A man’s name is his own property

A man’s name is his own property, and he has the same right to its use and enjoyment as he has to that of any other species of property. If such use be a reasonable, honest, and fair exercise of such right, he is no more liable for the incidental damage he may do a rival in trade than he would be for injury to his neighbor’s property by the smoke issuing from his chimney, or for the fall of his neighbor’s house by reason of necessary excavations upon his own land. These and similar instances are cases of damnum absque injuria.

An ordinary surname cannot be appropriated as a trademark by any one person as against others of the same name who are using it for a legitimate purpose, although cases are not wanting of injunctions issued to restrain the use even of one’s own name where a fraud upon another is manifestly intended or where he has assigned or parted with his right to use it. McLean v. Fleming, 96 U. S. 245; Goodyear Company v. Goodyear Rubber Company, 128 U. S. 598;Russian Cement Co. v. Le Page, 147 Mass. 206; Hoxie v. Chaney, 143 Mass. 592. The distinction between the lawful and the unlawful use of one’s own name is illustrated in the case of Croft v. Day, 7 Beavan 84, in which the successor of Day and Martin, originators of the

Page 139 U. S. 543

famous blacking, filed a bill to enjoin the defendant Day, a nephew of the elder Day, who had commenced business as a blacking maker and was using a label of the same color and size, with the letters arranged precisely the same and with the same name, “Day and Martin,” on the boxes. The defendant was enjoined, the court placing its decision not upon any peculiar or exclusive right that the plaintiff had to use the name of Day and Martin, but upon the fact of the defendant’s using the names with certain circumstances and in a manner calculated to mislead the public. The court observed:

“He [the defendant] has a right to carry on the business of a blacking manufacturer honestly and fairly. He has a right to the use of his own name. I will not do anything to deprive him of that or any other name calculated to benefit himself in an honest way, but I must prevent him from suing it in such a way as to deceive and defraud the public.”

In Holloway v. Holloway, 13 Beavan 209, Thomas Holloway had for many years made and sold pills and ointments under the label “Holloway’s Pills and Ointments.” His brother Henry Holloway subsequently manufactured pills and ointment with the same designation. The pill boxes and pots (of ointment) of the latter were similar in form to, and were proven to have been copied from, those of the former. The Master of the Rolls, in granting the injunction, said:

“The defendant’s name being Holloway, he has a right to constitute himself a vendor of Holloway’s pills and ointment, and I do not intend to say anything tending to abridge any such right. But he has no right to do so with such additions to his own name as to deceive the public and make them believe that he is selling the plaintiff’s pills and ointments. The evidence in this case clearly proves that pills and ointments have been sold by the defendant marked in such a manner that persons have purchased them of the defendant believing that they were buying goods of the plaintiff.”

The principle of this case was approved by this Court in the case of McLean v. Fleming, 96 U. S. 245, in which a person was enjoined from using his own name in connection with certain pills upon the ground that they were put up in such form that purchasers exercising ordinary caution were

Page 139 U. S. 544

likely to be misled into buying the article as that of the plaintiff. These cases obviously apply only where the defendant adds to his own name imitations of the plaintiff’s labels, boxes, or packages, and thereby induces the public to believe that his goods are those of the plaintiff. A man’s name is his own property, and he has the same right to its use and enjoyment as he has to that of any other species of property. If such use be a reasonable, honest, and fair exercise of such right, he is no more liable for the incidental damage he may do a rival in trade than he would be for injury to his neighbor’s property by the smoke issuing from his chimney, or for the fall of his neighbor’s house by reason of necessary excavations upon his own land. These and similar instances are cases of damnum absque injuria. In the present case, if the words are not in themselves a trademark, they are not made a monopoly by the addition of the proprietor’s name, provided, of course, the defendant be legally entitled to make use of the same name as connected with his preparations.

