Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – March 8, 2024

  1. CDC Says Five Days Isolation No Longer Necessary for COVID-19

The CDC recently updated its COVID-19 guidelines, stating that Americans who test positive for COVID-19 no longer need to stay in isolation for five days. The new guidelines provide that that people can return to work or regular activities if their symptoms are mild and improving and it’s been a day since they’ve had a fever.

Why it Matters: The change will impact COVID-19-related policies of employers who still adhere to CDC guidance for their return-to-work rules.

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  1. Fraser Trebilcock Adds Cavanaugh to Firm Name

Law firm Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap, P.C. is pleased to announce that its legal name has been changed to Fraser Trebilcock Davis Dunlap & Cavanaugh, P.C. This name change reflects the addition of the surname of member Michael E. Cavanaugh, in recognition of his long tenure and significant contributions to the firm. The firm’s trade name will continue to be Fraser Trebilcock.

Why it Matters: Mr. Cavanaugh’s list of accolades is as long as it is well-deserved. Perhaps at the very top, is recognition of his leadership in the Lansing legal community. Mike has been a trusted member of Fraser Trebilcock’s Board of Directors, and he is heavily involved in the State Bar of Michigan and the Ingham County Bar Association, for which he has served as a past-president. Read more.

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  1. Corporate Transparency Act ‘Unconstitutional’ says Federal District Judge

A U.S. District Court in Alabama has determined that Congress overstepped its constitutional authority in passing the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) (see National Small Business United v. Yellen, No. 5:22-cv-01448 (N.D. Ala.)). The CTA requires the disclosure of the Beneficial Ownership Information (“BOI”) of millions of American corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities.

Why it Matters: In the wake of this decision, FinCEN seems to have accepted the decision but only insofar as it affects its enforcement of the CTA against the named plaintiffs. The reporting obligations for the remaining 30 million or so entities is unchanged. Time will tell if FinCEN will appeal the decision and/or how it will deal with the seemingly inevitable series of similar cases that will start filling up courts across the country. Read more from attorney Bob Burgee.

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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. Navigating the Cost and Process of Hiring a Trademark Attorney

In the fast-paced world of business, protecting your brand is paramount. Whether you’re a startup or a large corporation, safeguarding your trademarks is essential for maintaining your identity and reputation in the market. However, navigating the legal intricacies of trademark registration and enforcement can be complex and overwhelming. This is where a skilled trademark attorney can be your greatest ally.

Why it Matters: Without adequate protection, your trademarks are vulnerable to infringement, dilution, and misappropriation, which can result in lost revenue, brand erosion, and legal disputes. By securing federal trademark registration and enforcing your rights, you establish a legal foundation that empowers you to safeguard your brand and its value. Read more from attorney Andrew G. Martin.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | Michael E. Cavanaugh
Business & Tax | Robert Burgee
Professional Licensing | Robert Andretz
Intellectual Property | Andrew Martin

Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – March 1, 2024

  1. Growing Marijuana in Michigan – No Matter the Amount – is a Misdemeanor

Late last week, the Michigan State Police shut down an illegal marijuana growing facility in Highland Park, seizing 4,000 marijuana plants and processed weed worth $6.3 million. It may surprise readers to know that, pursuant to a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in October, 2023, the unlicensed growers may only face misdemeanor charges. In another case involving an illegal growing operation, the court ruled that violations that previously were subject to felony punishments should now be prosecuted under the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (the “Act”).

Why it Matters: Under the Act, it’s legal to store up to 10 ounces of marijuana, possess 2.5 ounces and grow up to 12 plants. Violations for exceeding those amounts range from civil infractions to misdemeanors. It will be interesting to see if these provisions will be revisited given that black market sales have been blamed for increased competition and falling prices for legal sales.

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  1. Navigating the Cost and Process of Hiring a Trademark Attorney

In the fast-paced world of business, protecting your brand is paramount. Whether you’re a startup or a large corporation, safeguarding your trademarks is essential for maintaining your identity and reputation in the market. However, navigating the legal intricacies of trademark registration and enforcement can be complex and overwhelming. This is where a skilled trademark attorney can be your greatest ally.

Why it Matters: Without adequate protection, your trademarks are vulnerable to infringement, dilution, and misappropriation, which can result in lost revenue, brand erosion, and legal disputes. By securing federal trademark registration and enforcing your rights, you establish a legal foundation that empowers you to safeguard your brand and its value. Read more from attorney Andrew G. Martin.

