It's the kind of name that only a search engine could love, but Capitol Patent & Trademark Law Firm thinks its moniker is a pretty valuable asset. That’s why the McLean, Va, firm is now suing local rival Capitol IP to the tune of $3 million for – you guessed it – alleged trademark infringement.
The complaint, filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, accuses Capitol IP’s Herman Heflin and Gregory Brummett of attempting to mislead customers by echoing their former affiliate's name in the title of their new practice. Although they weren’t partners in the firm, Heflin and Brummett practiced under the Capitol Patent Trademark & Law Firm banner between July 2007 and July 2008. The relationship went sour, though, and the two struck off on their own.
Janice Housey, of Latimer Mayberry & Matthews IP Law, says her clients at Capitol Patent believe Heflin and Brummett are intentionally sowing confusion.
“Several clients and former clients don’t understand whether it’s a continuing relationship or what the current association is in light of the very similar names,” Housey says, adding that her clients are “going to have to do some corrective advertising to fix the confusion in the marketplace.”
Along with the charges of trademark infringement and unfair competition, the suit also claims Capitol IP violated federal cybersquatting laws by registering the domain name capitolip.com.
UPDATE (4:24 p.m.): Capitol IP is being represented by Lisa Dunner of Dunner Law, an intellectual property practice in Washington. She calls the suit "ironic," adding that the plaintiffs had given her client written permission to use the name Capitol IP while transitioned to a new firm.
"There is zero intentional wrong doing here," Dunner says. "And apart from that, the word Capitol is widely used in the legal world."