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Social Media, Marketing and Privacy Issues: Tips to Remember

Posted by on Nov 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

Before launching a social media marketing campaign, consider the following: Be sure you disclose what information you collect from your audience, why you collect it, and how you use that information. Does your marketing campaign or website use “cookies”? If so, disclose it. If you do not know, ask your web developer (or someone else who could explain this practice to you), then disclose accurately what your site uses. Does your marketing campaign target children? If not, be sure to address this honestly- for example by prohibiting use of your site by children under the age of 13. If so, be sure you comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. It would be a good idea to have a lawyer review your policies or advise how to comply with this law. Always remember to contact an attorney if you have any specific questions or...

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Trademarks 101 PART 5 — Avoiding Mistakes in the Trademark Process by Assessing the Likelihood of Confusion

Posted by on Nov 7, 2013 in Intellectual Property

So, startups and entrepreneurs, you think your trademark situation is totally cool because you conducted a full trademark search, right? Wrong. Well, at least not necessarily… Sometimes even a full trademark search isn’t enough because it often doesn’t reveal important details about the actual use of a trademark in the marketplace. In order to assess the likelihood of confusion and the level of risk associated with a third party’s trademark that may potentially conflict with yours, you should determine the nature and extent of any potentially conflicting trademark’s use. “Likelihood of confusion” is the crucial test in trademark infringement and unfair competition claims. Although there is some variation among our circuit courts of appeal, there are similar factors that are generally considered when assessing the likelihood of confusion with a potentially conflicting third-party trademark. Some important factors to assess with regard to a potentially conflicting mark’s use are: The length of time the third party mark has been in use The goods or services for which the mark is used The representative consumer of the good or service The price point of the good or service Finally, one other important factor to assess is the third party’s history of trademark enforcement—If the third party has a history of active litigation regarding trademark infringement or unfair competition, you may really want to think twice before pursuing a mark that could potentially conflict or be confused with that mark. Because basic internet searches may not be sufficient to determine the information needed to fully assess the use of a third party’s mark, it may be advisable to engage a trademark investigator to do the job—those do exist. And, as always, please consult a trademark attorney if you’re interested in protecting your image or brand or you find this discussion murky and...

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Trademarks 101 PART 4: Avoiding Mistakes–Don’t Ignore Abandoned Applications or Cancelled Registrations

Posted by on Nov 1, 2013 in Intellectual Property

Here’s another mistake startups and entrepreneurs make when it comes to protecting their brand or image: Even if they’re trying to go through the trademark process and conduct searches, many startups and entrepreneurs mistakenly assume that they shouldn’t worry about applications that have been abandoned or trademarks that are the subject of cancelled registrations. The thing to remember is: Although a trademark registration is cancelled or an application is abandoned, there is still the possibility that the underlying trademark may be in use and/or that the owner of the underlying trademark may have common law rights in the mark. Ignoring those applications and registrations can be a huge mistake if the mark is in use or if the trademark has not been officially and legally abandoned (e.g. the use has stopped temporarily). There are many reasons why a trademark registration may be cancelled or an application abandoned which have nothing to do with whether the trademark is in use. For example, docket failures and failures to overcome USPTO office actions are reasons a trademark registration may be cancelled or an application abandoned. Therefore, if you’ve conducted a trademark search and you come across an abandoned application or cancelled registration for a mark that is similar to the mark you want to use and the mark is for a related good or service, you will probably want to conduct further investigations to determine whether the mark is still in use and, if the mark is no longer in use, to determine when the use stopped and whether the owner has plans to pick the use back up again. If you have questions concerning your brand, image or trademark search, please contact a trademark...

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Trademarks 101 PART 3: Avoiding Common Mistakes– Preliminary Searches

Posted by on Oct 21, 2013 in Intellectual Property

We’ve been discussing common mistakes small businesses and entrepreneurs make when dealing with their brand, mark or image. Last week we discussed that one common mistake is that people fail to properly conduct a trademark search. Trademark searches can either be preliminary trademark searches or they can be full trademark searches. Today we’ll discuss preliminary trademark searches. PRELIMINARY TRADEMARK SEARCHES Preliminary trademark searches generally involve searches conducted for free on the internet and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database (using the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)) to see if there are any direct conflicts. If one of these searches identifies a direct conflict, it either means that the potential mark is either unavailable or will only become available if additional acts are taken to obtain clearance (e.g. purchasing conflicting rights). Depending on time and budget constraints, taking such clearance actions may not be a realistic option–especially for a small company or entrepreneur. A USPTO search will typically pull up existing federal applications or registrations for marks that are identical to or applicable to products or services which are closely related or identical. While USPTO searches are useful as a preliminary search, they are not good enough to completely clear a proposed mark for full registration. Limitations on USPTO searches are: The USPTO database only includes federal trademark applications and registrations. The USPTO database does not include common law marks. A USPTO search may not reveal applications or registrations for marks that may be similar enough to cause consumer confusion although they are not identical, nor do they appear to have a direct conflict. Thus, if you have a brand, mark or image you would like to protect by obtaining a trademark, it is probably not a good idea to rely solely on a USPTO or general internet search unless: You intend to use your mark in a limited manner for a short period of time or Your mark is so descriptive and distinct that it would be extremely unlikely for a third-party to have conflicting rights that would be enforceable. If you are interested in learning more about how you can protect your brand, please consult a trademark...