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  1. Fraser Trebilcock Attorney Michael E. Cavanaugh Named in Michigan Lawyers Weekly Class of 2024 Hall of Fame

Fraser Trebilcock attorney Michael E. Cavanaugh has been selected as a member of Michigan Lawyers Weekly “Hall of Fame Class of 2024.” This special award recognizes esteemed members of the legal profession who have been in practice for at least 30 years.

Why it Matters: Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s annual “Hall of Fame” award recognizes only twenty-one lawyers each year. These lawyers truly are legends, making their mark in the courtroom or the boardroom, in their firms and with community organizations, and with local, state and national bar associations. With their guidance and mentorship, they have launched hundreds of thriving legal careers and have left an indelible imprint on the profession through precedent-setting cases, high dollar outcomes and successful resolutions for their clients.

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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. 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.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher
Intellectual Property | Andrew Martin
Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | Michael E. Cavanaugh
Professional Licensing | Robert Andretz
Business & Tax | Paul McCord

Navigating the Cost and Process of Hiring a Trademark Attorney

In the fast-paced world of business, protecting your brand is paramount. Whether you’re a startup or a large corporation, safeguarding your trademarks is essential for maintaining your identity and reputation in the market. However, navigating the legal intricacies of trademark registration and enforcement can be complex and overwhelming. This is where a skilled trademark attorney can be your greatest ally.

The Importance of Trademark Protection

Before delving into the process and costs of hiring a trademark attorney, let’s underscore the significance of trademark protection. A trademark is more than just a logo or a slogan; it’s the embodiment of your brand’s goodwill and reputation. Trademarks are source identifiers that distinguish your products or services from competitors and help consumers identify and trust your brand.

Without adequate protection, your trademarks are vulnerable to infringement, dilution, and misappropriation, which can result in lost revenue, brand erosion, and legal disputes. By securing federal trademark registration and enforcing your rights, you establish a legal foundation that empowers you to safeguard your brand and its value.

The Role of a Trademark Attorney

Trademark law is a specialized field that requires expertise and experience to navigate effectively. An attorney who specializes in trademark matters can provide invaluable guidance throughout the trademark lifecycle. Their services often include:

  1. Trademark Search and Clearance: Conducting comprehensive searches to ensure your proposed trademark is available for use and registration, minimizing the risk of conflicts with existing trademarks.
  2. Trademark Application: Assisting with the preparation and filing of trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or relevant authorities in other jurisdictions, ensuring compliance with legal requirements and maximizing the chances of successful registration.
  3. Prosecution and Responses: Handling communications with trademark examiners, responding to office actions, and overcoming objections to secure trademark registration.
  4. Trademark Enforcement: Monitoring for potential infringement, sending cease-and-desist letters, and pursuing legal action against infringers to protect your trademark rights.
  5. Trademark Portfolio Management: Advising on trademark maintenance, renewal, licensing, and assignment to optimize the value of your trademark assets.

The Cost of Hiring a Trademark Attorney

The cost of hiring a trademark attorney can vary depending on several factors, including the attorney’s experience, the complexity of the matter, and the scope of services required. Trademark attorneys typically offer various fee structures, such as hourly rates, flat fees for specific services, or retainer arrangements.

For trademark registration, the fees may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on factors such as the number of classes of goods/services, the complexity of the mark, and whether any office actions or objections are encountered during the process.

While hiring a trademark attorney entails upfront costs, it’s an investment in protecting your brand’s intellectual property rights and mitigating the risk of costly disputes and legal challenges down the line. Moreover, engaging a knowledgeable attorney can streamline the process, enhance the likelihood of successful outcomes, and provide invaluable peace of mind.

Conclusion

In the competitive landscape of modern business, safeguarding your brand is non-negotiable. Hiring a trademark attorney is a strategic decision that empowers you to navigate the complexities of trademark law with confidence and expertise. By enlisting the support of a skilled attorney, you not only protect your trademarks but also lay the foundation for long-term brand success and resilience in the marketplace. If you have any questions, contact attorney Andrew G. Martin 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.


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.

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

Five Stories that Matter in Michigan This Week – March 24, 2023

  1. $10 Million Microbusiness Loan Program Launched for Michigan Women, Entrepreneurs of Color

Michigan Women Forward recently announced the launch of a $10 million loan program for women and entrepreneurs of color. The Michigan Economic Opportunity Fund program offers funds to small business owners who may not qualify for more traditional loans.

