Court Rules Business Trade Names May be Misappropriated in Georgia

September 25, 2015

The invasion of privacy doctrine of misappropriation was recently expanded significantly in a decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals. In Shiho Seki v. Groupon, Inc., the court held that a business could maintain a claim for misappropriation of trade name, the first instance in which a Georgia court has allowed an entity other than an individual to pursue such a claim. 775 S.E. 2d 776 (Ga. Ct. App. 2015).

In Groupon, plaintiff Shiho Seki was a sole proprietor operating a hot air balloon ride business under the registered trade name “Magical Adventures Balloon Rides” (MABR). A dispute between the parties resulted in plaintiff bringing claims for breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations, and significantly, invasion of privacy through misappropriation. Groupon moved for and was granted summary judgment by the trial court on each count, which specifically granted the motion as to plaintiff’s misappropriation claim on the ground that “the common law right to privacy has never been extended to protect the name and likeness of a trade name, as opposed to the individual using the trade name.”

On appeal, the court affirmed summary judgment as to plaintiff’s breach of contract and tortious interference claims, but reversed as to invasion of privacy through misappropriation. In what could stand to be a monumental decision for the privacy rights of businesses, the court surveyed the law nationwide and reasoned:

[r]ecognizing that a trade name is nothing more than an extension of the person using it, and that the rationale underpinning the tort of misappropriation is to protect the proprietary interest one has in the exclusive use of his or her name and likeness, we see no logical reason why that interest should be treated differently depending on whether it originates from the name and likeness of the individual proprietor or his or her trade name. Presumably both derive their value from the goodwill of that individual, who should be entitled to prevent others from unjustly profiting from the same.

If you are a business owner who believes the privacy rights of your company may have been violated, Georgia law may now provide a remedy where it has not in the past. Contact the attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert, P.C. to see if we can assist you in vindicating the rights of your business at 877-986-5529 or firm@pcwlawfirm.com.

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