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Navigating Trademarks and Branding: Can You Use the Same Name as Another Company? 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Legal Prudence: Prioritize trademark research and consider legal implications before adopting a name shared by another entity. Protecting your brand from potential litigation is essential for long-term stability. 

  2. Consumer Clarity: Avoid confusion among your target audience by ensuring your brand’s name distinctly reflects your unique products, services, and values. Clear differentiation helps build trust and loyalty. 

  3. Digital Strategy: Develop a robust online presence with unique SEO strategies and cohesive branding to minimizes the risk of being overshadowed by competitors with similar names. 

  4. Strategic Differentiation: Opt for a name that not only stands out but also aligns with your brand’s identity and future growth plans. A distinct name enhances your ability to control your narrative and shape market perceptions effectively. 

YouTube video

Introduction 

In today’s digital age, naming your brand isn’t just about creativityit’s a strategic decision that can impact your legal standing, customer perception, and online visibility. One common question that arises is whether it’s permissible to use the same name as another company. Let’s delve into this complex issue and explore the considerations that can guide your decision. 

The Legal Landscape of Trademarks 

Trademark infringement is a primary concern when considering using a name already in use. This legal concept protects brands from having their identity and reputation diluted or confused by similar names in the marketplace. If you use a name that is already trademarked by another entity, you could face legal action, regardless of your intentions. 

Consumer Confusion: A Key Consideration 

Beyond legal ramifications, using the same name as another brand can confuse consumers. Imagine searching for a product online and finding multiple unrelated items with identical names. This confusion not only frustrates potential customers but can also erode trust in your brand if they mistake your product for another. 

SEO and Online Presence 

Establishing a strong online presence is crucial for any modern business. However, sharing a name with a more established entity can make it challenging to rank high in search engine results. Competing for SEO visibility becomes an uphill battle when a more established competitor already dominates the digital landscape under the same name. 

Case Study: Dove vs. Dove 

The dual use of “Dove” by both a soap manufacturer and a chocolate brand illustrates how differentiation can mitigate confusion. Despite sharing a name, these products cater to distinct markets with different pricing and distribution channels. This strategic differentiation has allowed both brands to coexist without significant consumer mix-up. 

Strategic Differentiation Strategies 

Product Distinction

Ensuring your product or service differs significantly from the existing brand using the same name is crucial. Unique features, target demographics, pricing models, and distribution channels can all contribute to setting your brand apart. 

Legal Protection

Registering your trademark in a different category than the existing brand can provide legal grounds for using the same name. This approach, as seen with “Dove,” helps clarify that the products are distinct despite the shared name. 

Online and Social Media Strategy

Managing your online presence carefully is essential. Minimizing confusion through distinct SEO strategies and clear branding can help consumers differentiate between similarly named entities online. 

The Evolution of Naming Challenges 

The proliferation of digital platforms and social media has amplified the complexity of naming. Unlike in the past, where fewer brands existed, today’s global marketplace demands more creativity and uniqueness in naming to avoid confusion and legal entanglements. 

Transcription:

Mike Carr (00:04): 

So welcome back to our podcast about naming in the AI age. And so our question today is, can I use the same name that another company uses? And the answer to that question is, well, maybe yes, maybe no. But a better question to ask maybe is why would you want to do that? There are four issues at least you ought to be thinking about. You might get sued for trademark infringement. You might create confusion among your customers. You might have to fight for SEO in a big way. If somebody’s out there that’s got more bucks and has been out there using that same name in the digital ether for a while, and you limit your ability to build the unique brand. But you say, I love the name. My team loves the name, my wife loves the name, my kids love the name. Even my dog loves the name. 

(00:52): 

I got to use the name. Okay, so the key here then is answering in these questions. Do you sell something different than the other company that’s got the same name? If you do, that’s a good thing. Are your customers different than the other company’s name or the other product’s name? That’s important too. Do you use different channels of distribution? Is your price radically different? The keyword here, as you probably figured out, is you might be able to use the same name as long as it’s very different. Different product, different pricing, different customers, different channel distribution. Now let’s talk about Dove as an example. Many years ago, over 50 years ago, over 60 years ago, there was Dove, the soap, there was Dove, the Chocolate, same exact name used for two different products. But I feel sorry for that, those folks, right? And why? Well think about Dove the Soap and now Dove the chocolate comes along, boy, does that sound Yummy? 