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Trademarks 101: Avoiding Common Mistakes PART 2

Posted by on Oct 9, 2013 in Intellectual Property

In addition to consulting an attorney who specializes in trademark law, startup companies and entrepreneuers can avoid other common mistakes when it comes to safeguarding their brand or image by conducting a proper trademark search. While this also may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised at the number of entrepreneurs who build an entire business model and brand without so much as conducting a preliminary search, much less a full-fledged trademark search. Many trademark infringement claims could have been completely avoided if the company or entrepreneur had taken the time and made the small expenditure up front to conduct a trademark search not just before launching their business, but before finalizing their business model. If a proper search is conducted, it may help to surface any mark held by a third-party which could potentially be an infringement risk. If a proper search is conducted up front, the company or entrepreneur will have the time to choose a different name, brand or image or obtain permission to use that particular name, brand or image from the third party who owns it. A proper trademark search can also help the company or entrepreneur defend against claims that the alleged infringement was willful (which raises the severity of the infringement claim). In the converse–not conducting a proper trademark search can possibly be used as evidence that the company or entrepreneur acted willfully. Trademark searches can be preliminary or they can be full trademark searches, both of which we will discuss over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you have any questions concerning how to protect your name, brand or image, please contact a trademark...

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Trademarks 101: Avoiding Common Mistakes

Posted by on Oct 4, 2013 in Intellectual Property, Practice Pointers

Many entrepreneurs and small businesses try to handle their intellectual property (in this case, trademarks) independently. While this works in some circumstances, entrepreneurs and small businesses often make the same mistakes when dealing with trademark searching and clearance which could be avoided relatively easily. Trademark searching and clearance involves the collection and analysis of information in order to assess a potential trademark’s viability from an availability and protectability standpoint. The process of trademark searching and clearance is crucial for businesses from a risk management standpoint, particulary those who rely heavily on a specific logo or brand. Consequences of an inadequate search or, God forbid, the failure to search can be drastic and can include being sued for trademark infringement (which can result in significant monetary damages) and/or an injunction that completely stalls a product launch or advertising campaign. While the process of trademark searching and clearance can be complicated, there are common mistakes that an entreprenuer or small business can take steps to avoid. Common Mistakes To Avoid: #1) Failing to Consult a Trademark Attorney: While this may come across as redundant, manipulative or simply not heplful from a common sense standpoint, it is no lie that many entrepreneurs and small businesses get into trouble with their brand, logo or other trademark assets because they made decisions or took actions without consulting a trademark attorney. (NOTE: a “trademark attorney”) Searching a trademark can be complicated and there are many potential pitfalls which can be avoided if an entrepreneur or company consults an experienced trademark attorney first. Most trademark search mistakes occur when the process of searching and clearance is conducted by a business manager or other personnel or, surprise surprise, by an attorney who does not specialize in trademarks. Therefore, make sure the attorney you consult actually has experience in trademarks.   Stay tuned for additional common mistakes that you can avoid in the trademark search and clearance...

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Update! I-9 Forms and Immigration

Posted by on Oct 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

Earlier this year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issued a newly revised Form I-9 for use by employers. The Form I-9 is used to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals who are hired for employment in the United States. Thus, all companies who have employees must ensure that a Form I-9 is properly completed for each employee. As of this date, employers should be using the revised form, which is available at: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-9.pdf. The USCIS’s revisions to the I-9 form are subtle, in that USCIS simply: Added data fields for the employee’s: foreign passport information (if applicable) telephone number e-mail address Improved the form’s instructions Revised the layout of the form, expanding it from one to two pages (not including the form instructions and the List of Acceptable Documents) The revised form can be identified by the revision date “3/08/13 N” printed in the lower left-hand corner. Please contact an attorney if you have any questions about using the Form I-9 or your duties in verifying an employee’s identity and work...

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What Types of Insurance Should I Have For My Business?

