Does Changing Your Name Cause a Legal Issue?
I want to tell a story highlighting how important registration is for your business. Stanley Ralphson and Zach Gilbright have known each other for more than 60 years. They were neighbors who met at age 3 and remained best friends through high school. After stints in the military (Stanley) and college (Zach), they reconnected when both moved back to their hometown. Like many 20 somethings, they each had a job which paid the bills but didn’t create joy. One night Zach said, “why don’t we start our own company?”
That was the birth of Ralphson and Gilbright. The company started as a materials distributor for commercial general contractors, but soon morphed into a specialist in the commercial siding business. The company stayed local so they could continue the same level of service. They had many loyal customers, many of whom called the company Ralphson or R&G.
Registration is Preventative
After 40 years of owning R&G, Zach decides to retire. Stanley buys Zach’s half of the business, and he has plans to make a few changes so he can pass it down to his kids. One change is the name. He wants the company to be named Ralphson. That’s ok, isn’t it? Stanely then hires our firm for brand protection. A quick search shows that a company located on the other side of the country named Ralphson is selling commercial roofing supplies. This newer company received a federal registration for “Ralphson.” This would not have been an issue if they had registered Ralphson and Gilbright years ago.
This could easily pose a problem for Stanley. While he *may* be able to prove that he has rights to use Ralphson as a company name in his current territory, he may not be able to use the name outside of this zone. Now he is in the weird situation of having to either 1) not use his name or 2) negotiate with the bad guys to be able to use his name. You do NOT have an absolute right to use your name as the name of a company. The moral of the story is: perform searches, act early, and don’t let your rights be taken by another business! Registration is key.
Stanley is lucky he searched BEFORE the name change—this search may have saved him hundreds of thousands of dollars.