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By The Numbers

SAC to Point72: A company by any other name

Marc Sollinger Mar 11, 2014

Would a company by any other name be more profitable? Billionaire investor Steven A. Cohen seems to think so. The name of his troubled hedge fund, SAC Capital, is changing to Point72 Asset Management. SAC Capital was forced to pay $1.2 billion to regulators last November, and it looks like the hedge fund is trying to distance itself from an association with securities fraud and mismanagement. This may be a smart move for the company, and the newly-christened Point72 can count themselves lucky, since they got to choose their new name. Many companies are forced to change their names and the names of their products, whether it’s through lawsuits, rulings, or legal shenanigans.

World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment

The World Wrestling Federation, famous to middle-schoolers the world over for its unique brand of testosterone-soaked mayhem, was forced to change its name to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2001. This stemmed from a dispute with the World Wildlife Fund, which was also using the initials WWF. Unfortunately, this dispute was settled via a lawsuit resulting in a court ruling, not, as it might be fun to imagine, in a wrestling match featuring The Rock and a giant panda squaring off.

Lawsuits are actually how most name changes are forced upon companies. If one company starts using a name that another organization has the trademark on, then the second company can bring the first to court in order to make them change it. This happened when BlackBerry makers RIM tried to use the name BBX for its software. And Microsoft had to change the name of its SkyDrive into OneDrive, after a British Satellite company brought a trademark suit against them.

Boston Urban Iditarod to Boston Urban Idiotorama

Sometimes just the threat of a lawsuit is enough to get a company to change their name. This often happens when large organizations learn that a smaller company is using a trademarked name. That was the case with the Boston Urban Iditarod, which was threatened with a lawsuit from the more well-known Alaskan Iditarod. Since legal fees could be potentially crippling to a tiny organization, most just change their names to make the issue go away. That’s what went down at Mission Burrito,  Cafe Roubaix Bicycle Studio, and Twisted Root Restaurant & Bar.  It’s actually not that surprising that so many corporations have threatened local businesses with lawsuits, large corporations have to go after trademark infringements, or they risk losing their copyright.

What’s really surprising is the fact that the band Twisted Sister (you might remember them from the 80s) has gone after not one, but two small businesses for copyright infringement: a coffee shop and a food truck.

Cornish Pasty to Beef and Vegetable Pasty

But as protective of their name as Twisted Sister might be, the European Union takes its names even more seriously. Right now, as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the EU is trying to get the US to stop using ‘protected’ cheese names. So that soft cheese you’ve been spreading on your cracker? Unless it was from a specific region of France, it shouldn’t be called ‘brie’. And that would be true for around 180 other cheeses, if the U.S. goes along with the partnership. Why would Europeans cause such a fuss? Essentially, if a food is culturally significant enough, the EU gives it protected status, and can only be made in the region it’s historically from and by the methods historically associated with the foodstuff. Which meant U.K. supermarket Greggs was forced to change the name of their Cornish Pasty because they weren’t made in Cornwall and didn’t include the right mix of ingredients. And when Croatia was let into the EU in 2013, Croatian winemakers weren’t allowed to use the name ‘Prosek’ because it was too similar to the Italian prosecco wine. The EU also tries extremely hard to make sure anything labeled ‘Champagne’ comes from the Champagne, France. In short, the EU takes its names very seriously.

Philip Morris to Altria

But more often than not, name changes happen for the reasons SAC Capital changed its name to Point72 Asset Management. Companies aren’t forced to, they just want to rebrand. So when Philip Morris no longer wanted to be associated with poisoning untold numbers of people and causing agonizing, drawn-out deaths, they simply changed their name to Altria.

Netflix tried (unsuccessfully) to change part of its business to Qwikster, and after a particularly bad airplane crash, ValuJet transitioned to AirTran. So, the newly named Point72 is in good company.

Oh, and the rumor that Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to change its name to KFC because they weren’t using real chicken? That’s completely false.

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