Every unincorporated organization has the common law right to use its name and to restrain others from using it without right. New associations cannot have the same or similar name as that of an existing unincorporated organization.[i] This is because similar names can result in confusion of the different organizations. If another organization uses the name of an existing organization, the existing organization can go to court for an injunction. However, if an organization has lost the right over its name, through acquiescence and delay, the organization cannot restrain the use of its name by others. Even groups that separate from an organization cannot use the name of the parent unincorporated organization.[ii]
An organization’s right to use a name can be questioned if the organization has not remained faithful to the prescribed goals of the organization. The right to restrain the use of a name of an organization can be challenged if there is no continuous use of the name. However, even if an organization is not using the name under which it has done business but good will has attached, a new organization has no right to use the name or good will.[iii]
As a general rule, a geographical name cannot be appropriated by a civic, cultural, educational, or political entity for its exclusive use.[iv] However, a court can join another corporation’s use of geographical name when it is clearly shown that the first corporation’s name has acquired another meaning before the public.
[i] Lewis v. First Federal Sav. & Loan Asso., 524 S.W.2d 783 (Tex. Civ. App. Austin 1975)
[ii] Farnum v. Balckstone Canal Corp., 8 F. Cas. 1059 (C.C.D.R.I. 1830)
[iii] Boozier v. McDonald, 177 S.W.2d 807 (Tex. Civ. App. 1942)
[iv] John T. Dyer Quarry Co. v. Schuylkill Stone Co., 185 F. 557 (C.C.D.N.J. 1911)