Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – February 23, 2024

  1. Michigan Awarded Nearly $23 Million for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

The State of Michigan recently announced that nearly $23 million has been awarded to multiple locations across Michigan for electric vehicle infrastructure. The funds are being allocated via the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program.

Why it Matters: Electric vehicle growth and EV infrastructure is an important clean energy and economic growth priority in Michigan. However, recent reports suggest the market for EVs is slowing, and the issue has become a hot-button topic in this year’s presidential campaign. A New York Times article discussed the contentiousness of the issue in a story this week titled, “For Michigan’s Economy, Electric Vehicles are Promising and Scary.”

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  1. Increase in the Small Business Property Tax Exemption

Eligibility for the so-called “Small Business Property Tax Exemption” has expanded. Legislation passed last October 2023, expands the exemption by increasing the eligibility limit to from the $80,000 true cash value limit to $180,000.

Why it Matters: The exemption is only for commercial and industrial personal property (residential/individuals are not subject to personal property taxes). Once filed, and if granted, the exemption will remain as long as the small business still qualifies. In other words, there is no need to file an exemption claim every year. Read more.

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  1. Michigan CRA Publishes January 2024 Data: Average Price Decreases

Per data released by the Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA), the average retail price for adult-use sales of an ounce of cannabis in January was $93.20, a decrease from $95.08 in December 2023. This is an increase from January 2023, where the average price was $80.16.

Why it Matters: While the prices of cannabis and cannabis-related products continue to decrease and make consumers happy, growers on the other hand are seeing profits decrease resulting in them seeking ways to halt new licenses to be granted in an effort to steady prices. Contact our cannabis law attorneys if you have any questions.

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  1. Michigan’s Repealed “Right-to-Work” Law Takes Effect

On Tuesday, February 13, 2024, Michigan’s repeal of the prior “right-to-work” law governing private-sector workers went into effect.

Why it Matters: The result of the repeal is that private-sector unions may permissibly negotiate to impasse, and enforce, “union security” provisions requiring membership in, or financial support through “Beck Objector” fees, of those unions. Read more.

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  1. Retroactive PPT Exemption

Some Michigan manufacturers who were not able to claim their 2021 ESA-PPT exemption due to COVID-19, have until March 14 to request approval from the State Tax Commission.

Why it Matters: The ESA is a State specific tax on personal property that is exempt from property taxes at the local level because the property meets certain eligibility requirements, such as being qualified manufacturing or industrial personal property. In order to elect out of local personal property taxes and into the ESA regime, manufacturers must file the required forms with their local assessing office by February 20th of each year. Learn more.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Energy, Utilities & Telecommunication | Sean Gallagher
Business & Tax | Paul McCord
Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher
Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | David Houston

Increase in the Small Business Property Tax Exemption

Eligibility for the so-called “Small Business Property Tax Exemption” has expanded. Generally, all personal property used by businesses in Michigan is subject to property taxation. Beginning with calendar year 2014, however, an exemption was created for the personal property owned by businesses if the “True Cash Value” or, in other words, market value of their personal property either owned, leased, or possessed by a related party is less than $80,000 within any city or township. This exemption has become known as the “Small Business” exemption.

The exemption is only for commercial and industrial personal property (residential/individuals are not subject to personal property taxes). Legislation passed last October 2023, expands the exemption by increasing the eligibility limit to from the $80,000 true cash value limit to $180,000.

In order to claim the exemption, eligible small businesses must file a Form 507 no later than February 20, 2024, with their local assessor. Late filed claims are not accepted. Once filed, and if granted, the exemption will remain as long as the small business still qualifies. In other words, there is no need to file an exemption claim every year.

This alert serves as a general summary and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.


Headshot of Fraser Trebilcock attorney Paul V. McCordFraser Trebilcock attorney Paul V. McCord has more than 20 years of tax litigation experience, including serving as a clerk on the U.S. Tax Court and as a judge of the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Paul has represented clients before the IRS, Michigan Department of Treasury, other state revenue departments and local units of government. He can be contacted at 517.377.0861 or pmccord@fraserlawfirm.com.

Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – February 16, 2024

  1. Michigan Eliminates Pharmaceutical Company Immunity

Governor Whitmer recently signed Senate Bill 410 into law, which repeals the provision under Michigan’s Product Liability Act which granted immunity to pharmaceutical companies. A rebuttable presumption of non-liability and caps on non-economic damages remain intact.

