Intra-Family Trademark Violence: SR Sues JR For Using His Own Name In Law Firm Marketing
from the sins-of-the-father dept
With the chief hurdle for infringement in trademark law being potential public confusion as to the source of a good or service, we sometimes toss that standard around as a blanket sort of thing. And, in trademark law, it kind of is just that binary. But the combination of the protectionist view of trademark law taking hold in America and the unfortunate habit of many people attempting to trademark their own names in one fashion or another, I wonder if the law might need to be updated in some ways. For example, we’ve seen several instances of intra-family trademark spats that arise from a person or business looking to trademark or simply use their own names. Any system of trademark enforcement that results in broadly disallowing someone to use their own name in the marketplace feels like a clear step too far, if only from a common sense perspective.
Yet it keeps happening. The latest iteration of this involves a lawyer, George Sink Sr., suing his own son, George Sink Jr., for using his own name for his law firm and marketing material. The court overseeing the matter just this week issued a restraining order barring George Jr. from using his own name to advertise his firm.
A Fourth Circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order that stops Sink Jr. from using the family name to advertise his personal injury firm on its website, in email, and on social media.
“George Sink Jr. is of course not barred from practicing law under his birth name, but in advertising for his legal services he must do more to differentiate between him and plaintiff,” writes Judge David Norton. “The mere fact that it is George Sink Jr.’s given name does not automatically shield him from allegations of infringement.”
The court documents note the similarities in the advertisements Sink’s son was using and said customers might and in some cases did get confused about which Sink law firm they were dealing coordinating with. “The logos that each party uses on their respective law firm websites, the name GEORGE SINK is more prominent than the auxiliary words,” writes Norton.
Again, perhaps this all legally correct. But that sure feels like an indication that there is a problem with the law, not with a person using his or her own name in their business’ name. And the fact that this sort of dispute incorporates an inter-family squabble makes this all the more bizarre. George Jr. apparently worked for his father’s firm some time ago and practiced there as George Jr. His firm handles a different type of law than his father. But now that his son has opened up his own firm using the uncreative name George Sr. gave him, it’s a legal matter.
In the suit, Sink Sr. says the company name is “famous” around South Carolina and Georgia. He also notes in the document that the business’ name is trademarked, and by using a similar name, his son is committing trademark infringement and creating unfair competition. According to the lawsuit, Sink Jr.’s firm was hurting his father’s online reviews and prominence on search websites.
In the lawsuit, Sink Sr. alleges that his son has always preferred the nickname “Ted,” and by going by the same name as his father, he is confusing customers.
George Sr. sure seems fun. Regardless, I can’t think of any reason why a bit more nuance couldn’t be inputted into existing trademark law. All this really screams for is a provision in the law that would allow someone to use their birth-name so long as there was no other attempt to create confusion with another entity holding a similar mark.
That…just doesn’t seem too hard to do.