Believe it or not, not every brand name has to be unique. It certainly should be unique within your industry and anything that relates to over overlaps with it. But it does not have to be the sole use of the brand name.* Of course, many of the successful brand names today are unique – eBay, Google, Microsoft, Exxon, CapitalOne, YouTube, LinkedIn, Coca-Cola and many others are essentially made up or uncommon words and are either the only brand name using their term or a far and away the most dominant.
For example, DELTA airlines and DELTA faucets co-exist. Many companies have the word APPLE in their name (and Apple Records and Apple Computer have battled with each other over trademark rights for years).
I recently took my kids to see a production of the musical Peter Plan. It got me thinking about this subject in depth, and how there are several well known PETER PAN brands that co-exist on the USPTO register of trademark (click mark for USPTO records):
- PETER PAN – Entertainment in the nature of horseraces
- PETER PAN – wheat flour and corn meal
- PETER PAN – peanut butter
- PETER PAN – variety of printed items from Disney
- PETER PAN – canned salmon, and crab, frozen salmon and frozen king crab
- – Bus chartering and transport; arranging travel tours
MONEYBALL is the title of a movie that just came out, based on a book of the same name. MONEYBALL is registered by one company for financial services and by another for clothing. A third company has a pending application to register MONEYBALL for gaming machines that has been approved pending a demonstration of using the trademark in commerce. See the USPTO MONEYBALL records here.
Sometimes companies sharing a brand name or part of a brand name may have a written agreement that defines their scope of use and helps reduce any chance of a conflict (generally called “Mutual Consent Agreements” or “Coexistence Agreements”).
So not every use of a similar or even identical name is a trademark infringement; and not every brand name needs to be unique. The best trademarks, in my opinion, are unique within their field, and are suggestive of the products or services they promote.
*Note that clearing a new name and analyzing any potential trademark conflicts is complicated and is best left to experienced attorneys.