Why it Matters: Pharmaceutical companies have had near-total immunity from product liability claims in Michigan for approximately 30 years. The law took effect on February 13, 2024.

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  1. Retroactive PPT Exemption

Some Michigan manufacturers who were not able to claim their 2021 ESA-PPT exemption due to COVID-19, have until March 14 to request approval from the State Tax Commission.

Why it Matters: The ESA is a State specific tax on personal property that is exempt from property taxes at the local level because the property meets certain eligibility requirements, such as being qualified manufacturing or industrial personal property. In order to elect out of local personal property taxes and into the ESA regime, manufacturers must file the required forms with their local assessing office by February 20th of each year. Learn more.

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  1. Michigan’s Repealed “Right-to-Work” Law Takes Effect

On Tuesday, February 13, 2024, Michigan’s repeal of the prior “right-to-work” law governing private-sector workers went into effect.

Why it Matters: The result of the repeal is that private-sector unions may permissibly negotiate to impasse, and enforce, “union security” provisions requiring membership in, or financial support through “Beck Objector” fees, of those unions. Read more.

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  1. Michigan Cannabis Exceeds $242 Million in January ‘24

Cannabis sales surpassed $242 million in January, via the monthly report from the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency. Michigan adult-use sales came in at $240,289,360.60, while medical sales came in at $2,523,333.56, totaling $242,812,694.16.

Why it Matters: Marijuana sales remain strong in Michigan, particularly for recreational use. However, there still are significant concerns about profitability and market oversaturation that the industry is contending with.

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  1. Client Alert/Reminder: Form W-2 Reporting Due for Employer-Provided Health Care / Disclosure Due to CMS for Medicare Part D

Unless subject to an exemption, employers must report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored health coverage provided in 2023 on their employees’ Form W-2 (Code DD in Box 12) issued in January 2024. Please see IRS Notice 2012-09. Additionally, group health plans offering prescription drug coverage are required to disclose to all Part D-eligible individuals who are enrolled in or were seeking to enroll in the group health plan coverage whether such coverage was creditable.

Why it Matters: The filing deadline is 60 days following the first day of the plan year. If you operate a calendar year plan, the deadline is the end of February. If you operate a non-calendar year plan, please be sure to keep track of your deadline. Contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney for any questions.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Business & Tax | Paul McCord
Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | David Houston
Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher
Employee Benefits | Bob Burgee
Employee Benefits | Sharon Goldzweig

Michigan’s Repealed “Right-to-Work” Law Takes Effect

On Tuesday, February 13, 2024, Michigan’s repeal of the prior “right-to-work” law governing private-sector workers went into effect. The result of the repeal is that private-sector unions may permissibly negotiate to impasse, and enforce, “union security” provisions requiring membership in, or financial support through “Beck Objector” fees, of those unions. See NLRB FAQ’s.

Michigan’s “Freedom to Work” law enacted under Republican Governor Rick Snyder became effective in 2013. That law prohibited public and private sector employees from being required, as a “condition of employment,” to belong to a labor union or to pay a “service fee” in lieu of membership. The 2013 law invalidated any collective bargaining provision to the contrary, and prohibited enforcement of such unlawful provisions.

In 2023, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law legislation repealing the Freedom to Work law insofar as it applies to private-sector employees. Governor Whitmer also signed a separate bill that would similarly repeal this prohibition as to public sector workers in the event the U.S. Supreme Court reverses a 2018 decision that essentially adopted similar “right-to-work” principles with respect to public sector employees and unions, which reversal has not occurred.  So, the present change does not affect the current prohibition of a membership requirement in a public sector collective bargaining agreement.

Per data collected by researchers available at unionstats.com, in 2022, close to 39,000 private sector workers in Michigan were covered by a collective bargaining agreement but were not union members paying dues or service fees. Now, those individuals may permissibly be required to pay dues or fees if “union security” provisions are bargained into, or “suspended” in, applicable collective bargaining agreements. In that event, affected employers could be required to fire bargaining unit workers who refuse to pay dues or fees under the enforcement of a lawful union security clause.

Employers with unionized workforces should anticipate attempts by unions to enforce “suspended” union security clauses or negotiate such provisions into future collective bargaining agreements, and plan accordingly. If you have questions about the new law or require assistance, please contact David J. Houston or your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

This alert serves as a general summary and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.


