TRADEMARKS: The Secret Property You Didn’t Know You Had

The worst thing that you can do as a new entrepreneur is open a business or create a product or service without doing your due diligence for your trademarks and intellectual property. What if someone already has rights to the name that you wish to use or are already using? You risk the possibility of receiving a cease and desist letter in the mail, being sued, and being forced to rebrand your entire business or product. Trademarks are the secret property that most of us don’t know we have.

It is essential entrepreneurs to understand what is at stake and what is involved. The more informed the entrepreneur is, the more they will appreciate how important it is to protect their intellectual property. When you register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you have the full rights to your brand. Registering your trademark protects you and your business enterprises from future liabilities that can be extremely costly to you.

By applying for a trademark, you can protect a word, design (logo), symbol, tagline, or a slogan. Trademarks are either word marks or design marks, you are essentially protecting the name or the design.

The Trademark Process: How It Works

So what does the trademark process practically look like? What are the steps to protecting your name, brand, logo, slogan, etc.? To protect your name, brand, logo, slogan, etc., the first thing you want to do is set up a consultation with a specialized attorney to get an understanding of the overall trademark process.

Some firms charge consultation fees to secure the appointment with their attorneys while others don’t. Attorneys often charge a consultation fee to ensure that the client takes the meeting seriously and is not merely looking for free advice.

In the consultation, the attorney may determine off the bat that the client’s desired trademark will not be successful and will advise the client as such. If, however, the attorney believes that it is fine to move forward to the next stage. At our law firm, our trademark attorneys provide a step-by-step overview both in the meeting as well as emailing the client along with a breakdown of costs throughout the process. The attorney-client relationship is commenced by both parties signing the retainer agreement, either provided at the consultation meeting, or sent via email by the office.

Trademark Search

The next stage in the process is to conduct a comprehensive search across all relevant databases to determine if there would be any potential conflicts for the client’s trademark. These databases include but are not limited to federal, individual states, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), companies, domains, and social media sites. After a comprehensive search, the attorney will analyze the search report for the client. This could be accompanied by an opinion letter that the attorney drafts, for the client’s convenience, summarizing the findings of the search report and advising the client on the best plan of action.

The trademark attorney may find that it is not advisable to pursue the application for trademark registration since there are other companies or individuals that already have registered trademarks that

are too close and could be deemed confusingly similar in the market. Alternatively, the attorney could find that there are no issues and advise the client to move forward with the registration application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Trademark Federal Filing

If the attorney clears the mark for application, the attorney will proceed to draft and prepare the federal application for filing. This requires that the client provide all the relevant information needed for the filling process. This includes information like: whether the mark being applied for is a word or logo; if it’s a logo then a description of it; specimens of the mark (showing how the mark is actually being used); a description of those specimens; the usage of the mark and when it was first used in commerce or if there is merely an intent to use since it has not entered commerce yet.

The application is submitted by the attorney to the USPTO and assigned to an examining attorney from the USPTO offices. The examining attorney is the individual that is assigned to the client’s trademark case and is the point of contact for any necessary correspondence with the client’s attorney. The USPTO’s examining attorneys typically take three to six months to respond to the application. They either approve the application for publication or reply with a particular “Office Action” that requires further attention and action from the client’s attorney. This takes place if there are substantive issues that need to be addressed like the “likelihood of confusion” with other existent marks in commerce, for example.

At this juncture, the attorney should respond to the examining attorney by no later than six months. Otherwise, the application will be abandoned. Even if that deadline is missed, for whatever reason, the attorney can still respond but would need to pay an additional fee for a late response.

Trademark Opposition

If there are no Office Actions, then the examining attorney will approve the trademark to be sent to publication in the USPTO’s Official Gazette. Essentially, this is to be used to give any third party who has legal grounds to oppose the application a period of thirty days from the publication date to file a Notice of Opposition to the application. This rarely happens, but if it does, the client’s attorney will be notified by the USPTO. The attorney should notify the client of this and discuss the appropriate steps forward at that point.

If no opposition is filed, which is what occurs in most situations, then the trademark will be registered after the thirty-day publication period. The attorney’s office will receive the official certification of registration in the mail for the trademark, along with instructions from the USPTO on how to maintain the protection of the trademark.

That is an overview of the trademark process and a breakdown of the steps it takes to get your trademark registered federally with the USPTO. It is essential to work with a law firm that knows the process and has experience delivering results for its clients. Don’t hesitate to schedule your strategy consultation to protect your intellectual property. Remember, if it’s law it’s Herbert Machnik Law Firm.

