Intellectual PropertyAfter months (or, perhaps, years) of diligent legal work, your business has finally secured its intellectual property rights through a patent, a trademark registration, a copyright registration or some combination thereof. Finally, you breathe a sigh of relief, put your legal paperwork in a file cabinet and get back to running your business. Years later, you find that a competitor is infringing your rights. After blowing the dust off your paperwork you discover, to your dismay, that your intellectual property rights were not properly maintained and have expired. What happened and what do you do now?

Unfortunately, many clients fail to realize that most intellectual property rights carry maintenance obligations until it is too late. That being said, these are pitfalls which can be easily avoided, and clients often have tools they can use to “backfill” rights if a deadline is inadvertently missed.

Patent Maintenance

patent lawU.S. Patents are subject to periodic maintenance fee payments. The motivation behind this is the anti-competitive effect patents have on the market. Congress decided that there should be some affirmative, monetary obligation of patent owners to maintain patent rights as a means of culling unused patents which might otherwise be preventing competition. Such patent maintenance fees are due at the 3½, 7½ and 11½ year marks. These fees follow the following schedule:

  • 3½ year maintenance fees can be paid between 3 and 3½ years after the patent issuance date;
  • 7½ year maintenance fees can be paid between 7 and 7½ years after the patent issuance date; and
  • 11½ year maintenance fees can be paid between 11 and 11½ years after the patent issuance date.

Additionally, each of these fees can be paid within a six-month grace period (for an additional fee).

If these fees are not timely paid, then the underlying patent lapses and is no longer enforceable. This can be an enormous problem. Many clients either forget or are not told about patent maintenance obligations. The result can be a loss of rights and the inability to stop knock-off products. There are certain procedures to try to reinstate a patent which was unintentionally abandoned in this way, but the costs can be high and the probability of success can vary. This can also open the door to intervening rights by certain competitors. The best thing to do is to carefully calendar maintenance fee deadlines ahead of time and engage counsel to help you.

Trademark Maintenance

Continue Reading IP Maintenance 101: Keeping Your Intellectual Property Rights Alive

Vaccine PassportAt the start of summer, Governor Ron DeSantis declared that Florida is “no longer in a state of emergency.” This statement preceded a bill banning vaccine passports, and two executive orders suspending local government COVID-19 restrictions.

For employers, this doesn’t mean you should rush to discard your face marks requirement, nor should it impact your decision to mandate vaccines. Employers remain free to implement safety features they feel needed.

New York vs. Florida

Many Northeastern states have begun experimenting with COVID passports. For instance, New York City now requires at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for entry to indoor dining, gyms, and entertainment performances. For better or worse, Florida has gone in the opposite direction. Florida law now prohibits businesses from implementing these measures with respect to customers. Specifically, the new law says that “business entities,” including for-profit and not-for-profit entities, cannot require that patrons or customers provide documentation certifying that they received the COVID-19 vaccine or certifying that they have recovered from the virus to enter or receive a service from the business.

EEOC’s View

Continue Reading What Florida employers need to know about the vaccine passport ban

Launching your own business is a huge decision, one not to take lightly. From developing your product or service and getting funding to taking measures to protect your business, entrepreneurs must do their homework. As a business and tax attorney, one question I often hear is:

What is the best way to set up a new business?”

While the answer varies depending on the goals of each client, an LLC is often chosen.

What is an LLC?

An LLC, or limited liability company, is a U.S. business structure that combines the simplicity, flexibility, and tax advantages of a partnership with the personal liability protection of a corporation. The owners of LLCs are called members. An LLC can have one or many members. Members can be individuals or other businesses, and there is no limit to the number of members an LLC can have. With an LLC structure, members’ personal assets are protected from the LLC’s creditors. LLCs are more cost effective and simpler to form than a corporation. This, in addition to the discussion below, has led to LLCs becoming the ‘go-to’ business structure to form.

Who should form an LLC?