Attorney David J. HoustonFraser Trebilcock Shareholder Dave Houston has over 40 years of experience representing employers in planning, counseling, and litigating virtually all employment claims and disputes including labor relations (NLRB and MERC), wage and overtime, and employment discrimination, and negotiation of union contracts. He has authored numerous publications regarding employment issues. You can reach him at 517.377.0855 or dhouston@fraserlawfirm.com.

Retroactive PPT Exemption

February is for lovers, and who doesn’t love a tax exemption? Some Michigan manufacturers who were not able to claim their 2021 ESA-PPT exemption due to COVID-19, have until March 14 to request approval from the State Tax Commission.

Eligible Michigan manufacturers can elect out of the personal property taxes and instead pay an Essential Services Assessment (ESA) at the state level. The ESA is a State specific tax on personal property that is exempt from property taxes at the local level because the property meets certain eligibility requirements, such as being qualified manufacturing or industrial personal property. In order to elect out of local personal property taxes and into the ESA regime, manufacturers must file the required forms with their local assessing office by February 20th of each year.

During calendar year 2021, some manufacturing businesses were not able to file the required paperwork by the due date as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.

On November 14, 2023, the Governor signed 211 PA 2023. As the legislation was not given immediate effect, that law went into effect February 13, 2024. The legislation allows manufacturers who did not elect out of local personal property taxes and into ESA due to the COVID-19 pandemic to retroactively claim eligible manufacturing personal property exemption for 2021.

If you have any questions as to whether your business can claim a retroactive 2021 ESA/PPT exemption, please contact your Paul McCord or your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

This alert serves as a general summary and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.


Headshot of Fraser Trebilcock attorney Paul V. McCordFraser Trebilcock attorney Paul V. McCord has more than 20 years of tax litigation experience, including serving as a clerk on the U.S. Tax Court and as a judge of the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Paul has represented clients before the IRS, Michigan Department of Treasury, other state revenue departments and local units of government. He can be contacted at 517.377.0861 or pmccord@fraserlawfirm.com.

Client Alert/Reminder: Form W-2 Reporting Due for Employer-Provided 
Health Care / Disclosure Due to CMS for Medicare Part D

Upcoming Deadlines: (1) Form W-2 Reporting of Employer-Provided Health Coverage; and (2) Medicare Part D Notices to CMS

Reminder: Form W-2 Reporting on Aggregate Cost of Employer Sponsored Coverage

Unless subject to an exemption, employers must report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored health coverage provided in 2023 on their employees’ Form W-2 (Code DD in Box 12) issued in January 2024. Please see IRS Notice 2012-09.

The following IRS link is helpful and includes a chart setting forth various types of coverage and whether reporting is required; see here.

Please note this is a summary only and Notice 2012-09 should also be consulted. The IRS has issued questions and answers regarding reporting the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan, which can be found here.

If you have questions regarding whether you or your particular benefits are subject to reporting, please feel free to contact us.

Deadline Coming Up for Calendar Year Plans to Submit Medicare Part D Notice to CMS

As you know, group health plans offering prescription drug coverage are required to disclose to all Part D-eligible individuals who are enrolled in or were seeking to enroll in the group health plan coverage whether such coverage was “actuarially equivalent,” i.e., creditable. (Coverage is creditable if its actuarial value equals or exceeds the actuarial value of standard prescription drug coverage under Part D). This notice is required to be provided to all Part D eligible persons, including active employees, retirees, spouses, dependents and COBRA qualified beneficiaries.

The regulations also require group health plan sponsors with Part D eligible individuals to submit a similar notice to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”). Specifically, employers must electronically file these notices each year through the form supplied on the CMS website.

The filing deadline is 60 days following the first day of the plan year. If you operate a calendar year plan, the deadline is the end of February. If you operate a non-calendar year plan, please be sure to keep track of your deadline.

At a minimum, the Disclosure to CMS Form must be provided to CMS annually and upon the occurrence of certain other events including:

    1. Within 60 days after the beginning date of the plan year for which disclosure is provided;
    2. Within 30 days after termination of the prescription drug plan; and
    3. Within 30 days after any change in creditable status of the prescription drug plan.

The Disclosure to CMS Form must be completed online at the CMS Creditable Coverage Disclosure to CMS Form web page found here.

    1. The online process is composed of the following three step process: Enter the Disclosure Information;
    2. Verify and Submit Disclosure Information; and
    3. Receive Submission Confirmation.

