The Unfortunate Side of Business (Legal Issues)

Owning your own business is part of the American dream, and at the same time, like most things that are worthwhile, it’s usually a lot more work than you first anticipated.

Whether you’re an individual professional that’s looking for clients or a fully registered business looking for customers, it takes a while to build your base and once you have, the bigger you get, the more support, financial, and even legal disputes you’ll have to deal with.

I don’t envy large corporations who deal with lawsuits daily or have CEOs that are so well-known, they’re practically celebrities who go under as much scrutiny and have just as many “scandals” exposed as A-list actors. While being rich is also apart of the American dream, I’d rather remain relatively niche and have moderate success, but way less stress.

Even so, no matter how great or small your business endeavors are, you’ll inevitably run into legal issues, at some point, whether it’s to protect your trademark, copyright, reputation, or perhaps you’ve found yourself on the wrong side of a legal notice. This is normal, most of the time these issues arise innocently out of ignorance.

Perhaps someone started using your product name on a confusingly similar product because they simply failed to do their due diligence to make sure the name wasn’t already taken, this is pretty common. Despite most of time it being very easy to solve these misunderstandings politely and amicably without “getting the lawyers involved” it’s still unfortunate to be put in a position where you have to send out these types of legal notices in the first place.

Believe me, I’m not a litigious person in the least. It doesn’t thrill me to send out legal notices. In fact, it’s quite uncomfortable, but when you own a business, it’s part of your responsibility to protect your business, your customers, and the general consuming public. This isn’t just a matter of what’s ethical, but legal obligation.

I’ve had a few dozen instances where I’ve had to send out a legal notice because someone began infringing on my trademark. Unlike most legal notices, or the bull dog attitude of a lot of lawyers, I’m not aggressive or threatening with my notices. I try to be gentle and kind, usually making it clear that I understand that they’ve probably only infringed on accident and ask them to work with me to solve the issue now that they’re aware of it.

The majority of the time, people are actually quite understanding and willing to find a solution. However, for some, unfortunately they cannot help but take it personally and become rude and defensive. See, no matter how softly and informally you word a legal notice, some people become angry at any implication that they’ve done anything illegal or wrong at all in the first place and will fight against this, doing whatever they can to make you out to be the bad guy.

This is especially unfortunate when it involves third-party infringing content, when a third-party website is unknowingly promoting infringing content of those who stole your product name. It’s neither your fault nor the third-party’s fault, but the original infringer who created confusion with consumers and conflicts between the trademark holder and other businesses with their actions to begin with.

Sometimes in these legal matters, it’s really quite fuzzy who’s “right” or “wrong”, other times, as in my specific case, it’s overwhelmingly black and white, when I can easily prove prior use. It’s as black and white as cutting in line, everyone knows that’s wrong. We don’t want it to happen and it’s a little uncomfortable to have to stand up for yourself and say something to them, but most self-respecting people can’t just ignore someone abusing them.

Let’s say that I created a product called CoolHouse Cookies in 2010, establishing it, selling thousands of boxes of these cookies. Then, in 2014, another company comes along and creates their own CoolHouse Cookies.

Despite their ingredients being completely different, it still causes brand and consumer confusion in the marketplace. For example, if someone searches Google for “coolhouse cookies” intending to find the official site, are instead mislead to the website who by all means might have a great product, but are releasing it under someone else’s trademark, that’s not okay to cause that confusion and lead people away from your business.

Even when it’s indisputably clear, the facts are still sometimes missed when there’s a general ignorance about trademark law and the fact that it’s entirely separate from copyright law or like I mentioned before, some get tunnel vision, go into defense mode, and their mind fabricates the situation to protect itself, making you this big bad company, who’s just jealous, temperamental, or trying to hurt the competition and other childish remarks.

The irony most times being, you wouldn’t have even heard of this supposed “competitor” if it wasn’t for the fact that they were using your product name as their own in the first place. In fact, the conversation wouldn’t be happening at all otherwise.

Dealing with legal issues sucks, it really does, but you have the right (both legally and morally) to protect your hard work. Don’t let anyone ever try to make you feel bad for standing up for yourself.

After all, would you respect yourself more if you just let people walk all over you and never lifted a finger just because the thought of opening a legal discussion was too scary or uncomfortable, or do the right thing and realize that no matter what you cannot control other people, sometimes you’re going to have to deal with unprofessional, even nasty people at times and it’s all apart of running a business?

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

– Winston Churchill