Your Parent-Child Bond Can Influence Custody Decisions

Going through child custody negotiations can feel impersonal and frustrating, and you may feel that you are receiving orders from judges that have no knowledge of you or your child. However, you may not realize that child custody courts are surprisingly thorough in the way that they evaluate situations. They take many different factors into account to establish a setup that they believe will be in the best interests of the child.

This is why it is important to realize that there are many ways that you can influence child custody decisions. If you have a particularly strong bond with your child, you should highlight this as part of the hearing. If your child is accustomed to spending a great deal of time with you, it is unlikely that the courts would like to disrupt that.

What kinds of factors will the courts consider relating to a parent and child bond?

The courts may ask questions about your child so that they can gain a picture of the relationship that you have and the way that you spend your time. They may also want to know which parent carries out daily care. For example, they may ask who prepares meals, reads bedtime stories and who bathes them to establish an idea of which parent is the primary caregiver.

If you have recently separated from the other parent of your child, it is important that you approach the child custody negotiation process with an open mind and with the intention of gaining an agreement that is in the best interests of your child.

SECURE Act – 2020

On January 1, 2020, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act (the “Act”) went into effect.  This will result in significant changes to retirement planning.

The Act increases saving potential in tax-sheltered accounts by extending the maximum age for contributions. The Act also adds a new requirement.  This will significantly limit the time period during which most beneficiaries must withdraw the tax-sheltered account.  After the death of the account owner.

SECURE Act Removes Age-Based Contribution Limit and Increases Age for RMDs.

Prior to the Act, a traditional IRA owner was prohibited from making contributions after the age 70.5 (there were no similar age restrictions for contributions to a ROTH IRA). The Act removes that age limitation. A traditional IRA owner can contribute to the account at any age. Provided that such person is still working. Before the Act, an IRA owner was required to begin to take out RMDs in the tax year they reach the age of 70.5. The Act raises the RMD starting age to 72. Individuals who reached age 70 ½ on or before December 31, 2019, must start or continue to take RMDs at 70.5.

The SECURE Act Limits Stretching an Inherited IRA

The act expands the timeline for retirement savings.  It also could limit the benefits of inheriting an IRA. Previous rules provided that a non-spouse beneficiary of an inherited IRA could take out RMDs over the beneficiary’s life expectancy.  Thus stretching out the income tax resulting from each distribution.

The Act now requires most beneficiaries to entirely deplete the IRA within 10 years after the owner’s death. Unless a beneficiary is “qualified,” the 10-year rule applies. “Qualified beneficiaries” can still stretch out IRA distributions over the beneficiary’s life expectancy. They include a surviving spouse, a disabled or chronically ill individual, a child who has not reached the age of majority, and a beneficiary who is less than 10 years younger than the original account owner.

This change has the potential to create significant income tax liability for the beneficiary.  This would otherwise have been minimized by stretching out distributions over the beneficiary’s life expectancy. It also could be of particular concern to those who wish to use a trust to limit the manner and amount of distributions to a beneficiary.  If the purpose of the trust was to avoid significant amounts of money automatically passing to a beneficiary at a given time.

WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES JUSTIFY MODIFYING SPOUSAL SUPPORT

SPOUSAL SUPPORT IN GENERAL

Under Michigan law, a spouse who lacks the financial resources to cover their living expenses at the standard of living they grew accustomed to when they were married may receive spousal support payments from their former spouse.

To receive spousal support, a party not only has to prove that they do not have adequate financial resources to live at the marital standard of living, but also that the other party has sufficient resources to provide necessary financial support.

Michigan Family Code lists specific factors that a court must consider when determining whether a party qualifies for spousal support. Some of those factors include:

  • The earning capacity of each party
  • The length of the marriage
  • The parenting and financial responsibilities of the supported party
  • “The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting with a reasonable period of time.”

After evaluating the statutory factors for spousal support, a court will issue an order for spousal support. However, the terms of a spousal support order may be modified if there was a material change of circumstances after the court made the original order.

MODIFYING DURATION OF SUPPORT

When determining whether a material change of circumstances justifies modification of a spousal support order, the court must reevaluate the factors of the Michigan Family Code.

