Selecting a Trademark: Trademark Strength

Selecting a trademark is a creative and legally important process. There are many issues that must be factored into the trademark selection process. One of the most important factors is the strength of the trademark; this is significant because the protection of your trademark against future infringement will depend on how strong the courts will consider your trademark to be.

There are four general types of trademarks: fanciful/arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive, and generic (which are really not marks at all).

1. Fanciful or Arbitrary Marks

The most common definition of a “fanciful mark” is the mark or design that has been created for the sole purpose of functioning as a mark. These are basically words that are new or previously unknown to an average consumer. EXXON is an example of a fanciful mark.

An “arbitrary mark” is a normal word or design used in an uncommon way or context. For example, APPLE is an arbitrary mark for computer-maker.

Keep in mind that fanciful marks can also be designs, not only words. For example, the STAGECOACH design of Wells Fargo is fanciful design mark.

Fanciful and arbitrary marks are considered to be highly distinctive and strong. This means that the marks are highly protected by the U.S. laws against the infringement by competitors. In fact, this is the most protected category of trademarks.

2. Suggestive Marks

Suggestive marks are those marks which subtly suggest the qualities which are desirable in a product or service, but which do not literally describe attributes or qualities of the goods or services with which these marks are associated. For example, GREYHOUND suggest speed which is a desirable quality in bus transportation.

Suggestive marks is the second strongest category of trademarks after fanciful and arbitrary marks. It is still highly protected by U.S. law and can be a trademark as soon as it is used.

3. Descriptive Marks

Unlike suggestive marks, the descriptive marks describe (not merely suggest) the qualities of the products or services in connection with which they are used. A commonly-cited test for recognition of descriptive marks is whether the mark immediately conveys the idea, ingredients or characteristics of goods or services in connection with which the mark is used. For example, VISION CENTER for optical clinics or AUTO PAGE for automatic dialing service.

Descriptive marks constitute a much weaker category of trademarks. In fact, unless a descriptive mark acquires what is known as “secondary meaning” through some period of use, sales, or advertising, it may not be protectable at all.

4. Generic Marks

The generic mark is not really a mark, but merely a term which is or becomes the generic name for the product or service in connection with which it is used. It is basically a common name for a product (or service) produced (or offered) by many companies, such as: automobile or cat food. The courts also found that “urgent care” is a generic term for medical services and “cellophane” is a generic term for a clear plastic wrap.

Notice that some terms which were not originally generic may become so over some period of time. For example, “aspirin” became generic over time.

Conclusion

Generally, the more distinctive the mark is, the more protectable it is likely to be. Therefore, from a legal standpoint, the stronger marks are those that are original and unlikely to infringe the rights of others.

Sherayzen Law Office can help you select and research the trademark for your business, evaluate your mark’s strength and file trademark registration applications with the USPTO as well as relevant state authorities. Call NOW (612) 790-7024 to discuss your trademark with an experienced trademark lawyer!

Voluntary Disclosure Program: Possible Renewal With Modifications

On December 9, 2010, in his prepared remarks before the “23rd Annual Institute on Current Issues in International Taxation IRS” (in Washington, D.C.), Commissioner Doug Shulman hinted that the IRS is considering whether to renew the Voluntary Disclosure Program. The new Voluntary Disclosure Program would have tougher penalties that the original Program that ended in October of 2009, but it would still offer a way for U.S. taxpayers to comply with the U.S. tax laws while avoiding the worst consequences of tax noncompliance.

Here is a relevant excerpt from Commissioner Shuman’s speech:

“Given its success, we are seriously considering another special offshore Voluntary Disclosure program. However, there will be some fundamental differences. Taxpayers will not get the same deal as those who came in under the original program. To be fair to those who came in before the deadline, the penalty – and thus the financial cost to participate – will increase. Let me say too that we expect to make the terms of any new program available to those who have already come in after October 2009 when that program expired. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.”

Voluntary disclosure is usually the best way to bring your tax affair in full compliance with the U.S. tax laws. Moreover, voluntary disclosure process often reveals nonconformity with other U.S. tax compliance requirements, such as FBARs, Form 5471, Form 8865, Canadian RRSP disclosure, et cetera.

