within its geographical region and doesn't compete against the other in the other party's region.
Although you maintain that both companies offer the same products and services, your description of the services is so broad it's impossible to tell whether there really would be a conflict. There is no such thing as an international trademark. There is a centralized trademark application system for citizens of countries that participate in the Madrid Arrangement on International Registration of Trademarks. You can learn about the system, here, and about how U.S. citizens can participate, here. You can find out more about the other side's trademarks either at the U.S. trademark records at the USPTO or at foreign trademark office websites (here's a directory). By the way, have we mentioned that Nolo recently unleashed its online trademark registration application?