In general, spousal support orders are crafted to allow a financially less resourceful spouse to achieve financial independence by providing them with financial assistance for a reasonable period. Michigan courts typically consider half the length of the parties’ marriage to be a reasonable time for a supported spouse to become self-supporting.

In cases where the marriage lasted over seven years, Michigan courts may decide to fashion a spousal support award for an indefinite time.

However, the duration of a spousal support obligation is modifiable if the expectations the court relied on when they issued the order failed to materialize.

For example, imagine that the court-ordered three years of spousal support, expecting the supported spouse to find gainful employment by the time the order expires. The supported spouse can modify the order to extend the obligation further if they failed to find gainful employment despite their good-faith effort to secure a job.

Similarly, a court may reduce or terminate a spousal support order if the supported spouse regained their ability to earn income or otherwise experienced a sudden increase in wealth.

MODIFYING THE AMOUNT OF SUPPORT

The exact amount of a spousal support order depends on the financial circumstances of the parties. For example, courts have considered retirement to be a change of circumstances that warrants the reduction of a spousal support order by an amount commensurate with the resulting drop in the supporting spouse’s income.

In contrast, a sudden ascension to significant wealth—such as winning the jackpot or inheriting property—does not automatically necessitate modification of the support order.

CONTACT THE LAW & MEDIATION FIRM OF Herbert Machnik TODAY

At Herbert Machnik Law Firm, you can benefit from the years of family law experience our attorneys bring to the table. Whether you need legal representation in a matter involving divorce or a request to modify a spousal support order, our legal team is prepared to tenaciously advocate for your interests.

To schedule an initial consultation, please contact Herbert Machnik online or call us at (269) 459-1432 today.

Lawyers Add Credibility To Your Deal

Our law firm provides security, prestige and credibility to the deal. The client gains credibility by assembling a respected professional team. This is particularly true for newcomers who are dealing with established players. The lawyers can handle the “Player” while the client learns how the game is played.

Typically, it is the “big league player” who uses the established, prominent attorney in the practice area. Ironically, it is probably the newcomer who most needs this level of representation from experience. The “Player” may know the game, the rules, and the pitfalls. The newcomer does not. Thus, unless one is careful, one might find oneself the victim of the smart “Player” who is guided and protected by the knowledgeable attorney.

The best way for any of us to get hurt is to “play the other person’s game,” particularly, when the other person is a “player”. Players usually will not play it straight or fair with neophytes. Rather, they will attempt to “snow job” the other side into a very bad deal. Lawyers can help clients make the players “cut the crap”. The deal will go more smoothly and fairly. If it’s a bad deal, the client can walk away and stands a better chance of not “losing his shirt”.

You will not usually need the attorney to send routine letters of inquiry or response. But, using an attorney to negotiate or provide a final review of the deal or settlement adds professionalism to your side. Working through an intermediary also gives you time to discuss and think about options before committing to them. And, if the lawyer makes a statement or mistake in negotiation you are not bound by it. If you make it personally it may be difficult to retract or correct. Herbert Machnik has multi-millionaire clients who make every deal or settlement “subject to the attorney’s final review.”

Why Your Contract Needs a Contingency Provision

There are many reasons why you or your company should consider adding a contingency clause or provision in you contracts. These provisions can be easily overlooked before entering into a binding agreement. However, it should garner more importance since it can be used as a type of “escape clause” for your formal agreements. A contingency clause is a contract condition that requires a specific event or action to take place for the contract to be considered valid. If the events or actions do not satisfy the contingency clause, the parties will be released from the contract’s obligations.

Let’s take a closer look at the composition of a contingency clause and what a proper clause entail. A contingency clause can be inserted into any contract to benefit either party. The courts often necessitate a good faith effort in contracts that include these clauses. One party can cancel a deal if certain requirements are not met, though the party benefiting from the clause usually has the right to waive. The provision must specify an event and / or action to occur for the contract to be considered valid.

Common contingency clauses may be used for the following:

· Licensing Contingency

· Financing Contingency

· Appraisal Contingency

· Compliance Contingency

It’s easy to overlook adding a contingency provision in your agreements. Every detail is important in a contract and contingency clauses may get lost when you’re drafting terms and conditions. It’s recommended to speak with an experienced contract attorney to see if a contingency provision makes sense for your contract. It’s important to always look out for you and your business’s interests and adding or amending a contingency clause to an outdated contract can do just that.