(02:00): 

Soap flavored chocolate. Oh boy. Or chocolate colored soap. Really? Chocolate colored soap. That’s what I want to put all over my body getting nice and clean. So there’s some problems there, right? Mars owns the trademark for Dove Us registered Trademark Opco. I can barely say that name. They need to hire us for a new name. Opco owns the name for Dove. The soap, the trademark, dove the soap. Now here’s a couple of things that are interesting. Both Dove the soap and Dove the chocolate sold to the same basic customer, not different. They’re actually sold in the same store. I went to Walmart, I could buy a Dove bar of soap for a dollar 47. I could buy a Dove bar of chocolate for a dollar 97, both below two bucks. So how can this be Same customer, about the same price sold in the same channel distribution. 

(03:05): 

Granted, they’re different, but they’re both bars, bars, soap bars, chocolate. Both these brands benefit from the fact that they are so old. Back in the day when they first started, there was no internet. There were very few brands to pick from. And so the likelihood of confusion was much, much lower when they got their trademarks. They’re also registered in two different classes at the US. PTO Chocolate’s registered in one class and soap is registered in a different class. And that’s important in some cases. It’s harder often to get a registration through if you’re trying to register it in the same class of goods and services as that exact name that’s already out there from another company. But in this case, they’re register in two different classes. They’re packaging their trade dress the way they look. Even the aisles in the store are different, right? You don’t typically find a chocolate bar right next to a soap bar in a Target or a Walmart. 

(04:04): 

And both Mars and Opco have gone to great links to try to differentiate and make sure that their trademark rights were protected and that they didn’t create confusion with the other guy. So Dove’s not the only one like this, though. There are lots of other examples where the same name is used multiple times. Let’s talk about Odyssey. Some of you may have had an Odyssey minivan in the past from Honda, but guess what? In the US, there are trademarks for Odyssey, the exact same name for clothing by Odyssey. Boatworks, a line of luggage from Travel Pro Cologne by Avon called Odyssey Pesticide from Helena Holding Company. And guess what? You can even buy Odyssey cheese and yogurt spreads from Clon dike cheese company, and there are many more. The list goes on dozens and dozens of other Odysseys. So while you might be able to use that same name as somebody else, it’s much harder to avoid. 

(05:08): 

Avoid confusion today than it was 50, 60 years ago when the two Dove names made it through. And even Odyssey in some cases has been out there long enough that back when it was first introduced, it wasn’t quite as confusing. There are many more products today, hence many more names. There are many more places you can buy stuff. You can buy almost anything digitally, whether it’s on Amazon or one of the other digital platforms. So this makes it a lot harder to avoid confusion. Social media also makes it very easy to talk about a product to the same group of folks that have heard that brand name in a slightly different context. But it’s not always that obvious in social media when you’re thinking about a TikTok post or video or a short reel on Instagram or whatever it might be, or just a post on LinkedIn. 

(06:00): 

Most importantly, there are a lot of hungry lawyers out there and they’ll let you know if you’re getting too close to another brand name that has some trademark rights. So the things to remember, we think when you’re considering answering this question is if you really want to use the same name, make sure it’s registered in a different category, try to look at their SEO media presence and make sure it’s minimal. So you’ve got a shot there. They’re just a small local company that doesn’t have a footprint in the area you’re doing business in. That helps certainly a lot. So if you’re on the East coast and the other companies on the West coast, that may help. Although if they have federal trademark rights, not necessarily. So we think though, coming up with a name that’s a little bit more distinctive, a little bit more ownable, has lots of advantages, right? 

(06:48): 

Safer from a legal standpoint, less likely to create confusion. Your messaging and communications are more effective. You can control the story because you’re not competing with somebody else with exactly the same name, trying to define it in a totally different way. You really are in control of your own destiny. So I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, and there are some situations where we’ll have clients use the same name that’s already out there, and we go through all those different questions, but in general, coming up with a more distinctive, a more differentiating name, it’s easy to remember, even if it’s not a real word, and even if it’s a little bit longer, is usually a better strategy. Best of luck to you and talk to you again next week. 

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