Posted by on Sep 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Branching off from our discussion of whether you need an entity for your business, one related issue that’s important to keep in mind is what types and amounts of insurance you should obtain and maintain with respect to your business. Whether the insurance policy is personal in nature (such as a policy to cover your personal automobile or home) or commercial in nature (worker’s compensation, professional liability, etc), insurance plays a vital role in the minimization and management of risks associated with the operation of your business. We will go over insurance that is more commercial in nature next time, but for now, we will talk about insurance that is more personal. What Types Of Insurance Should You Have? While the overall answer will ultimately depend on the nature of your business, there are some types of insurance, particularly personal in nature, that are always a good idea to obtain and maintain because they protect you on a personal level– no matter what happens to the business. To the greatest extent possible, business owners should strive to minimize and manage their personal risk so that their capacity to focus on the business operations will not suffer as a result of a personal loss. While this may seem like common sense, if you’re a business owner who also owns a home, you’re going to want to make sure you have homeowner’s insurance of an adequate type and amount, which can help protect you from accidents that happen at home or may have occurred due to your own actions. In order to run your business, you need to make sure your home, and items inside the home, is adequately protected–so all of your resources can be focused on the business. This concept also applies to business owners who do not own a home, but who rent. Renter’s insurance is equally as important if you are a renter to protect your home and items inside your home (which may or may not be useful in your business). While there are other coverages which probably seem like common sense (e.g. personal automobile insurance or health insurance), you probably get the point concerning insurance which is personal in nature and are more curious about insurance which is commercial in nature. We will visit commercial insurance coverages next time, but before we leave this topic, it is important to drive home one more point: Because many small business owners operate their businesses as sole proprietors (i.e. entities for which there is little to no separation of assets, profits, liabilities and obligations), it is especially important to consider how best to protect your personal assets which may directly or indirectly impact the operation of your business. If you have questions concerning insurance or how best to manage and minimize risk for your business, please talk to an attorney–or an insurance...

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Do I Need An Entity for My Business? Cont…

Posted by on Sep 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

As we discussed before, most people end up operating their business through an entity of some sort. However, there are some individuals who do not necessarily need an entity and can operate their business as a sole proprietorship. Without going into details concerning the various types of business entities, it is important to remember that a sole proprietor is personally responsible for the debts and obligations of the business (i.e. there is no “shield” or “veil” of limited liability as in a corporation or LLC). While this may sound scary, it is actually not that big of a deal for some people–and the good news is that sole proprietors do not have to pay Tennessee Franchise & Excise taxes (which are typically between 6%-7%). We will discuss a bit more concerning the various factors that you should consider when trying to decide whether to create an entity through which to operate your business: #1: The kind of service or product you are providing. If you’re providing a risky service or product, that is an argument in favor of having an entity for your business. There is a huge difference between someone who is manufacturing tires and someone who is taking photographs of people. While photography may entail certain risks (risks particularly related to personal identity, images and/or other intellectual property rights), those risks are inherently less risky than the tire manufacturer scenario. Keep in mind that there are many other factors to consider in addition to the type of service or product you are providing, and we will discuss those in more detail later. However, for now, explore whether the level of risk your business entails may be curtailed by purchasing an insurance policy to adequately cover those risks. There are many types of businesses that can cover their risks adequately (and in a way that agrees with the business-owner’s risk tolerance) by purchasing general liability and other insurance policies to cover things like services which cause or are alleged to have caused bodily injury or property damage. If your risks may be covered by insurance policies which are less costly than the TN F&E taxes, it may be a better idea to stay a sole proprietorship and avoid the TN F&E taxes. This is a very brief and general discussion of a rather important topic, so we strongly recommend that you discuss your business with an insurance broker and an attorney so that you can fully understand how best to curtail the risks associated with your...

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Do I Need An Entity For My Business?

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in Practice Pointers, Your Entity

(*Note: this discussion presupposes a basic understanding of limited liability entities and alternatives, which have been discussed before and which we will discuss more in the future.) Many people starting a business often wonder if they need to set their business up as a corporation, LLC or some other entity. It is also common to encounter entrepreneurs who just automatically assume that they’ll structure their business as an LLC without really questioning whether they need to do so. By default, if you do not have an entity for your business, you will be considered to operate your business as a sole proprietorship, essentially meaning that the debts and obligations of the business will be considered to be your personal debts and obligations. Again, while this may be scary-sounding, it isn’t always that big of a deal for some people. While having the limited liability offered by a corporation, LLC or some other entity may be a good baseline, there are some individuals who will have businesses that could actually be operated as a sole proprietorship without any entity structure at all. How Do You Know If A Sole Proprietorship Is Okay For You? First and foremost, if you have partners or other individuals with whom you work closely on your business, you will more than likely need to be another type of entity (maybe even a general partnership, but probably another type of entity). Therefore, you really should only be considering a sole proprietorship if you operate your business alone. Whether you need an entity at all will depend on a number of other things, including (but by no means limited to): The kind of service or product you are providing. The degree to which you expect to make or lose money in the beginning. Whether your business is or will be open to the public (i.e. a place or portal where the public can access physically or digitally). Whether you plan to have employees or independent contractors. The degree to which you will borrow money or seek investors. How many assets you own in your name (home, stocks, etc.). Your personal risk tolerance. While we will discuss these issues in more detail over the next couple of weeks, it is important that you seek advice from legal counsel if you are starting a business or operating a business and have questions concerning your...

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