Continue Reading What is an LLC and why do I need one?

Maritime GPSA group of charter boat captains are making waves by challenging NOAA Fisheries plan to monitor charter boats in the Gulf of Mexico. Last July, NOAA Fisheries issued a mandate requiring charter boats to allow federal agencies to monitor 24-hour GPS devices on their boats. The rule, which has since been delayed would affect an estimated 1,700 charter boat captains, including many in Lee County.

NOAA New Rule

The new rule requires charter boat captains to submit an electronic fishing report (or logbook) using federally approved hardware and software with GPS location capabilities. Along with the transmission of fish-related information, captains are “required to report certain business data: charter fee, fuel usages, fuel price, number of passengers, and crew size.” Prior to departing for any trip, charter boat captains must declare the type of trip, whether for-hire or not, and details of the expected completion. NOAA states the new rule is intended to

improve the best scientific information available for regulatory decisionmaking; increase the accuracy of economic impacts and value estimates specific to the for-hire industry; and will support further value-added research efforts and programs aimed at increasing net benefits to fishery stakeholders and the U.S. economy.”

Captains’ Concerns

Continue Reading Mandated Monitoring Attempts to “Hook” Charter Boat Captains 24/7

Data privacyCurrently, there is no broad, generally applicable federal law or regulations concerning data privacy, the collection and use of data or consumers’ rights regarding same. Instead, the matter has been left to the individual states to address. California has led the charge and its data privacy laws are generally regarded as the strongest and most consumer-friendly.

2021 Florida Legislative Session

Earlier this year, the Florida legislature took up the question of online privacy and considered HB 969, the Florida Consumer Data Privacy Act. Modeled after similar legislation in California, HB 969 contained provisions that, among other things, imposed requirements on businesses that collect information from consumers via websites or apps. Specifically, such businesses would be required to inform consumers exactly what data they collect and how they use that data. Consumers would then have the opportunity to grant or deny authorization to collect and/or use that data. HB 969 also contained a provision that would have allowed consumers to sue businesses that used information without authorization.

Because of the parallels to California privacy law and the rights it would give consumers, HB 969 was a landmark piece of legislation that, in terms of data privacy, would rank Florida among the most protective states in the Union. However, HB 969 was heavily lobbied and debated as business interests did not like the potential exposure to suits from consumers relating to the use of personal data. While there was broad, bipartisan support for the bill, the Legislature could not compromise and HB 969 died on the floor on the final day of the legislative session.

Where does Florida rank?

Continue Reading Data Privacy in the USA: Where does Florida rank? Where are we heading?

sailboats in a marinaHurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. We are currently in the peak of hurricane season, as most storms occur in August and September, and the next major storm could be right around the corner.

High winds, storm surge, rising sea levels, and increased tides are just some of the concerns boaters must consider during hurricane season, and preparing your boat is one of the most important ways you can protect your asset.

In advance

  • Check your personal dockage, or speak to your marina regarding storm preparations and securing your vessel;
  • Many marinas will offer emergency mooring or dry dock provided you have contacted them well in advance — in fact, reserve now for next season — to secure space during an emergency;
  • Update your boat inventory and supply lists, photograph the vessel and all important equipment and inventory; and,
  • Copy and protect your boat insurance policy, registration and documentation, any lease agreements with marinas or storage facilities, photos, and inventory lists and store them in a safe location.

When a storm is imminent

Continue Reading Preparing and protecting your boat for a hurricane

trade secretWhen many entrepreneurs think of trade secrets, they think of high-tech companies or large manufacturers. For example, software architecture and source code are generally protected using trade secrets. Another example of businesses that have many trade secrets is legacy manufacturers which need to protect how products are made, what products are made out of, etc. Famous examples of trade secrets from these industries range from Google’s® search algorithms to KFC’s® “11 secret herbs and spices.”