Small Business Legal Strategy for Coronavirus

As the calamity continues to change and governments around the world organize to solve the immediate threat, the long-term strategic impacts of COVID-19 also require analysis and strategic planning. All businesses, regardless of size, should prepare for the long-term impacts of COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition to the immediate effects on their operations, it is equally important to make sure they are prepared for a possible economic downturn in these moments. Confronting legal needs can seem like a daunting task at this time, but it’s always best to start protecting your business before it’s too late. There are several key legal documents that are essential and will need to be analyzed before you get back to business operations.

Operating Agreements and Bylaws

Let’s start with operating agreements for LLCs and bylaws for corporations. These documents are beneficial to a well-ordered business. They are especially important if you have multiple owners involved in the business. These documents define how functional and financial decisions are made for the company and will dictate how the company may respond in tough financial situations. Properly drafted legal documents can help you avoid possible liability and guard your best interest. These documents are especially significant as they provide how important business decisions are made (particularly when there may be a disagreement as to the best course of action), define the distribution of profits and losses, and lists out the obligations and rights of all members. Furthermore, these documents serve as a contingency plan if a downturn becomes too severe as members leave, sells their interest, get divorced, or die.

In addition to their bylaws, corporations should ensure that they are holding annual meetings and recording minutes as required by law.

Licensing

Unfortunately, knowing what type of license you need to operate may be difficult since there are many different governing departments that cover different jurisdictions. Contingent on your small business operation, you may need to obtain local, county, or federal licenses. As your operations change, your licensing needs may change as well. This may include registering with additional licensing departments if you are expanding into new jurisdictions. If you are adding to the scope of your business’s offerings or changing direction entirely, additional licensing can also be in the form of health license and permits, environmental license and permits, food and beverage licensing, and transportation licensing, just to name a few.

You’ll have to make sure that all your business licenses are current and that your entity is in good standing as well. Neglecting to do so can prevent your business from working with vendors or receiving government funding for difficult times.

Contracts

Business contracts should be updated periodically and now is a good time to review your business’s agreements. Depending on how your business operation will move forward from a crisis, you may need to draft an addendum to critical parts of your contracts. These can range from partnership agreements, vendor / supplier agreements, independent contractor agreements, or employment agreements. Keep in mind that drafting a completely new contract is a possibility as well to ensure that you are covering the entire scope of your operations. It is also important to ensure that your website has a current privacy policy and terms and conditions that are relevant to your business and industry. While it takes some time and effort to draft all these legal documents, they are the foundation to any successful business.

No matter the changes to your business operations, it is important to think of the legal side of those changes. Whether companies change to keep up with the times and technology, or decide to change due to crisis, it is recommended to speak with a Michigan business attorney to make sure your Michigan business is set up for success.

Remember These Points During Custody Negotiations.

One of the most difficult things for divorced parents to do is to figure out how to help their children thrive after the split. The child custody arrangement is one of the cornerstones of this occurring, so it’s imperative that parents get things in order quickly. If this is your situation, make sure that you go into the custody negotiation sessions ready to do what’s right for your children. 

The focus during this time must be on the kids. It’s easy to start thinking about what your ex did in the time leading up to the divorce, but none of this matters unless abuse was a part of the situation. Even then, you should only bring that up if the children were involved or if there is a reason to believe that they will become victims of abuse. 

It might help you to remember that your children need to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, so being able to put your own wishes aside to make that happen will likely improve life for them. The parenting time schedule you set with your ex can help both parents to have time to build that relationship so many cases involve setting a schedule that allows both parents to have equal time with the children. 

Part of the parenting plan is going to include rules and guidelines that apply to both parents. Make sure you consider these carefully because it’s possible that they might be misconstrued at some point. The goal of the parenting plan is to meet the child’s needs now so don’t try to look too far into the future as you work to come to an agreement. 

ESTATE PLANNING IN AN EMERGENCY – WHAT CAN YOU DO?

There are times in our life when situations arise making it urgent and essential to have a Health Care Directive, Power of Attorney and maybe a Will. This is certainly one of those times. Here is what you might need and how you can get it:

HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE: A Health Care Directive is a document in which you set out who will make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated. It also allows you to set out your end-of-life wishes, rather than leaving those hard decisions to hurting loved ones. It can be obtained and completed for free at hospitals, clinics, and the links below. Most Health Care Directives require either two witnesses or a notary.

POWER OF ATTORNEY: A Power of Attorney is a document in which you set out who will take care of your assets and finances if you’re incapacitated. It can be completed for free from the links below. Most Power of Attorney documents require a notary.

