In a dispute between two Zurich law firms the Swiss Federal Supreme court decided on specific questions on the law of company trade names. The lawfirm “Pachmann Rechtsanwälte AG” registered as a Swiss stock company has raised claims to change the name of the lawfirm “Bachmann Rechtsanwälte AG”, which was later registered as a Swiss company. It based those claims on the law of company names, trademark law and unfair competition. MLL represented the defendant.
Swiss law requires for company names to be clearly distinct from any prior company name. In this respect it does not matter in which field of business the companies are active and where they are located in Switzerland. Only if conflicting companies are active in competing fields of business or are located closely to each other, the requirements on distinction are even higher.
In this respect the conflicting companies “Pachmann Rechtsanwälte AG” and “Bachmann Rechtsanwälte AG”, which are both based in Zurich and only vary in the first letters “P” and “B” are to be considered very similar.
However, the court of first instance, the Higher Zurich Court, rejected claims of the prior company under specific consideration of the fact that both companies comprise as distinctive elements the personal surname of the naming attorneys.
In general, the right to use one self’s personal name to conduct business and to register a respective company name has a high priority under Swiss law and might only be restricted in cases of unfair competition. The court of first instance considered this need even higher for the attorneys’ profession, which is specifically based on personal trust. As it is quite common for attorneys to use personal names also for registered companies the possibilities to find distinctive alternative names are very limited. The court considered the difference in the first letters of the conflicting company names sufficiently distinctive, also taking into account that the target customers seeking for legal advice are more attentive than consumers of every day services.
Consequently, the court rejected all raised claims under the laws of company names, trademarks and unfair competition and was entirely confirmed by the Swiss Federal Court on the second and last instance.