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.

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 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!

 

Immoral or Scandalous Trademarks

Did you know that not every trademark is accepted for registration? For example, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will not register a mark that it considers “immoral” or “scandalous.” Of course, times have changed since that statutory provision took effect more than one hundred years ago. What do we do now about words that might have offended then but have become practically common vernacular now?

Last week, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments concerning the issue of the mark FUCT, which designer Mark Brunetti has been trying to register for more than a decade. After being denied the mark, he received a favorable lower court ruling. But both he and the USPTO asked the Supreme Court to consider the case. Oral arguments will most likely take place this spring, and the decision will be issued several months after that. I will follow up on the case when the decision is handed down.

In an interesting side note, the Court generally does not like profanity at oral argument. It is unknown whether counsel for either side will say the name of the mark or simply allude to it during argument.