Equine Law Explained

When I tell people I am an equine attorney, a lot of people think I represent horses in legal actions. That’s not quite how it works, although I hope that horses benefit from the work I do with humans. An explanation of equine law might help explain the wide breadth of this area of law and what I can do for you.

Equine law focuses more on the community it serves rather than a specific area of law. As an equine attorney, I work with people who have horses in their lives. My clients can run the gamut from a person who has a horse in the backyard as a companion animal to someone who competes at the national and international levels. I work with individuals and companies, both for profit and non-profit, who are involved in the horse industry. These people have different legal needs depending on their role in the horse world. Some of the people who require equine legal services include horse trainers, riding instructors, boarding barn owners, clinicians, breeders, horse sellers, professional riders, horse purchasers, equine vets, horse chiropractors, and horse massage therapists.

In order to meet the various needs of the horse community, equine law encompasses several areas of law. Business law applies to many horse-related activities, especially when dealing with contracts. The horse industry has historically conducted business “on a handshake,” but that leads to many problems. Contracts are a way for all parties involved to make sure everyone has the same understanding concerning the transaction. Some of the contracts necessary to the horse community are boarding contracts, sales contracts, breeding contracts, and liability releases. Business law also applies if a person wants to create a company or a nonprofit. Many horse people are great with horses, but not with the business side of being a horse professional. Hiring an equine attorney allows you to feel confident that you have picked the right business structure and that your business has been set up properly. Because of my experience as a horse professional, I also provide consulting services for equine business owners.

Another very important area for equine business owners is trademark law. If you want to protect your brand, and by that I mean your business identification not your horse brand, then you should register your name, logo, slogan, or something similar that lets people recognize your business. Registering a trademark can be tricky because it’s not an automatic approval process. I provide a search and analysis for horse businesses as well as registration services. If you tried to get your mark, and the United State Patent and Trademark Office denied your registration, I also respond to Office Actions after discussing the issues with you to see if there is a chance we can get you your mark.

A lot of horse people are writing books and creating DVDs. In addition, equine photography is a growing field in the horse industry. These creative horse people need to protect their work with copyright registration. It’s true that you own the copyright as soon as you create a work. However, you can only enforce those rights in court if you have an approved registration of your work with the US Copyright Office.

Estate planning is an important legal area to include when thinking about equine law. In Massachusetts, an individual can have a horse trust, which ensures that a horse or horses are taken care of if the owner is incapacitated or dies. You may think your will is all you need in those situations, but a will has no effect if you are incapacitated, and it must go through probate before it can take effect when you die. Money and other assets are not available until the will is probated, which can take several months or even years. A horse trust gives you peace of mind that your horse is taken care of as soon as you are incapacitated or during the time your will is probated. In addition, Massachusetts has an estate tax unlike most other states. If you own horse property, you may hit the $1 million amount that triggers the tax. I have solutions for you to save you on estate taxes so that more money can go to your beneficiaries.

There are only about 100 attorneys in the country who practice equine law.  To be a good equine attorney, the person should obviously be a good attorney but she should also have a solid working understanding of the horse industry.  The more experience an equine attorney has around horses, the better she will be able understand the many scenarios that can happen and she will be able to craft solutions to avoid problems or to handle them if they arise.

Joanne L. Belasco, Esq.I practice preventive equine law, which means that I work with clients to avoid problems that may lead to litigation.  When you talk to me about your legal concerns, I understand your problems because of my experience as a horse professional and personal horsewoman.  An attorney without knowledge of horses and the horse industry is not able to understand basic terms and broader situations that we, as horse people, do. You don’t have to spend time explaining basic concepts to me, such as your horse colicking, because I know the term and have gone through the experience myself with my horses.

Contact me today, and we’ll set up a time to see how I can help with your equine legal needs.

Nonprofit Property Purchase

Depending on your mission, you may have a nonprofit that needs property to run its programs. For example, if you are a horse nonprofit, you invariably run into the issue of where to hold your programs. Having horses means there is a need for land to house those horses as well as having a safe, secure place where you can run programs with them. I have seen several scenarios where equine nonprofits have leased property and then run into difficulty when the lease ends. I have read Facebook posts from horse nonprofit leaders desperately seeking land for horses that need homes or even trying to rehome the horses themselves. Some nonprofits have even ceased functioning or had to put their programs on hiatus while a new location is found. How can you avoid these scenarios? By having your nonprofit own its own property.

Purchasing Property

Contrary to what many people think, a nonprofit can buy and own property. The first thing to know when deciding whether your nonprofit should buy property is that your board of directors must be involved. Since nobody owns a nonprofit, the board must be consulted about any property purchase. Your bylaws should actually include a provision that allows your board to make such a decision and exercise the right to buy property.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the property needs to be related to your nonprofit’s mission statement. Otherwise, you may need to pay taxes on it, and you may not be able to use grants and donations to purchase it. For example, if you rescue horses, and you purchase property, you might have to pay taxes on that property if you use it to raise Angus cattle instead. You might also have to pay taxes on the cattle sales as unrelated income. I say might because without knowing your nonprofit’s mission statement, I can’t say for certain. Selling Angus cattle might actually relate to your nonprofit’s mission.

Loans

Again, while most people think a nonprofit can’t get a loan to buy property, that simply is not true. I will caution you, though, that it may be more difficult than getting a personal mortgage. Why? As you know, when getting a mortgage, you need to assure the bank that you can pay the mortgage. Unfortunately, many nonprofits are huge labors of love, and they don’t bring in sustainable, dependable revenue. If your nonprofit has been around for many years, and you can show that you can pay off a loan, then you have a chance to get one. But if you are paying for most of the expenses out of your own pocket, or you haven’t been around very long, then you may have to make some changes before you can apply and expect to get a loan.

Grants and Donations

Another way that nonprofits purchase property is by grants and donations. This type of purchase can occur a number of ways. You can get a grant, a donation or several donations, or a combination of the two. If you are running a fundraiser for this specific purpose, then it is called a capital funds campaign. Many grants won’t allow you to use grant money for a capital funds campaign so you need to read the grant proposal carefully before you put in time to get a grant that won’t support your campaign.

You can use donations to buy property but you need to keep the idea of restricted and unrestricted funds in mind. If you receive a donation that is unrestricted, then you can use the funds for any of your programs or nonprofit work. However, if a donation is restricted, then it must be used for the purpose intended by the donor. For example, if someone donates $10,000 and says it’s for the capital funds campaign, then you must use it for that purpose. You may want to even place it in a separate account so that you are sure not to use it until you buy property. What happens if your nonprofit winds up not buying property? You either have to return the money to the donor or get permission from the donor to use it for other nonprofit purposes. I suggest you get that approval in writing, by the way, so there is no confusion at a later time concerning the purpose of the donation.

If you have more questions about purchasing property for your nonprofit or need legal services associated with it, please feel free to contact me.

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!