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.

Filed Under: family squabbles, george sink, george sink jr., george sink sr., lawyers, names, trademark


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 6:23pm

    I wonder who paid for law school?

    "“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.""

    Well, that looks like a solution, make the auxiliary words and logo more prominent, but I bet the other wouldn't let that pass.

    On the other hand, one has to wonder which of the two George Sinks rues the legal name of the son more? Of course, senior is to blame, but junior has to live with it, ...erm...I should say they both have to live with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 12:16am

      Re: I wonder who paid for law school?

      As an adult you can legally change your name at any time. I would go for George Swim, and add the tagline "don't let your case sink in court".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:38pm

    Keep the stupid going

    Next up, fighting over the word sink.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Scote, 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:48pm

    "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."

    No, your honor, naming our child Amazon Google Smith had nothing to do with our future plans to create an SEO marketing firm in his name. Total coincidence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:56pm

    Shouldn't Sink Sr. be suing the entity that created the naming conflict in the first place? Rather than waiting for decades. When was he first made aware of the name conflict? Wasn't that an appropriate time to notify the defendant?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Manok, 20 Aug 2019 @ 9:49pm

    This reminds me of an article I read a long time ago, where a kid, Mike Row, opened his own web site, Mike Row Software. Given name or not, that web site didn't take long to get nuked by MicroSoft.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Canuk, 21 Aug 2019 @ 3:12am

      MikeRowSoft.com

      You failed to mention that Mike Row sold the domain to M$ and made out like a bandit. And he wasn't forced to do so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2019 @ 2:56am

    George Sinks George.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 21 Aug 2019 @ 3:23am

    “The mere fact that it is George Sink Jr.’s given name does not automatically shield him from allegations of infringement.”

    That's all that needs to be said about how broken all of this is, really. It's nice that lawyers are the ones eating each other over this, but when the system is trying to stop people using their own given names and/or the place where they are located as valid names, something needs to be fixed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2019 @ 10:11am

      Re:

      Especially considering that Sink Sr. is the one who GAVE SINK JR. HIS NAME and is likely the one who encouraged him to go into law in the first place... and probably paid his tuition to boot.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2019 @ 5:22am

    All he has to do is find another George Sink who practices law and everyone's head will explode.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2019 @ 5:25am

    Copyright law is meant to prevent confusion, but what if people are simply stupid?
    I'm just looking for a local sink hole fixer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2019 @ 7:14am

      Re:

      I'm just looking for a local sink hole fixer.

      Stay away from Sink Sr., who will only dig deeper.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 1:38am

      Re:

      You're thinking trademark law, and the "moron in a hurry" scenario.

      That said, trademark and copyright have been utterly bastardized to the point where they've become interchangeable in the context of IP.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 21 Aug 2019 @ 7:15am

    Reminiscent of the Orange County Choppers reality show, which capitalized on a father-son rivalry; overbearing Paul Teutul Sr. ultimately drove out his son, who opened a competing shop called, simply, "Paul Jr.". Gotcha.

    (Actually, neither was a legitimate Sr. or Jr. - Paul Michael is the elder combatant, Paul John the younger.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dan (profile), 21 Aug 2019 @ 7:52am

    he must do more to differentiate between him and plaintiff,”

    This is simple, and already done--Jr. doesn't unethically advertise himself as "U.S. Marine George Sink" the way his father does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 21 Aug 2019 @ 8:19am

    FYI...Junior (aka GT which is what we called him) is a spoiled little sh*t who has had everything given to him. Who do you think paid for Yale and lAw school? Uh yes you guessed it....George SR.

    This kid (not much of a kid he’s almost 40) got
    Fired from his dads law firm. Then goes and opens a business to try and make people think HE is the THE George Sink. Give me a break dude.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 21 Aug 2019 @ 8:21pm

    Zappa

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    amit (profile), 22 Aug 2019 @ 12:52am

    digital marketing program in jaipur

    u can find more details about digital programs

    https://www.digilearnings.com

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.