The Perils of Using Your Name as a Brand

Thank you Bhavini Mistry for her contribution with this article.
What is all the fuss? In 2014 the California-based surfer brand O’Neill sent a “#ceaseanddesist” letter to Thaddeus O’Neil, a designer from Long Island who sells similar surfer clothing.  A “cease and desist” is the first legal step to stop another company from performing certain actions. In this case, O’Neill wants to stop Thaddeus from selling clothes under his name [Thaddeus O’Neil] because it is very similar to their brand which can confuse consumers of believing both companies are associated with one another when in actuality, they are not. This may be something that happens when a person uses his or her name to identify her products. It is less of a problem if you have a very unique and uncommon name. For Smith’s or Jones, that can be a challenge.
It is important to note that the name of a company isn’t exactly a legal trademark. A trademark is usually a word, sign, logo, or symbol that “indicate the origin” of a product or service. Think of McDonalds for hamburgers or Coca Cola for drinks. This type of conflict arises among companies that may be using similar names, such as family or surnames, and it gets worse if they are competing in the same type of industry. Usually the company with the larger and better resources wins the legal dispute.
In the case of designer brands such as Chanel, Coach, Michael Kors etc., usage of a
brand’s name or logo in an inappropriate manner by others, also known as pirates, can risk the company’s reputation because the quality of their products is then questioned. In the O’Neill case, having companies with similar names and products can be damaging to the established brand based on how consumers perceive it based on quality, status, and luxury. If they allow anybody to use their brand, they run the risk of losing its trademark and in the worse of the cases having their trademarks become generalized which can further harm their company’s status and profits.
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