It’s every business owner’s worst nightmare.
Maybe you’ve spent years building a reputable brand for your bicycle shop…and then a sleazy diet pill launches under the same name.
Maybe you’ve had a name picked out for your combination bookstore-cafe since you were in grade school, and just when you’re finally starting to draw up the business plan, you pass a bar with a name that’s just too close for comfort.
Or maybe–true story–you’ve had a successful family business for decades…until a larger brand takes your name, sues you (because they’re far more recognizable), and you’re forced to rebrand.
Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?” The answer: brand equity and possible legal action.
If you’re asking, “Someone stole my business name–what should I do?” then sit down, settle in with a cup of coffee, and let’s explore your options.
Someone stole my business name…and I’ll fight back.
As a business owner, you want your name to be totally unique. This goes both ways! Chances are, if the stars align properly, whoever likely-unintentionally “stole” your business name will be happy to step down. In certain situations, that is.
The key elements at play here are these:
- Who has seniority here? If you’ve been in business for years, and they just incorporated, that’s a tally in your column. It’s also easier for them to change if things are still in the early stages.
- Who has greater brand recognition? Like with the family business example above, sometimes life isn’t fair. If a giant brand decides they want claim to your clever name, you might have to give it up. But if you’re both small businesses? Or if brand recognition is your middle name? You hold the cards here.
If they’re just getting going, and the factors above are in your favor, you can typically head things off with a call or an email.
If things are in later stages–especially if they’re actively harming your brand image–you might need to fight them in court. As with all matters of intellectual property, you’ll need extensive documentation and a capable attorney in your corner.
Someone stole my business name…but I’ll let it go.
Maybe someone stole your business name, but you’re a lifestyle blog with mostly Canadian visitors and they’re an ethically sourced spice company based out of Mumbai. In this case, does it really matter?
Key factors at play in this situation:
- Is the name-double confusing (or stealing) your audience? If you’re in different sectors with established and loyal audiences, and you’re not competing for the same market, you might be able to get away with letting sleeping dogs lie. Like how Emma Watson, Emma Stone, and Emma Thompson can all peacefully coexist.
- Are they actively harming your brand image? If you owned a gym and another business opened up a junk food company with your same name, that association actively hurts you. If you were a vegan blogger and a leather company had your name–or a similar name–it discredits you and muddies your brand. But if your values are otherwise in line, be like civil-but-not-friendly roommates and simply go about your lives.
Sometimes in business, it’s important to know when it’s time to wave the white flag.
Someone stole my business name…so I’ll change mine.
This is the option to look at if none of the factors above are in your favor.
Maybe you’re the one with less seniority and less brand recognition. Maybe the company using your business name has such unsavory business practices that you’d rather distance yourself as much–and as quickly–as possible.
But it doesn’t have to be all bad. Maybe you weren’t married to your business name anyway, and/or you’ve been wanting to move things in a new direction, and you’ve been quietly hoping for the opportunity to rebrand. After all, marketing is nothing more than controlling the narrative–telling the story you want to tell.