The theory of a trademark proper then being untenable, this case resolves itself into the question whether the defendants have, by means of simulating the name of plaintiff’s preparation, putting up their own medicine in bottles or packages bearing a close resemblance to those of plaintiff, or by the use of misleading labels or colors endeavored to palm off their goods as those of the plaintiff. The law upon this subject is considered in the recent case of Lawrence Mfg. Co. v. Tennessee Mfg. Co., 138 U. S. 537. The law does not visit with its reprobation a fair competition in trade; its tendency is rather to discourage monopolies except where protected by statute, and to build up new enterprises from which the public is likely to derive a benefit. If one person can by superior energy, by more extensive advertising, by selling a better or more attractive article, outbid another in popular favor, he has a perfect right to do so; nor is this right impaired by an open declaration of his intention to compete with the other in the market. In this case, the usual indicia of fraud are lacking. Not only do defendants’ bottles differ in size and shape from those of the plaintiff, but their labels and cartons are

Page 139 U. S. 545

so dissimilar in color, design, and detail that no intelligent person would be likely to purchase either under the impression that he was purchasing the other. There are certain resemblances in the prescriptions and instructions for the use of the respective preparations, but no greater than would be naturally expected in two medicinal compounds, the general object of which is the same. Under such circumstances, a certain similarity in the methods of using and recommending them to the public is almost unavoidable. While the resemblances in this case are perhaps too great to be considered the result of mere accident, the dissimilarities are such as to show an intention to avoid the charge of piracy. The similarities in the advertising cards or posters are undoubtedly much greater, both being a deep yellow in color, with an arrangement and shape of letters closely approaching identity, and, if this resemblance had been carried into the labels, we should have regarded it as strong evidence of a fraudulent intent; but as it appears from the testimony that the use of these posters has been discontinued, and further that the defendants in this case never employed them or put them up, or authorized others to do so, it is clear that as against these defendants, the court cannot now be properly called upon to enjoin them. If the bare act of posting these advertising cards were fraudulent, the remedy is against the party who committed the wrong. The act does not affect the labels on the bottles, with which alone the defendants are concerned, and it has relation only to a mode of advertising, distinct from the medicine as offered to the public by the defendants.

Brown Chemical Co. v. Meyer, 139 U.S. 540 (1891)

Using Your Own Name, Even if it is Famous, Isn’t Unfair Competition

That competition is not unfair in a legal sense, merely because the profits gained are unearned, even if made at the expense of a rival, is shown by many cases besides those referred to above. He who follows the pioneer into a new market, or who engages in the manufacture of an article newly introduced by another, seeks profits due largely to the labor and expense of the first adventurer; but the law sanctions, indeed encourages, the pursuit.(14) He who makes a city known through his product, must submit to sharing the resultant trade with others who, perhaps for that reason, locate there later. Canal Co. v. Clark, 13 Wall. 311, 20 L. Ed. 581; Elgin National Watch Co. v. Illinois Watch Co., 179 U. S. 665, 673, 21 Sup. Ct. 270, 45 L. Ed. 365. He who has made his name a guaranty of quality, protests in vain when another with the same name engages, perhaps for that reason, in the same lines of business; provided, precaution is taken to prevent the public from being deceived into the belief that what he is selling, was made by his competitor. One bearing a name made famous by another is permitted to enjoy the unearned benefit which necessarily flows from such use, even though the use proves harmful to him who gave the name value. Brown Chemical Co. v. Meyer, 139 U. S. 540, 544, 11 Sup. Ct. 625, 35 L. Ed. 247; Howe Scale Co. v. Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, 198 U. S. 118, 25 Sup. Ct. 609, 49 L. Ed. 972; Donnell v. Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co., 208 U. S. 267, 28 Sup. Ct. 288, 52 L. Ed. 481; Waterman Co. v. Modern Pen Co., 235 U. S. 88, 35 Sup. Ct. 91, 59 L. Ed. 142. See Saxlehner v. Wagner, 216 U. S. 375, 30 Sup. Ct. 298, 54 L. Ed. 525.

David Michaels

David Michaels, J.D., B.Eng., CHRM is a legal blogger (and a trained attorney) who holds certificates in Canadian Trademark Law (2012) and Canadian Patent Law (1996) from McGill University. He has worked in the area of trademark law in Canada since 1995 and in the USA since 1993. David is a brand consultant, a writer, an eCommerce entrepreneur, and an aeronautical engineer. http://ca.linkedin.com/in/davidtmichaels/ Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on trademarkpro.ca do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the author's notes of the current state of trademark law and should not be attributed as opinions of the author, his employer, clients or the sponsors of trademarkpro.ca. The author does not warrant that these notes are up-to-date. Trademark law is constantly changing and it varies between jurisdictions and even within jurisdictions. This website should not be relied upon.

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