Cybercriminals and new scams

As an equine horse professional and business owner in the digital age, you have to be careful of scams that happen in your business dealings online. For example, we all know to be careful when buying a horse in person. Is the horse lame? Is the seller being honest about the horse’s training? But you need to also consider email scams when doing business. The latest email scam is one that could easily hit the horse world and hit it hard.

According to a recent NPR story, cybercriminals are engaging in new email scams. These scams involve someone hacking into an email conversation. They monitor the conversations and then wait for an opportunity. When they see one, they pretend to be a person involved in the conversation. The opportunity usually involves a monetary transaction. The scammer provides information concerning where to send the money, and before the person knows it, they have paid the scammer instead of the legitimate party

Here is how the scam would work in the horse world. You find a horse advertised online that you buy for yourself or a client. You and the seller wind up negotiating the sale of the horse via email. Unbeknownst to you, the cybercriminal hacks into your email conversation. He or she waits until you are about to send the money and then pretends to be the seller. The directions you get for the payment are coming from the cybercriminal, not the seller. You send the money, thinking the seller is all set. When you check with the seller to confirm receipt of the money, you see that the money has gone to the cybercriminal and is probably out of the country and irretrievable.

The best way to avoid such a scam is to call the seller to discuss payment and to get payment instructions. Any conversation that might lead to a scammer getting confidential information or involving bank information should be conducted by telephone. Having actual discussions can lead to a greater level of security for your business transactions.

 

 

Brand Your Company

You know that the reputation of your business can mean the difference because success and failure. In this blog entry, I am going to explain how registering your trademark is an important way to protect your professional reputation. If you don’t protect your brand, someone can use your name, logo, or slogan, and you can’t stop them. Someone could also use your name, logo, or slogan and hurt your business by doing disreputable business.

Two Trainers, One Stolen Logo

I once knew someone – we’ll call her Sally – who moved cross country after riding with a trainer – we’ll call her Mary – for years in Florida. Sally started to search for a new riding horse in her new home. She came across a horse on a horse sales website that interested her and went to the listed website to learn more about the horse and the person selling the horse. She was shocked at what she found. On the main page of the website was the logo for Mary’s barn! It was flipped, as if appearing in a mirror, but it was clearly the same logo. Sally knew that Mary’s brother had hand drawn the logo several years before. She immediately contacted Mary to tell her about the stolen logo. Mary was a highly-successful trainer so she said she wasn’t worried about it. She said that no one would confuse her training services with the trainer who had stolen the logo. Besides, Mary lived all the way across the country. Sally never pursued the horse that led her to the website. She figured if that trainer would steal a logo, what else would she do that was dishonest.

Hurting Your Business

horse law questions jo belascoMary didn’t think there was a problem with the other trainer using her logo because Mary was a higher-level and more famous trainer, plus she lived across the country. But such thinking can leave a business open to problems. What if Mary decided she wanted to expand her training to that area? What if people looking online simply assumed that Mary and the trainer who stole her logo were somehow affiliated and that trainer engaged in deceptive practices? Or was a bad trainer? Or abused the horses under her care? Mary might be losing clients and gaining a bad reputation without even knowing it.

Trademark Registration

Mary could have prevented these problems by registering the logo with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO defines a trademark as a “word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols, or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” If Mary had a registered trademark, then she could have had an attorney force the trainer to take it off her website, either through a cease-and-desist letter or a lawsuit.

You may have heard that you should brand your company. Branding your company is a way of identifying your business and setting you apart from your competition. Registering a trademark is an important part of branding. Why? Because one of the main issues the USPTO considers when determining if a trademark should be granted is whether it creates confusion in the marketplace. Let’s say you want to start a fast food restaurant and call it McRonald’s. Your chances of getting that trademark approved are slim to none Why? Because McDonald’s, the famous fast-food restaurant, already has that name trademarked. Allowing for two similar trademarks in the same business would cause confusion in the marketplace.

What happens if you don’t register your trademark? Well, someone else could register the same or similar name. That may not seem like a big deal but think of this. Once someone has a registered trademark, they can enforce it by issuing cease-and-desist letters to companies that are using their trademark. They can even take that company to court. Let’s say you are using a certain business name and another company trademarks it. Even if you can avoid court, you will have to rebrand. What does that mean? You have to choose a new name and reform your company with that new name. You have to change all of your merchandise to the new name. You have to let your customers and clients know. It can be a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor, as you might well imagine.

Save yourself the time, money, and headache. Contact me today so I can talk to you about the registration process help you protect your brand.

 

 

Supreme Court Allows “Immoral” or “Scandalous” Trademarks

wills trusts estate planningBack in January, I wrote a blog post about the US Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case concerning “immoral” or “scandalous” trademarks. The case concerned the attempt by Mark Brunetti to trademark the word FUCT. This summer, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the law denying such marks violates the First Amendment because “it disfavors certain ideas.” In its decision, the Court cited certain marks that were allowed, such as a game called “Praise the Lord,” while other marks, such as “Bong Hits for Jesus” were denied.