The Disclosure to CMS Form requires employers to provide detailed information to CMS including but not limited to, the name of the entity offering coverage, whether the entity has any subsidiaries, the number of benefit options offered, the creditable coverage status of the options offered, the period covered by the Disclosure to CMS Form, the number of Part D eligible individuals, the date of the notice of creditable coverage, and any change in creditable coverage status.

For more information about this disclosure requirement (including instructions for submitting the notice), please see the CMS website for updated guidance found here.

As with the Part D Notices to Part D Medicare-eligible individuals, while nothing in the regulations prevents a third-party from submitting the notices (such as a TPA or insurer), ultimate responsibility falls on the plan sponsor.

This email serves solely as a general summary of the Form W-2 reporting requirements and CMS disclosure for Medicare Part D.


Robert D. Burgee is an attorney at Fraser Trebilcock with over a decade of experience counseling clients with a focus on corporate structures and compliance, licensing, contracts, regulatory compliance, mergers and acquisitions, and a host of other matters related to the operation of small and medium-sized businesses and non-profits. You can reach him at 517.377.0848 or at bburgee@fraserlawfirm.com.


Attorney Sharon GoldzweigSharon Goldzweig is Of Counsel at Fraser Trebilcock, specializing in matters pertaining to employee health and welfare benefits. In a field where the laws are constantly changing, Sharon is constantly looking out for anything that might involve her clients including changes to ERISA and other federal laws. She can be reached at sgoldzweig@fraserlawfirm.com, or at 718.808.5140.

Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – February 9, 2024

  1. Reinstatement of Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Act Takes Effect February 13

On March 24, 2023, Governor Whitmer signed into law a bill reinstituting Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Act (the “Act”). The new Act, which takes effect February 13, 2024, will require every contractor and subcontractor in Michigan to pay the prevailing wage and benefit rates to employees working on most state funded construction projects.

Why it Matters: Contractors that fail to pay prevailing wages may have their contract terminated, be required to pay any excess costs incurred by the state for contracting with a new employer, and be fined up to $5,000.

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  1. A Health Professional’s Guide to Navigating the Disciplinary Process: What to Expect if You Are Facing a Professional Licensing Investigation or Administrative Complaint

Health professionals are committed to caring for patients with expertise, compassion, and integrity. However, in the heavily regulated healthcare field, those professionals can sometimes find themselves navigating not just the medical challenges of their patients but licensing issues of their own as well. Licensing issues can arise unexpectedly, and, when they do, they can cause tremendous stress and uncertainty.

Why it Matters: As an attorney with years of experience handling professional licensing matters for health professionals, Robert J. Andretz has witnessed firsthand how professional licensing investigations and Administrative Complaints can disrupt health professionals’ careers and their ability to provide patient care. He will explore how to navigate the disciplinary process in Michigan so that you can know what to expect if you are ever faced with a threat to your license. Learn more.

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  1. Fraser Trebilcock Welcomes Robert J. Andretz to the Firm

We are pleased to announce the hiring of attorney ​Robert J. Andretz who will work primarily in the firm’s Lansing office.

Why it Matters: Helping clients for more than two decades, Rob is an experienced criminal defense and professional licensing attorney who has successfully represented clients in both state and federal courts in felony and misdemeanor cases in more than 50 counties across the state of Michigan. He is passionate about what he does, and, understanding the direct and collateral consequences that a criminal conviction or professional licensing sanction can bring, he compassionately works with his clients to focus on what matters most to them. Learn more.

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  1. Understanding How Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents Protect Your Business

Copyright is the exclusive legal protection that covers an original work of authorship. Copyrights vest upon creation of the work, which means placing the work onto a tangible medium.

Why it Matters: Similar to trademark law, it can be difficult to enforce your copyright if the work is not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Learn more on this series about trademarks, copyrights, and patents from Fraser Trebilcock attorney Andrew Martin.

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  1. Client Alert/Reminder: Form W-2 Reporting Due for Employer-Provided Health Care / Disclosure Due to CMS for Medicare Part D

Unless subject to an exemption, employers must report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored health coverage provided in 2023 on their employees’ Form W-2 (Code DD in Box 12) issued in January 2024. Please see IRS Notice 2012-09. Additionally, group health plans offering prescription drug coverage are required to disclose to all Part D-eligible individuals who are enrolled in or were seeking to enroll in the group health plan coverage whether such coverage was creditable.

