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Minnesota real estate company sued over name

Selecting a name and company logo can be the forerunner of legal problems across state lines. In a recent case, The Real Estate Company of Dickinson, North Dakota sued the Real Estate Company of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota for trademark infringement and deceptive acts and practices. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of North Dakota on Sept. 17.

The companies, in addition to sharing an almost identical name, also have logos containing the outline of a home and the color purple. Specifically, the Minnesota company used advertisements containing a purple logo with the outline of a home and the name, "the real estate company." The North Dakota company uses a log with a purple outlie of a home and the name, "the real estate co."

The North Dakota company alleged that the Minnesota company used this similar design to confuse and deceive customers. The Minnesota company, however, argued that the trademark is generic and there is no likelihood of confusion between the two real estate companies. The lawsuit stems from the Minnesota's company's attempts to seek business in Fargo, North Dakota and its announcement that it intended to open a Fargo office in 2012.

The North Dakota Secretary of State denied the Minnesota's real estate company's state registration because its name was too familiar with the North Dakota company's. The Minnesota company asked its North Dakota competitor to approve the limited use of its name. One month later, however, the North Dakota Company denied this request and claimed that the other company was using a deceptively similar log and color scheme.

The North Dakota company is seeking a judgment banning its competitor from using a similar logo that the company claims is confusingly similar. It also asked for the profits that the Minnesota company allegedly made from using this logo.

As this lawsuit indicates, great care should be exercised in selecting the names, logos and advertising to help prevent trademark and intellectual property disputes. Proper planning and legal assistance may help avoid these business disputes and help defend companies when these cases are filed.

Source: Pioneer Press, "North Dakota competitors sue over common name," Adrian Glass-Moore, Nov. 28, 2014

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