Sherayzen Law Office has helped the taxpayers throughout the United States to voluntarily disclose their income and assets, negotiate their tax obligations, and bring their tax affairs in full compliance with U.S. tax laws. At the same time, we have helped our clients to resolve such issues as delinquent FBARs, Form 5471/8865 filings, foreign trust income disclosure, Canadian RRSP reporting, and other relevant tax compliance issues. We will guide you every step of the way, draft the necessary documents and negotiate with the IRS.

Call NOW (612) 790-7024 to discuss your tax issues with an experienced tax attorney! Remember, your consultation is confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege.

Contract Lawyer Minneapolis |Minnesota LLC Formation IV: Bylaws or Operating Agreement

In the first part of this series, I mentioned that LLC Bylaws or Operating Agreement (as Bylaws were called in the original version of the Minnesota Limited Liability Company Act) is one of the essential documents and an integral part of LLC formation in Minnesota.

Bylaws may be adopted by the organizers or the first Board of Governors. Remember, though, that the power of the Board in this respect is usually subject to the power of the LLC members to adopt, amend or repeal any Bylaws.

An LLC may adopt Bylaws provisions to establish the management of the LLC, including the regulation of the internal affairs. Bylaws provisions, however, should not be inconsistent with Minnesota law or the Articles of Organization.

The Bylaws typically regulate such matters as: the election and compensation of the governors, Member meetings, Board meetings, notice procedures, voting rights and procedures, election and authority of the managers, removal of the managers, compensation issues, recordkeeping, establishment of the fiscal year, and other management-related issues. A buy-sell agreement may be included in the Bylaws, but this agreement needs to be written in conformity with the rest of the Bylaws.

Thus, the Bylaws cover a broad range of issues and are indispensable to proper management of the business. It is important to remember, however, that, where the LLC is expected to be governed and managed by its members, the members should consider executing a Member Control Agreement. The Member Control Agreement is much broader than the Bylaws and may provide a much greater degree of flexibility necessary in many member-managed LLCs.

Sherayzen Law Office has developed a great degree of concentration and experience in drafting business governance documents. We have consulted start-up and already established clients in Minnesota and throughout the United States with respect to governance documents. We have wide-ranging experience in drafting Bylaws, Member Control Agreements, as well as combination of these two documents known as “Member Control and Operating Agreement”.

Business Lawyer Minneapolis |Registering Assumed Name in Minnesota

If you are required to register an assumed name for your business (to learn about who is required to register an assumed name, click here), it is important to follow through with all of the registration requirements. There are three basic step to registering an assumed name in Minnesota.

1. Fill-out Certificate of Assumed Name

Fill-out the Certificate of Assumed Name. The form is readily available online at the Secretary of State’s website. Filling-out the Certificate is usually not complicated; you need to provide the following information:

a) Exact (assumed) business name. The Secretary of State will not accept a name that duplicates either a registered name of a business entity (corporation, limited liability company or partnership) or a trademark already on file. Only one name per form is allowed;

b) Complete address of the principal place of business. A Minnesota address is preferable, but an out-of-state address may also be acceptable. P.O. Box is not acceptable;

c) Names and addresses of all persons conducting business under the Assumed Name. If such a person is a business entity, then provide a full legal name of the entity and the registered office address; and

d) Signature, date, printed name and title of one of the persons who are conducting business under the Assumed Name. An Authorized Agent may also sign the form as long as the Agent identifies himself as such (including the fact that he is authorized to sign the form). A contact information with respect to the form should also be included.

2. File the Certificate of Assumed Name with Filing Fee

The second step is to file the Certificate of Assumed Name with the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. A filing fee of $25 (in the year 2010) should be enclosed with the Certificate. The check should be made payable to the “MN Secretary of State”.

3. Publish Legal Notice

Once the Certificate of Assumed Name is filed with the Secretary of State, you must publish the Certificate or Amended Certificate of Assumed Name with a qualified newspaper for two consecutive issues in the county where the principal place of business is located. The newspaper should provide with detailed instructions on how to proceed with the publication. After the publication, the newspaper will return an affidavit of publication which should be retained in your business file.

Failure to publish may render the filing of the Certificate invalid.