Why it Matters: The filing deadline is 60 days following the first day of the plan year. If you operate a calendar year plan, the deadline is the end of February. If you operate a non-calendar year plan, please be sure to keep track of your deadline. Contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney for any questions.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | David Houston
Professional Licensing | Robert Andretz
Intellectual Property | Andrew Martin
Employee Benefits | Bob Burgee
Employee Benefits | Sharon Goldzweig

Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – February 2, 2024

  1. A Health Professional’s Guide to Navigating the Disciplinary Process: What to Expect if You Are Facing a Professional Licensing Investigation or Administrative Complaint

Health professionals are committed to caring for patients with expertise, compassion, and integrity. However, in the heavily regulated healthcare field, those professionals can sometimes find themselves navigating not just the medical challenges of their patients but licensing issues of their own as well. Licensing issues can arise unexpectedly, and, when they do, they can cause tremendous stress and uncertainty.

Why it Matters: As an attorney with years of experience handling professional licensing matters for health professionals, Robert J. Andretz has witnessed firsthand how professional licensing investigations and Administrative Complaints can disrupt health professionals’ careers and their ability to provide patient care. He will explore how to navigate the disciplinary process in Michigan so that you can know what to expect if you are ever faced with a threat to your license. Learn more.

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  1. Understanding How Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents Protect Your Business

Trademark registration separates your business from your competition and makes you unique. It is one method of protecting your intangibles while publicly providing notice to other businesses or individuals to avoid copying or infringing on your intellectual property rights.

Why it Matters: But when do you need this? When do you get them? And what are they for? Learn more on this series about trademarks, copyrights, and patents from Fraser Trebilcock attorney Andrew Martin.

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  1. Ward Off 2024 Tax Season Flu – File Early and Electronically

Earlier this week, January 29, 2024, marked the start date for the 2024 filing season and the first date that the IRS will begin accepting and processing 2024 returns. The IRS will issue most electronically filed refunds within 21 days, however there are a variety of factors that can delay the issuance of any refund claim outside of the 21-day period, so one should not rely on receiving a refund within 21-days.

Why it Matters: It is important to file early and electronically to avoid any delays in receiving a refund, if applicable. If you have any questions, contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

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  1. The DOL Issues Final Rule Creating New Standard for Classifying Workers as Employees vs. Independent Contractors

On January 9, 2024, the United States Department of Labor released its final rule on worker classification under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Why it Matters: This new rule, effective as of March 11, 2024, signals a return to a standard more likely to classify workers as employees than contractors. Thus, it is more likely that employers will be determined to have misclassified workers as contractors, resulting in liability. Learn more from your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

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  1. Michigan Legal Cannabis Sales Hit New Record in 2023

Licensed cannabis dispensaries in Michigan registered a record $3.06 billion in sales in 2023. This represents a 25% increase over sales in 2022. Recreational cannabis accounted for $2.74 billion of total sales in 2023.

Why it Matters: According to an analysis by Metro Times, more than $274 million in tax revenue from cannabis sales will go to local governments, schools, and roads.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Professional Licensing | Robert Andretz
Intellectual Property | Andrew Martin
Business & Tax | Paul McCord
Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | David Houston
Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher

Understanding How Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents Protect Your Business

Trademark registration separates your business from your competition and makes you unique. Your intellectual assets are some of the most powerful resources your business has. These assets separate your business from your competition and make you unique – as long as they are protected. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents are methods of protecting your intangibles while publicly providing notice to other businesses or individuals to avoid copying or infringing on your intellectual property rights. But when do you need these protections? How do you get them? And what are they for?

Trademarks

What is a trademark?

Trademarks are exclusive legal protections for names, logos, sounds, and even colors as applied to a category of goods or services. Federally registered trademarks may not be used by others without your permission. Trademark owners do have a legal obligation to police their marks and provide notice to anyone that may be inadvertently or willfully using the mark without permission. Trademarks can be renewed indefinitely as long as the owner can show proof that the mark has been continually used in commerce.

What is a trademark for?

Trademarks operate to distinguish your business, build consumer goodwill and solidify your reputation as a source for the goods or services. In most cases, a trademark is a distinctive word, phrase, logo or design that is associated with or applied to a category of goods or services. Trademarks should not be merely descriptive of the goods or services and generic terms are expressly banned from trademark protection (e.g., such as the term “Supermarket” as applied to a grocery store).

