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I was thinking about naming our products using the first letter in a cause or person that we'd like to bring attention to. For our first product I was thinking FS R, with the last letter being the first letter in the name Razia Jan. I'd choose her based on her humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.

Do we run into any copyright or other legal issues for linking the product name to something like this that promotes global awareness?

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Many products and organizations are named using initials, often the initials of an owner or founder, or of a former business name. I recently hired an exterminator which game its name simply as "RPC" but their literature indicated this stood for 'Ron's Pest Control". The company IBM was once International Business machines, and 3M was once Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing.

One risk is that in using a TLA (three letter abbreviation) you are not likely to be unique, and may be confused with very different products or firms with the same initials. But that is mostly a business risk, not a legal risk. If another firm has trademarked the initials you want, that might be a problem. But you can't copyright a short phrase such as a title, much less a three or four-letter designation. For Example "APL" is both the name of a shipping company (American President's Line) and a programming tool (A Programming Language). Most such letter designations have multiple meanings already assigned.

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    Actually, "IBM" still is "International Business Machines Corporation" (but others, "Imperial Chemical Industries" for example, have actually changed their name). – Martin Bonner Aug 16 at 9:19
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Do you have permission of the person?

In general, product names fall under trademark law, not copyright. And while it's possible to use the name of a non-employee as a trademark, doing so without the permission of that person is rather dangerous. That person may sue you for a number of different reasons, with different demands - chiefly financial compensation or a rename of your product.

  • No I don't have permission and I figured you are right, which I why I chose "FS R", a fairly generic name. The "R" part is the first letter in the name of the person doing the humanitarian work, and I chose it for that reason, and was wondering if I'm allowed to say so, without getting into any sort of legal jeopardy? – Ole Aug 16 at 9:08
  • @Ole: The problem is that saying so might be construed as being an implicit endorsement of your product by that person, and you don't have permission for that. – MSalters Aug 16 at 9:51
  • Ah - OK - I think you are right. OK - I'll probably name the product after some endangered species then. Thanks. – Ole Aug 16 at 9:55

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