But all businesses – even the most “simple” – have trade secrets. At the very least, all businesses have customer lists, vendor lists, profitability/pricing information, etc. – with many businesses having much more. The best way to evaluate whether certain information might be a trade secret is to think about real-world business consequences. I often ask my clients,

If one of your best employees left for a competitor and took certain business information with them, would that be upsetting?”

If the answer is “yes,” then that information needs to be evaluated for potential trade secret protection. That can run the gamut from customer lists to the “secret sauce” that makes a business successful.

Whether your business is large or small, below are five important tools that can be used to protect trade secrets.

Legal Tools to Maintain Secrecy

Continue Reading 5 Tools Small Businesses Can Use to Protect Their Trade Secrets

Waitress in a maskIn keeping with his candidate promises, President Biden’s new appointees issued new COVID-19 regulations. Under the prior administration, the EEOC concluded an employer could require an employee to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. While subject to certain limitations, such as accommodations for medical conditions and religious objections, this was a significant win for employers as they tried to return to normalcy.

Lack of consistency among government agencies

The EEOC’s pronouncement was seen as giving employers the approval to encourage vaccination. BJ Zarvis of Pewter Mug restaurant, “I saw this information as a way to give me, my employees, and my customers some comfort knowing that they were coming to a safe place.”

But then OSHA, under the new Biden administration, announced that any employer that created a mandatory vaccination plan would be subject to OSHA reporting rules if there were any adverse effects from the vaccination. Any lost days would be reportable, which potentially subjects the employer to higher insurance rates and fines. “When I heard about OSHA’s position,” said Zarvis, “I decided it wasn’t worth it to make it mandatory.”

Luckily, OSHA’s position took considerable heat from the public, across the political spectrum, such that it finally announced it was rolling back its position and not making adverse effects from a mandatory vaccination program reportable. So employers like Zarvis can again consider the pros and cons of making vaccinations mandatory.

What is keeping employers from mandating vaccinations?

Continue Reading How are Florida employers keeping up with ever-changing vaccine requirements?

CryptocurrencyOver the last several months, there have been dozens of news stories about cryptocurrencies, Blockchain, and the related technologies they have created. One item, in particular, has received an incredible amount of press—the NFT. Who has not heard of the $69 million price tag on Everydays – the First 5000 Days and other outlandish prices for digital art. This article will try to explain just what an NFT is and, because of their relationship to the creative arts, some of the intellectual property issues surrounding them.

It all starts with Blockchain

Blockchain is a technology that has emerged as an innovative, record-keeping technology that authenticates transactions. It is essentially a transaction ledger that is open and decentralized, so anyone, with proper access credentials, can view the ledger to the authenticity of whatever is being transferred and the chain of ownership. Blockchain is the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Dogecoin and ensures that the cryptocurrencies being transferred in a transaction are authentic.

What is the difference between “fungible” and “non-fungible”?

Continue Reading NFTs and Intellectual Property

Wine GlassesOn May 13, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 148, which allows restaurants or other alcohol beverage vendors to sell alcoholic drinks to-go.  No, this does not mean that Florida is an open container state; possession of an open alcoholic container in Florida is still illegal under Florida Statutes, section 316.1936 and 856.011. However, customers who want to order take-out from their favorite restaurant can now also bring home their favorite cocktail, providing the restaurant meets certain requirements.

The alcoholic drinks to-go initially started through one of DeSantis’s emergency orders as a way for struggling restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic to increase their sales. “Alcoholic drinks to-go became an important source of revenue for restaurants that were trying to survive during the pandemic,” DeSantis noted. Throughout the pandemic, restaurants were some of Florida’s businesses that were most affected. Florida Representative Josie Tomkow stated, however, that the new law

allows for restaurants to continue to offer alcohol-to-go as an option. This pro-consumer, business-friendly bill will help support our restaurant industry and its tens of thousands of employees.”

Requirements

Continue Reading I’ll Take it To-Go: New Florida Law Makes To-Go Alcohol Sales Permanent Effective July 1