Starting a business? Make sure your name is not infringing on someone’s trademark

Finding a business name is easy. Getting a good business name that has a unregistered domain is not so easy. If you register a good TLD domain name and start a business, make sure it is not infringing on someones trademark.

Take this case in point, after a decade of battles the US Government has declared that the owner of the voiceofamerica.com, a radio and political website owned by Robert Namer was infringing on the trademark of Voice of America(VOA) which is a radio station since 1942.

Decades of work from  Robert Namer are now gone as he did not check to see if his name was infringing on a trademark. The domain name voiceofamerica.com is now owned by VOA(the original Voice of America.

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Voiceofamerica.com in this article is referring to the website operated by Namer.

VOA is the orginal radio station owned by the US Government.

How voiceofamerica.com started.

Conservative radio talk show host Robert Namer claims that he began using the term “Voice of America” in commerce in 1968.  In 1977, Namer formed Voice of America, Inc., a Louisiana corporation, and in 1991 he began hosting the “Voice of America” syndicated radio talk show.  In 1998, Namer registered the domain name www.thevoiceofamerica.com, which he ultimately  used as a news aggregation site and platform for the same political views he espoused on his radio show.

He first received a letter from VOA that his domain name is infringing and needs to be changed. The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution group agreed. Namer fought back and claimed fair use.

 Namer, relying the doctrine of classic fair use, had alleged that he was only using the name “Voice of America” to refer to his own radio show.  Because it was a call-in show, Namer argued, it allowed “the people of America to voice their opinions through an open airway, i.e. voice of America,” and therefore the term was merely descriptive of the program’s content.

How was this website infringing on VOA trademark? Because both companies looked very US government in design thus causing a likelihood of confusion. From the logo to the banner, everything looked government in nature. Here is a picture of the voiceofamerica website. The seal makes it look like a government.

counterfeit trademark VOA voiceofamerica namer

The court finally decided that Namer was infringing on the half a century trademark owned by VOA. They also decided that the website could be mistaken for the real Voice of America. This may cause confusion on what the US Government is really trying to say on VOA and can confuse people who look up Voice of America. The voiceofamerica.com from Namer could put his own opinion on there and viewers may confuse it as official US Government policy.

Finally, Namer argued that, even if there was a likelihood of confusion, BBG had not made a showing of irreparable harm and therefore was not entitled to an injunction. The Court disagreed and found that, not only was there convincing evidence of likely harm in the form of consumer confusion but, if Namer’s controversial views were mistakenly attributed to VOA, it could cause harm to VOA’s reputation and damage its foreign policy mission.

On November 7, 2014, the Court ordered Namer to turn over the domain name and enjoined him “from using the mark VOICE OF AMERICA, or any mark likely to cause confusions therewith, in offering news and entertainment content on the internet.” Namer has until December 8 to stop using the mark online, including by removing references to “Voice of America” and “VOA View” from all of his websites (including www.hottalkradio.com, which is still active).

From  trademarkandcopyrightlawblog

I believe the court was right in this decision. It was really clear that there was a likelihood of confusion between the two sites.

This is why you should always check to see if your business name is infringing on a trademark in the same sector. A simple one hour of research can save you decades of hard work. 

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