WILL: The Will is a document which designates how you want your assets to be divided when you die, but only with respect to the assets that do not transfer automatically at your death. For both Wills and automatic transfers, the decisions you make can have tax, Medicaid and other complications. It’s always recommended that you seek the assistance of an attorney to discuss your estate and wishes if you can. If you are unable to do so, the laws pertaining to writing your own will are set out below.

AUTOMATIC TRANSFERS AT DEATH: You can set up your bank accounts, retirement accounts, CD’s, money market accounts, and all your other financial assets to automatically pass to your heirs directly (outside of the Will) by adding beneficiary or pay-on-death designations to those accounts. You should contact the companies holding those assets for instructions on how to add or change such designations. Additionally, any property you own jointly with others, such as vehicles or land, will pass to the other joint owner automatically at your death.

WITNESSES AND NOTARY INFORMATION:

Anyone over 18 can witness, including relatives, but its best to have non-related parties as witnesses if possible. A notary should not be related to you. Many banks are still open and should have notaries available. Of course, witnesses and notaries may require that you leave the house and have contact with others, but obtaining such essential legal service is allowed under both states’ Emergency Orders. Notaries may charge a minimal fee for their services.

MORE ABOUT CREATING A WILL:

Things to consider when making your own Will: If you have a Will that you no longer want, your Will should state that it revokes all prior Wills. If you have minor children, you can designate who you want to care for your children, when do you want them to receive money if not at 18 (you can choose any age or combination of ages) and who you want to control their money until they receive it. Do you want anything to go to charity? Is there someone you want to leave out of your will? If so, you could state that you intentionally leave nothing to that person and, if you wish, state why.

Once your Will is complete, you should put it in a safe location and send a copy to someone you trust letting them know where it is. This can be done by taking a picture with your smart-phone and sending it via text or email. If you’re not able to send a copy either electronically or by regular mail, at least let the person know about the Will and its location. The important thing is to make sure someone you trust knows that your Will exists and where to find it.

If your assets are over $2.5 million dollars, you should consider talking to an attorney about more complex planning.

WE ARE HERE TO HELP!

By necessity, the above information leaves out volumes of other considerations that might be applicable to you, depending on your situation. If you have questions or would like assistance with your estate planning, Benjamin Herbert at Herbert Machnik Law Firm is here to help. Contact us at 269-459-1432 or visit our Contact Us page.

What is an Emergency Guardianship or Conservatorship Proceeding?

Guardianships, conservatorships, and other protective proceedings fall under the jurisdiction of the probate court. The probate court may appoint a guardian or conservator on behalf of a person if it finds a person to be incapacitated or in some cases, subject to undue influence. The proceedings for guardianship and conservatorship are rife with pitfalls, and elder law attorneys must navigate the nuances of pursuing or defending against claims.

A guardianship or a conservatorship is a court-supervised process for transferring an incapacitated individual’s rights to someone capable of providing supervision regarding care or finances. The procedures involved can be daunting and require a careful analysis of the risks and factors requiring the need for court intervention, required court evaluations and hearings, and other essential matters that impact the proceedings.

These protective proceedings come with inherent risks that often result in contested and litigated proceedings. A variety of issues beyond incapacity–such as financial abuse, fraud, misappropriation of assets, unacceptable accounting, and other critical issues–can be the basis for claims challenging the appointment or removal of a guardian or conservator. Attorneys must grasp these protective proceedings and available techniques to protect client interests.

This will be an opportunity for Herbert Machnik to share with other elder law attorneys our expertise relating to in-depth analysis of the legal, procedural, and administrative challenges of emergency conservatorships and guardianships. Benjamin will discuss critical issues in pursuing court intervention and orders, identifying risk and protective factors, and recent case law and standards of review, as well as offer techniques for conservatorship and guardianship litigation.

We will review these and other key issues:

  • What are the key issues and requirements for establishing guardianships?
  • What is the process and pitfalls to avoid in initiating protective proceedings and seeking conservatorship?
  • What techniques are available in overcoming issues in contested proceedings?
  • What are the challenges in transferring guardianship to another state or acquiring out-of-state recognition?

Benjamin Herbert and the Probate team at Herbert Machnik not only care about the continued education of our legal community, but about informing our clients too. If you have questions about what guardianship or conservatorship is, please call us today. Our knowledgeable legal specialists are here to help: 269-459-1432 or Contact Us here.