Amendment of the Certificate

The Certificate of Amended Assumed Name form must be filed within sixty (60) days with the Secretary of State after any change in the assumed name, business or owner’s address, and ownership has occurred. The Amended Certificate must be published as described above.

Term and Renewal

A Certificate of Assumed Name is valid for ten (10) years from the date of filing with the Secretary of State. A renewal form should be mailed to the business address on file six months prior to expiration. There is filing fee of $25 (current as of the year 2010) to file a renewal.

Conclusion

Registering an Assumed Name in Minnesota usually is not difficult. It is important, however, to actually do it and follow through with all of the requirements, including the legal notice publication. If you have any questions with respect to registering your business name, contact Sherayzen Law Office to speak with an experienced business lawyer in Minneapolis.

St Paul International Tax Lawyer: Hiring Questions

When you are about to hire a St Paul international tax lawyer to help you with an international tax issue, there are three fundamental questions that you need to ask him.

Hiring St Paul International Tax Lawyer Question #1:  How Will I Be Billed?

Generally, a St Paul international tax lawyer will bill you on an hourly basis, particularly in a tax litigation setting. He will provide you with a general estimate of your future expenses, which, understandably, will vary with the progress of the case. In a tax preparation or sometimes even in a simple tax planning case, a St Paul international tax lawyer may also offer a flat fee option. Where there are complex international tax planning issues involved, however, most St Paul international tax lawyers are likely to charge on an hourly basis. Similarly, while working on international tax compliance issues (Form 3520, 5471, 8891, et cetera) or preparing a tax return (including foreign tax credit and earned foreign income exclusion), St Paul international tax lawyers tend to rely on the hourly fee arrangements.

The more important issue with regard to this question is the manner in which you will be billed. Here, the practice varies among international tax lawyers in St Paul, Minnesota. Some St Paul international tax lawyers may require you to provide a large retainer which is later deposited in a client trust account; the withdrawals from the account are made in conjunction with the work completed and as spelled out in the retainer agreement between the lawyer and the client. If the retainer is later depleted, your St Paul international tax lawyer may ask you to replenish it. Other St Paul international tax lawyers will require a smaller retainer and will then bill you on a monthly basis. If the latter option is proposed by your St Paul international tax lawyer, you should ask for a sufficient time period (usually 10-14 days) to pay your bill. A mix of these options is also available. You will find that St. Paul international tax lawyers, especially solo practitioners, are rather flexible in their choice of the payment mode, but, once the fee agreement is signed, they will be firm in insisting that you comply with the terms of the agreement.

Hiring St Paul International Tax Lawyer Question #2: What percentage of the practice is devoted to the international tax law?

The purpose of this question is two-fold. First, you will figure out whether this St Paul international tax lawyer likes handling cases in your area of law. If a tax lawyer devotes more than 50% of his practice to international tax law, you know that he likes this area of law and will be enthusiastic about your case. This means that, in addition to his general due diligence obligations, this St Paul international tax lawyer will have a professional interest in your case. Second, generally, a St Paul international tax lawyer who devotes 50% or more of his practice to international tax law is likely to have good experience in this area.

Hiring St Paul International Tax Lawyer Question #3: will this St Paul international tax lawyer devote his personal attention to your case?

This question is very important, because you need to make sure that your lawyer personally works on your case. This becomes one of the biggest problems with hiring most mid-size and large law firms, because in those firms, the partner with whom you signed the agreement will generally delegate a large percentage (sometimes virtually all) of his responsibilities to his associates, who are generally less experienced in the area than the partner. In this case, you should insist that the St Paul international tax lawyer who signed the retainer agreement with you devotes his personal attention to your case and delegates only marginal matters to his associates. Generally, solo practitioners or small international firms do not have similar problems.

The other important issue involved in this question is whether your St Paul international tax lawyer is generally responsive to your calls and keeps you up-to-date with respect to the progress of your case. Most international tax lawyers are very busy people; yet, you must insist that you should be able to communicate with them. In my practice, I devote a great deal of energy and time to make sure that my clients do not feel neglected and have the latest information about their case available to them. For example, my firm has a rule of returning most calls before the end of the day.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Legal Help With Your International Tax Issues