Why it Matters: Small business startup and expansion is key to Michigan’s economic vitality. This program will help women entrepreneurs who identify as socially and economically disadvantaged due to a lack of access to capital and credit.

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  1. Recent NLRB Decision Makes Unlawful the Proffer of a Severance Agreement With Standard “Confidentiality” and “Non-Disparagement” Provisions

In McLaren Macomb, 372 NLRB No. 58 (2023), the National Labor Relations Board overruled two prior decisions and held that an employer violates the National Labor Relations Act “when it proffers a severance agreement with provisions that would restrict employees’ exercise of their NLRA rights,” including agreements containing reasonably standard confidentiality-of-agreement and non-disparagement provisions.

Why it Matters: The typical “remedy” for a violation of this nature, and the remedy awarded in McLaren, is to “cease and desist” from proffering unlawful language in future severance agreements and post a notice of the immediate violation in prominent places in the employer’s facility.  Now that the new “rule” is announced, however, future remedies could include (a) rescission of the offending agreements; (b) notification of other employees who signed unlawful agreements (subject to the statutory 6-month limitations period) and other remedial orders. Contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

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  1. Michigan Right-to-Work Law Likely to be Repealed Soon

The Michigan Senate approved a bill on March 14 to repeal the state’s right-to-work law that currently allows employees in unionized jobs to opt out of membership and paying dues. The Michigan House previously passed its own version of the bill. Governor Whitmer has indicated she will sign the final bill into law once it reaches her desk.

Why it Matters: It’s time to review current collective bargaining agreements with labor law counsel to prepare for a post-right-to-work environment in Michigan. Employers should also be thinking about their approach to upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations in light of these developments.

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  1. Michigan Cannabis Sales Hit $216 Million in February

Michigan cannabis sales surpassed $200 million in February, per recent data published by the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency. Michigan adult-use sales came in at $206,378,444.08, which medical sales came in at $10,010,601.91.

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

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  1. How Trademarks Protect Your Business

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.

Why it Matters: 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. Learn more.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | David Houston
Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher
Intellectual Property | Jared Roberts

Five Stories that Matter in Michigan This Week – March 3, 2023

  1. DOL Issues Telework Guidance to Employers

On February 9, 2023, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a Field Assistance Bulletin (Bulletin) addressing several questions related to compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when a business employs teleworkers.

Why it Matters: The Bulletin provides that the protections under the FLSA apply equally to employees who telework as to employees working at an office, factory, construction site, retail outlet, or any other worksite location. Learn more.

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  1. How Trademarks Protect Your Business

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.

Why it Matters: 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. Learn more.

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  1. $35 Million in Grants Available for Small Nonprofits

The State of Michigan, Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) and Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) have teamed up to help Michigan charities whose operations were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it Matters: Under this initiative, called the MI Nonprofit Relief Fund, grants in amounts between $5,000 and $25,000 will be awarded to selected entities with annual revenues total under $1 million. In addition, eligible entities must be based in Michigan and recognized by the IRS under Section 501(c)(3). Learn more.

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  1. Michigan Cannabis Sales Over $200 Million in January

Marijuana sales surpassed $200 million in January, via the monthly report from the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency. Michigan adult-use sales came in at $196,008,634, while medical sales came in at $11,295,443.

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

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  1. The Ins and Outs of Cottage Succession Planning in Michigan (Part One)

When purchasing a cottage, it’s often the intent of the owner to pass the cottage on to future generations to enjoy. Unfortunately, that vision may not become a reality due to challenges such as high property taxes, differing objectives among heirs and resulting family disputes that result in the cottage being sold upon the owner’s death.

Why it Matters: Common issues that prevent the passing of a cottage to future generations in Michigan can be addressed through careful cottage succession planning. Learn more from your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | Aaron Davis
Intellectual Property | Jared Roberts
Business & Tax | Robert Burgee
Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher
Cottage Law | Mark Kellogg

How Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents Protect your Business

Trademark registration separate your business from your competition and make 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 to 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 to Vicodin, can be (and often are) patented.

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-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 obtaining patent protection for your invention. 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.


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Trademarks and Copyrights: How Knowing the Difference Can Help Your Business

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