By Matt Chaney
A prominent personal injury attorney in the Lowcountry is suing his son for trademark infringement for using his birth name in advertising his new, independent law firm.
George Sink Sr. alleges (.pdf) that George “Ted” Sink Jr. and the firm he started in February are improperly using the father’s well-known and trademarked name.
Sink Sr. said that his son’s use of a name similar to his own trademarked company, George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers, also constitutes unfair competition, cybersquatting, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and dilution.
The original George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers was founded by Sink Sr. in 1997. Since then, the firm has become well-known as a personal injury firm operating around the state and in Georgia. Sink Jr. worked for his father as an attorney from March 2018 until Feb. 7, 2019, at which time his employment was terminated, according to Sink Sr.’s lawsuit.
That same month, Sink Jr. founded his own firm, which he called George Sink Law Firm II. In addition to the similar name, Sink Sr. said that his son’s firm offers similar legal services in the same markets — South Carolina and Georgia — as his firm.
In the name of the father
Sink Sr. said that the overlap in business names and location created digital marketing problems for his business when Google flagged his company’s listings and suspended them.
“Plaintiff further lost more than 600 positive Google reviews received for its business listing,” Sink Sr. said in the complaint. “Plaintiff was only able to restore its business listing after more than two weeks of correspondence between Google and Plaintiff’s technology consulting firm in order to satisfy Google that Plaintiff and Defendant were different entities. The visibility of Plaintiff’s website to users of Google still has not recovered from the temporary suspension, and Plaintiff has been forced to reallocate resources to search engine optimization repair efforts, to the detriment of other business needs.”
Sink Sr. also alleged that his son’s website was deceptive in that his domain name (www.georgesinklawfirm.com) is difficult to distinguish from his own (www.sinklaw.com).
“Defendants’ unauthorized use of the confusingly similar designation George Sink II in connection with identical services is likely to cause confusion among consumers as to the affiliation, connection, association, origin, sponsorship, or approval of Defendants’ services with or by Plaintiff,” Sink Sr. said in the complaint. “Plaintiff’s name, reputation, and goodwill are suffering, and have been damaged, as a result of Defendants’ conduct.”
George and Ted
Ronald Richter Jr. and Eric Bland of Bland Richter in Charleston represent Sink Jr., along with Timothy St. Clair of Parker Poe in Greenville. Richter made clear in correspondences that while Sink Jr.’s father refers to him as “Ted,” this is not his birth name.
“We represent George Sink Jr. This is the name that appears on his birth certificate, driver’s license, Yale undergraduate degree and on his law degree, as well as on his licenses to practice law in South Carolina and Georgia,” Richter said, explaining that it was Sink Sr. who originally introduced his son to others in the legal community as “George Sink.”
“Whether trademark law permits a father to take back his son’s name or restrict his right to practice law is an issue we look forward to litigating through the courts,” Richter said.
Allen Holmes of Gibbs & Holmes in Charleston represents Sink Sr., along with Trudy Robertson, J. Mark Wilson, Kathryn Cole and Minnie Kim of Moore & Van Allen.
Holmes said that the lawsuit is not intended to keep Sink Jr. from practicing law, but rather to protect consumers’ interests.
“George Sink P.A. Injury Lawyers has been forced to bring suit to protect consumers,” Holmes said. “Established and operating for decades in many different courts, the firm has earned a reputation for service, success and legal competency. The firm has obtained federal registered service marks to clearly indicate to the general public the source of the origin of the legal services the consumer is seeking. The marks exist to protect consumers from the confusion and misdirection caused by infringement.”
Holmes cited Sink Jr.’s relative inexperience practicing law — just two and a half years — as part of the reason for the lawsuit.
“(We) wish him well with his new law firm,” he said. “However, when consumers look for George Sink P.A. Injury Lawyers, they must be confident they will find the firm they seek.”
Richter said that his side will be filing a response to the complaint “shortly.”
Follow Matt Chaney on Twitter @SCLWChaney.