Does the following scenario sound familiar? “When you search online for my business, Paley Florist in Paley, Maryland, top results direct you to order-gatherers. Can I take legal action against these order-gatherers?”
The short answer from Jessica Summers, of Paley Rothman, a Bethesda, Maryland law firm: Probably not.
“Generally, you can’t prohibit someone from using the name of a place and common descriptive terms such as ‘florist,’” she explained. “So, while it’s certainly frustrating, in this situation, order-gatherers aren’t doing anything illegal.”
That’s why it’s so important for business owners, and potential owners to carefully consider their name before implementing it.
“It would be different if the business was “[Business owner’s last name] Paley Flowers” and the order-gatherers used this name to collect orders,” Summers said. “Unique names can be trademarked and their use restricted. Even better: a fanciful mark that is not descriptive. (For models look to Xerox, Apple, Google, Amazon, Four Seasons.) Businesses are therefore advised to consider giving themselves unique names that won’t be easily usurped on search engines. “
SAF partners with Paley Rothman, so that members can get fast, free answers to business legal questions. Have a question you want to ask? Call Summers at (301) 968-3402. Be sure to mention that you are an SAF member.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management.