Hello. Quick question. I would like to start a business under a specific name in Los Angeles. The CA Secretary of State indicates the name is not taken, but of course the SoS only lists corporations, not sole proprietorships, etc. Also the City of Los Angeles does not indicate anyone having taken the name. However, there is a LinkedIn user group using the name I have in mind. Can I register this name with the CA SoS and the City of LA and do business without the LinkedIn user group having legal recourse to the name? It appears from my research the LinkedIn user group is the only use of this specific name. Thank you for your help...
1 Answer from Attorneys
This is a more complicated question than you probably think. A "name" can be a corporate name, a fictitious business name (DBA) or a trademark.
A corporate name is protected in California, although the identical name can be used for an LLC, which could create confusion in the marketplace.
A DBA is not protected in California. There can be many identical DBA names without recourse.
The more dangerous issue is trademarks. If you use your business name as a mark, or even appear to be doing so, there is a risk that another who has used the mark before you can claim infringement, forcing you to change your business name. This claimant can come from anywhere in the US.
The claimant will have to show that their mark is being used in a marketplace where customer confusion could happen, i.e. similar product or service lines. But, for example, if you are selling shoelaces, and they are performing healthcare, there would be no infringement.
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