Trademarks must not be confusingly similar to another company’s mark otherwise the U.S. Trademark Office will reject the mark or the opposing owner may proactively move to cancel your mark. For example, the Nike name and Swoosh logo are federally registered trademarks. Trademarks may often be referred to as service marks when applied solely to services such as the NBC tri-tone sound or United Airline’s “Fly the Friendly Skies” slogan. If you are in the business of providing goods or services, then it is strongly recommended that you consult with an intellectual property lawyer to get the best protection in a timely manner.

How do I get a trademark?

For the most part, trademark rights vest upon usage of the mark in interstate commerce (e.g., across state lines). When you select a distinctive mark for your business, you are legally considered the owner of an unregistered trademark under common law trademark law (i.e., limited protections vis-à-vis a federally registered trademark). During this initial use and while your trademark application is being examined by the U.S. Trademark Office, you may use the ™ symbol to provide public notice that you are claiming ownership rights in the mark. The ™ symbol does not have any legal significance and is simply used as a public notification tool. Your ability to halt an infringing action, obtain an injunction or obtain money damages is limited when the mark is an unregistered trademark. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you take the necessary steps to federally register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once registered, you may use the ® symbol and be entitled to a full range of legal protections for your mark.

When should I get a trademark?

If you are consistently using a non-generic name, logo, or other symbol, you already have an unregistered trademark. This shows your customers that it is yours. To prevent another company from using the goodwill associated with your business – or, worse, tainting your business reputation with low-quality products – you should register your mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as soon as you have finalized the word, phrase, logo and/or design.

Copyright

What is copyright?

Copyright is the exclusive legal protection that covers an original work of authorship. Copyrights vest upon creation of the work, which means placing the work onto a tangible medium (e.g., applying paint to a canvas or words to a screenplay). Stated otherwise, a copyrighted work must be more than an idea – the idea of painting a scenic mountain is not protectable until one applies the paint to the canvas. A copyright owner holds the right to prevent others from copying, reproducing, displaying or making derivative works unless they expressly provide their permission for such use. A derivative work, for example, would be making a movie based on a book. Copyright protections are not indefinite; most protections last the length of the author’s life plus 70 years. For example, the author of the book Dracula died in 1912, so the copyright protection ended in 1982 and the work entered the public domain, which means it can be freely reproduced and distributed by anyone.

What is copyright for?

Original works are copyrightable materials. “Original” simply means that there must be some modicum of creativity that distinguishes the work from others. Books and e-books, magazine or newspaper articles, software, paintings, music, plays, some websites, and movies, among other things fall under purview of copyright protection. Historical and scientific facts, recipes, ideas, domain names, surnames, inventions, methods, and events are examples where copyright protection would not be appropriate; although some of these things may be protected under trademark or patent law.

How do I copyright my work?

As noted above, copyrights vest upon creation of the work, even if it isn’t published. Similar to trademark law, it can be difficult to enforce your copyright if the work is not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. In most cases, a copyright application entails a downloadable form, a fee, and a copy of the work submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office. The review process takes about four months to possibly one year. Registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office is definitely a good idea and it is recommended that you have an intellectual property attorney at least do a cursory review of your copyright application prior to submission. If your work is plagiarized, improperly displayed or illicitly distributed then having a registered copyright will strengthen your position in the event you decide to take legal action and file an infringement lawsuit.

Patent

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal monopoly for protecting a utilitarian device, system, machine, composition or process. A patent owner has the right to prevent others from making, using, selling or importing a protected invention for a limited time. Utility patents have a term of 20 years and design patents have a term of 14 years from the date of filing.

What is a patent for?

Design patents protect the aesthetic or ornamental, non-functional aspects of a utilitarian object. Utility patents protect useful devices, systems, machines, processes, and compositions of matter that, upon examination by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, are verifiably shown to be new and non-obvious. Almost any product, from Tupperware to iPhones typically have one or more patents at some point directed toward the product.

How do I get a patent?

The initial process for obtaining a patent is to prepare and file a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It is important to realize that a patent is powerful asset that must be written with a variety of audiences in mind (e.g., inventor, investor, licensor, patent examiner, judge, jury, etc.) while meeting a plethora of complex and sometimes arcane rules of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once a patent application has been filed, a patent examiner will perform a patentability search and determine whether the patent application meets the various standards such as novelty and non-obviousness. The patent owner may publicly assert that the invention is “patent pending” as soon as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office provides a filing receipt, which typically takes a few minutes if the patent application is filed electronically. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a stated goal of examining a patent application and providing a final disposition within about 36 months, but it is not uncommon for the examination process to take longer. If the patent application successfully makes it through the examination process, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will grant an official patent number and the owner will then have a legally enforceable asset.

