Friday, September 22, 2023

The Law of Naming: Trademarks and Nonprofits

There’s a great article in today’s WSJ about the increasing trademark infringement litigation among US nonprofits. The “naming” of a nonprofit is a topic I spend quite a bit of time covering every time I teach a class on nonprofit tax-exempt organizations. Choosing a name for a nonprofit is, for many, an emotional predicament. Many founders feel attached to a certain name they have been using pre-incorporation, and many times (if not always), without ever checking to see if the name they are using is a registered trademark.Another predicament I see quite often is founders wanting to use a name for their nonprofit that has substantial similarity to an established nonprofit. The irony of this strategy is that this “passing off” is precisely what trademark law protects against. The worst thing a nonprofit organization can do is use a name in commerce without first checking with a trademark attorney to confirm that the name is not currently being used in commerce by another business. Many times nonprofit founders launch websites, print posters, postcards, business cards and letterhead stationary only to find out to their huge disappointment that the name is already in use or registered to another business. When this happens, the first thing a newly minted nonprofit will do is receive a cease and desist letter and at times even defend against a trademark infringement lawsuit. The headaches, time, and money it takes to change names is not a charming one.

The WSJ article, Charity Brawl: Nonprofits Aren’t So Generous When a Name’s at Stake, can be accessed here.


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