IP LawAfter years of research and development, your company is finally about to launch a new “game changing” product. You know you need to protect this product, but where do you start? What do you name your new product, and how do you protect that name? These and other frequently asked questions often arise in new entrepreneurial ventures — whether for new businesses or new product lines for existing businesses.

Most business owners intuitively understand the value of their intellectual property. They understand that their products, brands and other ideas need to be protected, but can be confused by some of the “jargon” used in intellectual property law with words like “patent,” “trademark” and “copyright.” This post helps explain some of the key differences between patents, trademarks and copyrights.

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing a patented invention for a fixed period of time. In the U.S., patents are exclusively under federal jurisdiction and are awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for making public an enabling disclosure of the invention, and generally last for 20 years (15 years for design patents).

Continue Reading What is the difference between patents, trademarks and copyrights?

Hello My Name IsWhen launching a business or a new product, one of the most important initial considerations is the name of that business or product. The name is the first thing a potential consumer comes into contact with and what the consumer will remember. The name is the vehicle by which all marketing will travel and will be repeated over and over in advertising, on social media and websites. It is, therefore, one of the things that businesses strive to “get it right.”

Usually, this is something that is left to the creative types — those who understand market research, focus groups and creating all-around brands. However, even at the early stages, businesses should pay attention to the legal side of branding to make sure they “get it right.” If you are launching a new business or a new product, be sure take into consideration the following areas.

Will the name also be the company name?

If so, in addition to any trademark concerns, it is imperative to check that the company name is available in the state where the business will be formed. Most states do not allow two businesses to have identical names, regardless of the goods or services they offer.

Is the name distinctive?

Continue Reading Branding 101: What’s in a Name?

COVID-19 VaccineWith three coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the United States, an end to the pandemic appears in sight. But returning to normal comes with plenty of unknowns. For employers looking to reduce (or eliminate) virtual working, several pertinent questions are now surfacing.

Can I ask employees if they have been vaccinated?

The law generally prohibits employers from probing into an employee’s medical history. It is acceptable for a supervisor to ask if an employee is feeling OK or can complete work for the day. However, it is another story when an employer starts asking questions to determine if an employee is pregnant, diabetic, or suffering from some illness. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from forcing an employee to disclose disabilities or serious medical conditions.

Thankfully, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has removed any uncertainty about how the ADA applies in this context. According to recent guidance from the EEOC, employers are permitted to ask employees if they have been vaccinated and for documentation of the vaccine. Employers should, however, avoid health inquiries that probe into other areas not related to the vaccine, as this could run afoul of other employment laws relating to discrimination and disability.

Can I offer incentives for my employees to be vaccinated?

Continue Reading Coming Back to Work – Common Coronavirus Questions by Employers

iphone photoUnbeknownst to most software users, many of the world’s largest software companies have relatively complicated software license terms in the event of a user’s death. This can present an emotional and unnecessary complication at a loved one’s passing.

An illustrative and all too commonplace example of this can be found in the terms and conditions of Apple’s iCloud platform. One section of the terms of service of Apple’s iCloud software (as of the publication date) entitled “No Right of Survivorship” which provides that:

Unless otherwise required by law, You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted. Contact iCloud Support at https://support.apple.com/icloud for further assistance.”

In other words, Apple has a right to terminate an iCloud account and delete all the data stored in that account upon a user’s death. Many companies structure software licenses in this manner in order to avoid potential contractual liability in the event of a dispute over access to a deceased user’s account.

Legal Rights to Access Digital Content

Continue Reading Digital Intellectual Property: What rights does Apple have over digital photos upon death of a user?

webinar photoKeeping up with the employment law changes under the Biden Administration can be a challenge. Members of Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A. and Marks Gray, P.A.’s legal teams will host a virtual one-hour session to help business owners, human resource professionals, and in-house counsel understand what these changes mean for employers now, and how to prepare for what might be on the horizon. Click here to download the program brochure.

Program Overview

Guest speaker Giselle Carson, an immigration and compliance attorney with the Marks Gray law firm in Jacksonville, will kick-off the session. She will provide an update on H1B caps, travel bans and consulate processing, as well as I-9 flexibility.

Next, Employee Benefits Attorney David Ledermann will provide an overview on COBRA changes. These include the new federal COBRA subsidy under the American Rescue Plan Act and related notice requirements, interaction with the extended time periods previously granted relating to the pandemic-related national emergency, potential subsequent availability of special enrollment rights in the Health Insurance Marketplace, and considerations relative to Florida’s mini-COBRA law.