When should I file a patent?

The U.S. is a “first inventor-to-file” system, so it is imperative that an inventor keep the details of their invention confidential until a patent application has been filed. Also, timing is of the essence to prevent a competitor from winning the race to the Patent Office. The basic requirement to prepare and file a patent application is that the inventor must be able to describe, in sufficient detail, how to make and use the invention to one of “ordinary skill in the art,” which typically means a person versed in the industry to which the invention pertains. For example, technical and industry terms may not need to be defined if such terms are commonly known among those skilled in the art. Further, a prototype of the invention is not necessary nor does the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office required an inventor to perform a patentability search before filing. As soon as you have the aforementioned information, you should contact a registered patent attorney or agent to begin the process. Remember, confidentiality and timely filing are two primary keys to open the door of patent protection.In view of the complexities of the patent process, retaining an intellectual property lawyer is a vital step to obtaining strong patent protection in an efficient and timely manner.

Whether you are seeking trademark, patent or copyright protection, make sure to document the process carefully, and seek legal advice. The wrong protection or a badly conducted filing can make you vulnerable to legal loopholes or unnecessary rejections from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. With the right intellectual property protections in place, your business will be able to thrive and grow while keeping your competition at arms length.

This alert serves as a general summary and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.


Andrew G. Martin is an experienced registered patent attorney with history working in the automotive, electrical, and agricultural industries. He regularly advises startups and small businesses on the patent and trademark prosecution process, assisting clients from start to finish. You can reach him at 517.377.0834 or at amartin@fraserlawfirm.com.

A Health Professional’s Guide to Navigating the Disciplinary Process: What to Expect if You Are Facing a Professional Licensing Investigation or Administrative Complaint

Health professionals are committed to caring for patients with expertise, compassion, and integrity. However, in the heavily regulated healthcare field, those professionals can sometimes find themselves navigating not just the medical challenges of their patients but licensing issues of their own as well. Licensing issues can arise unexpectedly, and, when they do, they can cause tremendous stress and uncertainty.

As an attorney with years of experience handling professional licensing matters for health professionals, I have witnessed firsthand how professional licensing investigations and Administrative Complaints can disrupt health professionals’ careers and their ability to provide patient care. Let’s explore how to navigate the disciplinary process in Michigan so that you can know what to expect if you are ever faced with a threat to your license.

Understanding the Disciplinary Process

In Michigan, the disciplinary process for the more than 400,000 licensed health professionals is overseen by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) Bureau of Professional Licensing (BPL). This process is designed to uphold professional standards and protect public health while, at the same time, ensuring fair treatment for health professionals.

While each case is unique, there are some common themes in the types of actions or omissions that give rise to investigations and Administrative Complaints in the healthcare field. Being aware of these can help health professionals take steps to prevent potential issues that can lead to investigations and Administrative Complaints. Some of the most common involve allegations related to negligence, incompetence, professional misconduct, professional boundaries, lack of good moral character, controlled substances, substance use disorder, impairment, misdemeanor and/or felony criminal convictions, advertising, practice outside the scope of a license, documentation and recordkeeping, and Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS) reports.

The Initial Filing of a Complaint

Complaints can be filed by just about anyone: current or former patients, supervisors, subordinates, professional colleagues, and even the licensees themselves. These complaints are taken very seriously by the BPL and will be investigated. You may not even know that you are the subject of a complaint until you have been contacted by the BPL as part of its investigation.

The Investigation Phase

The BPL will conduct a thorough investigation once it has received a complaint and will assign one or more investigators (known as “Regulation Agents”) to the professional licensing investigation matter. It is frequently during the investigation phase that licensees first become aware that one or more allegations have been made against them. Unfortunately, many health professionals are unaware that they have the right to have the assistance of an attorney during the investigation phase. These unrepresented health professionals frequently make statements to the investigators without the guidance of an attorney, and I have seen instances where those statements have ultimately been used to provide the foundation for an Administrative Complaint to be filed against them.

At the conclusion of the investigation, an Investigation Report will be forwarded to the Disciplinary Subcommittee (DSC) of the board that governs that particular profession. If one or more violations of Michigan’s Public Health Code have been substantiated, an Administrative Complaint may be authorized. Thankfully, not all professional licensing investigations result in the filing of an Administrative Complaint, which is why having experienced legal representation behind you is so important during the investigation phase.