The Court left open the possibility that Congress might narrow the law so that certain terms are still not approved. But absent Congress doing so, it could become a free-for-all at the United States Patent and Trademark Office concerning what marks are submitted and approved with terms that were formerly denied.

And, in case you were wondering, the Justices apparently took great care during the hearing to “not to use the FUCT name out loud.”

Contact me today if you want to trademark your brand!

This blog post is for educational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek an attorney’s advice for your specific situation. 

The Trouble with Photos

massachusetts attorney online friendly convenient affordableI don’t know about you but one of the fun things about owning a business is that I get to look through interesting photos whenever I put together material for my website or social media. There are literally millions of photos online to look at. Really. I just did a Google search for “horse image,” for example, and got 1,990,000,000 results in .52 seconds. I could just download any number of photos for my website and social media accounts, right?

Wait. Whoa. Not so fast. Did you read the viral story about the hipster? Yes, this does connect to your use of online photos. A hipster guy got so mad thinking a journal had used his photo without permission when it reported on a study about hipsters that he threatened to sue the journal. The funny part of the story is that the photo wasn’t him but it confirmed the study results that hipsters tend to conform to a certain look. What’s important for us is the story behind the photo.

The journal had bought the hipster photo from Getty Images. You have may have bought their photos or spent time looking at them in your search for marketing or blog illustrations. The journal’s editor-in-chief contacted Getty, and it had a signed release from the model in the picture. That release was worth its weight in gold because it showed the man who emailed was not in the photo and therefore had no legal action against the journal or Getty.

You hopefully now see where I am going with this and your use of online photos. A lot of people download photos from the Internet, but that viral story illustrations a point you may never have thought about: you should not use these photos on your website or social media unless you or the company you bought them from have a model release. (What about pictures you’ve taken yourself? I will get to that issue in a blog this week, I promise.) Chances are good that you are going to have to pay for high-quality photos that you can use legally. Places like Getty, which has some stunning photos, may be a bit pricey for your budget, although the photos are certainly worth it. Take a look at a site like PixelRockstar. You can get photos for about $1 a picture.

I know that copyright and the use of photos in blogs and for marketing is a huge topic. Stay tuned to my blog this week as I continue to explore how we can use great photos to help people learn about our businesses.

 

 

The Trademark Process

wills trusts estate planningRecently, I have had a lot of people ask me about the trademark registration process.  It can be confusing so this blog will explain the process.

The first thing to know is what can be trademarked. Typical things businesses trademark are the name, logo, or a slogan. But you can trademark other things that identify your business, including a specific color you use on all your packaging. For example, Tiffany has trademarked its signature blue color. A trademark protects your brand so when you are considering trademarking something, you should think about what represents your brand. You can trademark more than one thing. Many businesses have a name and a logo. I suggest that both be trademarked. Unfortunately, with the ease of the Internet, businesses do sometime steal logos. I know of an instance where an equine business had their logo stolen by another business halfway across the country. I also know of a yoga business that had to change its business name after they were sent a cease-and-desist letter. Needless to say, that took a lot of time and money. These are just two examples of the importance of protecting your brand and doing it as soon as you start your business.

The trademark process involves three steps: a search, a legal analysis, and then the actual registration. I do a comprehensive search to see if the name, logo, or slogan  you’ve chosen is available. That includes searching for similar names that might cause the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) to deny the registration. After I complete the search, I give you a legal analysis.

A legal analysis assesses your trademark’s chance of registration. Not every trademark is accepted by the USPTO, so we need to look at the chances to see if you need to change it up a little bit or if it looks like if it has a good chance of being accepted as is. The USPTO considers 13 factors when trying to decide if there is confusion with another mark that is the same or similar, and I address those factors in my legal analysis. You also have to file your trademark under at least one class. Sometimes your trademark needs to be filed under more than one mark, for example, if you are conducting workshops and selling t-shirts. I provide you with information concerning the relevant classes in which your trademark should be filed, and whether it needs to be filed in more than one class. The legal analysis step is important because if your mark is denied by the USPTO, you will receive an Office Action, which an delay the registration of your mark and may even lead to it not be accepted for registration. There’s never a guarantee that the USPTO will approve a given mark, but at least if you get a legal analysis you can avoid situations in which there are clear conflicts that would result in denial.

estate planning trademark copyrightThe third step is the actual registration process, which is entirely electronic. Once your trademark application has been prepared and submitted, it takes about a year to get approval. You can use the trademark in the meantime with ™ after the trademark. The entire process to get approval can take a year.  If the USPTO has a problem with the trademark, it will issue an Office Action. You have a chance to address the issue and then see if the USPTO will issue your trademark. Once your trademark is approved, you may use the registered symbol, ®, after your trademark.

If you would like to protect your brand with a trademark, contact me today so I can get the process started for you!