Continue Reading 100 Days In: Update on Biden Employment Policies

photo of HR Policies and ProceduresAs the nation begins the slow recovery from the COVID pandemic, businesses will start to return to some level of “normalcy.” But that normalcy will be in a vastly different governmental environment. During the Trump years, businesses benefited from the administration’s pro-business attitude. The Biden administration has made it clear it intends to adopt a pro-employee, pro-union stance. In its first 100 days, the administration has begun to set the pieces for its long-term goals.

What impact will the Equality Act, if passed, have on employers?

One of the more visible areas of change is coming in the civil rights arena. President Biden fired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s general counsel in March when she refused to resign. The EEOC general counsel, who sets the tone for the number and types of cases the Commission pursues, had been relatively modest in her enforcement efforts during the Trump administration. That should be changing. One area that will likely be a red flag issue with the Biden-era EEOC is LGBTQ+ rights.

Continue Reading Employers need to pay attention to sexual orientation and gender identity protection policies

Governor Ron Desantis issued an executive order prohibiting COVID-19 “vaccine passports” in Florida. The order prevents government entities from issuing “vaccine passports” or other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccine status to a third party.

How does this order impact Florida business owners?

Further, this order prohibits businesses in Florida from requiring patrons to provide documentation certifying that the individual had a COVID-19 vaccination. Businesses still, however, can employ COVID-19 screening protocols and measures, such as requiring the use of a mask.

Continue Reading No COVID-19 “Vaccine Passports” for Florida

Effective today, April 1, 2021, the United States Coast Guard (“USCG”) requires operators of recreational vessels less than 26 feet in length to use an engine cut off switch (ECOS) and associated ECOS link (ECOSL) when operating in federal waters. The purpose of the new regulation is to prevent runaway vessels and the danger they pose. An ECOSL attaches the vessel operator to a switch that shuts off the engine if the operator is displaced from control of the vessel, such as when they may fall or be thrown overboard.

Since 2018, the USCG has required all manufacturers of covered recreational boats to equip the vessels with an ECOS. Most vessels are equipped with an ECOS Link. The new provision requires individuals operating recreational vessels with an ECOS Link to use them. Exceptions would include when the boat is idling or docking.

Continue Reading Maritime Law: If you boat in federal waters, take note of a new federal law effective today

The Florida House of Representatives passed S.B. 72 in a decisive 83-31 vote, a bill that would give businesses and health care providers a legal safe harbor from COVID-19 injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law this afternoon. The law retroactively applies to causes of actions that have accrued but does not apply in a civil action which is commenced before the effective date of the law (March 29).

The new law provides civil immunity to corporations, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and houses of worship. The exception to the law would be a showing of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, both of which are very difficult standards to prove. The bill had its opponents, of course, namely, the plaintiff bar, as it creates significant legal hurdles for plaintiffs who wish to file lawsuits over coronavirus-related injuries.

Continue Reading COVID-19 Legal Safe Harbor Signed into Florida Law

As we age, memories of family and friends become all the more treasured. Indeed, for many of us, our most valued possessions are those things which “captured” such memories – home videos of our children’s first steps, photo albums of family members, and so on.

Traditionally, making estate planning provisions for these items was relatively simple – memories were all “captured” in tangible “containers,” i.e., recording media, such as photograph paper, VHS tapes, CD’s and DVD’s.

More recently however, digitization has changed the way memories are stored. Gone are the days of physical “containers.” Photographs, videos and other media are now almost exclusively stored in digital format: whether on a physical device such as a laptop computer or “in the cloud” on platforms such as Gmail, Facebook, DropBox and iCloud.

This continuing digital revolution has changed the way we store intangible, electronic assets – or “digital intellectual property.” Ownership of a “container” is different than ownership of the underlying rights in the content stored in such a “container”: an important distinction to keep in mind when estate planning.

Digital Executor

First, select an executor. This person will carry out the will’s instructions and is a critical part of any estate planning. Often, executors are tasked with collecting, liquidating and distributing the assets of an estate to various named beneficiaries. Unfortunately, many executors are ill-prepared for the various challenges associated with the collection and distribution of digital assets.

Accordingly, estate planners may wish to consider appointing an additional, “digital executor” – a person who is technologically savvy and can help the primary executor with the various computer-related functions of managing digital intellectual property. This could be an independent professional (Henderson Franklin offers such service) or a computer-literate family member who can help secure and distribute digital IP in accordance with the terms of the will (e.g., ensuring that all the testator’s family and friends receive access to digital photographs, videos, etc.).

There are three primary guiding principles which estate planners should follow, namely:

  • maintaining physical access to hardware;
  • maintaining electronic access to hardware and digital access to software; and
  • proactively establishing a legal right for loved ones to access digital content.

Physical Access to Hardware

Continue Reading Protecting Your Digital Intellectual Property Through Estate Planning