Responding to an Administrative Complaint

If the BPL issues an Administrative Complaint against you, you must respond in writing within 30 days from the date that you received the Administrative Complaint. Failure to respond in writing within 30 days will result in the Administrative Complaint being forwarded to the DSC for imposition of a sanction without any input from you.

You will be presented with 3 different options. You may (1) request a settlement, (2) request a compliance conference, or (3) request a formal administrative hearing on the merits of the Administrative Complaint.

It is important to prepare a timely and thoughtful response. This is a critical stage where legal representation is critical. A well-prepared Answer to Administrative Complaint can isolate the disputed issues and mitigate the severity of the situation.

The Compliance Conference

If you request a compliance conference, you will have the opportunity to present mitigating information and your side of the story in an informal setting, and an attorney may prepare you for the compliance conference and represent you at the compliance conference. Following the compliance conference, a proposed Consent Order and Stipulation may be prepared to resolve the Administrative Complaint, and it may be revised during the negotiation process that’s sometimes follows the compliance conference. The Administrative Complaint may also be dismissed by the BPL. However, if the Administrative Complaint is not resolved with a Consent Order and Stipulation or dismissed altogether, the matter will proceed to a formal administrative hearing on the merits of the Administrative Complaint.

The Formal Administrative Hearing on the Merits of the Administrative Complaint

If you proceed to a formal administrative hearing on the merits of the Administrative Complaint, it is essential to understand what this entails. The hearing is similar to a bench trial in court with opening statements, closing arguments, the formal testimony of witnesses under oath, and the admission of exhibits. You will have an opportunity to testify and to share your side of the story in a formal setting. The hearing will be held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), but the ALJ cannot make a decision at the hearing. Instead, the ALJ will issue a Proposal for Decision (PFD). Exceptions to the PFD may be filed by the parties, and the PFD is then forwarded to the DSC for its consideration. The DSC will then issue a Final Order.

A merits hearing may be the only way to obtain the result that you need to continue practicing your chosen profession. However, proceeding to a hearing is a decision that should not be made lightly, and careful preparation in collaboration with legal counsel, including the gathering  and analysis of evidence and the preparation of any witnesses, is key.

Summary Suspension

If it has been found that you pose an immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare, your Administrative Complaint may be accompanied by a separate document called an Order of Summary Suspension. If you receive an Order of Summary Suspension, you must stop practicing your health profession immediately and cannot practice again until the summary suspension has been dissolved.

There is more than one way to dissolve a summary suspension. If a Petition for Dissolution of Summary Suspension is filed, an emergency hearing will be scheduled before an administrative law judge (ALJ). If the ALJ determines that there is insufficient evidence that you pose an immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare that requires a continuation of the summary suspension, the ALJ shall dissolve the summary suspension. A summary suspension can also be dissolved by a Consent Order and Stipulation at the end of the Administrative Complaint resolution process or by a Final Order following a formal hearing on the merits of the Administrative Complaint.

Possible Outcomes and Sanctions

A disciplinary action may conclude with a complete dismissal of the Administrative Complaint against you. However, if one or more violations of the Public Health Code have been substantiated, sanctions must be imposed. License sanctions can vary widely depending on the severity of the Public Health Code violation and, pursuant to MCL 333.16226, may include reprimand, fine, probation, restitution, limitation, suspension, revocation, and even permanent revocation.

The Appeal Process

If you disagree with the Final Order, you may appeal it to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The appeal process is complex and requires a strategic approach. Consider the grounds for appeal carefully and consult with an experienced attorney to evaluate the feasibility and potential benefits of an appeal.

Preventative Measures and Best Practices

When it comes to professional licensing, an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure. Adhering to ethical practices, engaging in continuous professional development, and staying informed about regulatory changes can help prevent complaints. A proactive approach to professional conduct is always your best defense.

Conclusion

Facing a professional licensing investigation or an Administrative Complaint can be a very stressful experience for any health professional, but understanding the process and having an experienced attorney by your side can make a significant difference.

This guide serves as a general summary and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.


Attorney Robert J. AndretzFraser Trebilcock Shareholder Robert J. Andretz is an experienced professional licensing attorney with years of experience successfully defending doctors, nurses, and other licensed health professionals across the state of Michigan in professional licensing matters, including professional licensing investigations and Administrative Complaint matters. You can reach him at 517.377.0854 or randretz@fraserlawfirm.com.