Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of a trademark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services. But what does this mean for your small business? How can you avoid receiving a nasty cease and desist letter accusing you of infringing someone else’s trademark? And how much can a trademark mistake cost you?
If you’ve worked hard to build your client or customer base, or even put significant time and effort into training your employees or recruiting the right subcontractors, you probably want to protect that investment. Non-solicitation agreements are typically used by businesses of all sizes to ensure that their employees and subcontractors will not solicit (or run off with) the company’s customers, clients, or even other employees or contractors that the company has worked so hard to find and develop in the first place.
Hiring employees is often an exciting time for small businesses and nonprofits. But not every new hire will turn out to be a great fit for your organization. Perhaps an employee’s performance simply isn’t up to par. Or an employee commits a major violation of some company policy. Or maybe an employee keeps repeating the same relatively minor infraction over and over again (like spending a little too much time texting while working). Regardless of the size of your business, at some point, managing people means having some tough conversations.
Perhaps you’ve already tried dropping not-so-subtle hints to get an employee back on track. When less formal measures don’t seem to be working, it’s time to turn to more formal disciplinary policies and procedures for addressing employee misconduct. Your employee disciplinary policy is not about becoming a stereotypical corporate overlord and ruining the collegial environment that makes working for a small businesses or nonprofit so appealing. Instead, having a formal disciplinary policy is all about maintaining your organization’s standards in a way that is fair and maintains morale, all without getting you and your company into legal trouble.
Running a nonprofit organization can be quite different from running a for profit business. Instead of a single owner(s) who can largely do whatever they like, you have a board of directors to answer to, extensive oversight from the IRS and Ohio Attorney General, not to mention keeping both donors and grant funders happy. And this wide array of stakeholders means your nonprofit needs good governance policies in place to prevent problems before the organization’s tax-exempt status is threatened.
We’ve talked before about the importance of conducting a thorough trademark search before launching a brand name or logo or slogan. You might be surprised to learn about similar trademarks that are already in use. You might learn that your proposed trademark would be considered relatively weak. Even if trademark registration simply isn’t in the budget yet or a federal registration doesn’t make sense for other reasons, you still need to know what trademarks your competitors are already using.
Whatever the reason for not moving forward with a trademark registration, that still leaves an important question—What rights do you have if you don’t or can’t register your trademark? Is there anything you can do to protect your unregistered trademark?
Most of us now have access to the internet 24/7 no matter where we go or what we should really be doing with that time. And that includes your employees.
You want employees to spread the word on social media about your great products or services, but you don’t want an employee to say the wrong thing and spark a public relations crisis.
You want your employees to work hard and be productive, but you don’t want to micro manage how they spend every single working moment.
You want to be known as a great place to work, but you don’t want your employees to take every grievance with management to the court of public opinion.
How should your HR policies address these issues? What do you tell your employees about their use of the internet, email, and social media while working for your organization?
The IRS has special procedures in place for recognizing a group of organizations as tax-exempt if they are affiliated with a central organization. A group exemption can reduce the administrative burden on multiple related organizations, but it can also be difficult to navigate if there is a breakdown in communications or the relationship between the central organization and one of the subordinate entities.
So just how does the group exemption work? And how can organizations avoid pitfalls in navigating this complex relationship?
Practice Note: The IRS has proposed new rules governing group exemptions. Until the new rules are finalized, the IRS is not currently accepting new group exemption letters.
Too many small business owners assume that just because something is on the internet, it must be free to use. For example, have you ever:
In each of these instances, your business is likely to receive a nasty cease and desist letter accusing you of copyright infringement and demanding the immediate payment of money damages.
When you are working hard to build a brand, it’s easy to say “just trademark everything…name, multiple logos, slogans.” And in a perfect world, you should trademark every aspect of your brand. But in the real world, trademark registrations are not cheap, especially on a start-up budget. And multiple trademark registrations won’t matter if you aren’t also making sales, hiring staff as you grow, and improving your product or service.
So if budget is an issue, what should you trademark first? Your name or your logo?