Networking Should Be Fun

The Other Side of the Trampoline by Peter Werkman from Flickr

The Other Side of the Trampoline by Peter Werkman from Flickr

If you’re a business owner, networking is part of your job. It’s a significant part of my job. I attend two to four events to shake hands and kiss babies every week. My goal at each of these events is to make connections and build relationships with other professionals in my community.

Because my goal is to create relationships, I prefer to network in smaller groups and one-on-one than at large networking events. Larger events tend to be loud, crowded, and you never know who you’re going to meet. You may meet some interesting people at these events but it also feels like it would be easier to find a needle in a haystack than to find the people you really want to meet. I prefer personalized introductions and specialized networking events like those geared towards entrepreneurs, social media professionals, local business owners, artists, and my fellow legal eagles.

Most of the time, a networking meeting involves meeting for coffee. Coffee is fine, especially from awesome independent shops like Luci’s and Lux. (The last cup of coffee I had at a Starbucks was so vile it made me never want to go there again.) I’ve networked so much that I’m a little coffeed out and I’m looking to change it up a bit.

I’m a big believer that if you don’t love your job, you should change it. In that spirit, I want to make networking more fun. Networking is really about making connections by sharing information and ideas between people. The location is simply the forum. So why not make it a fun-based experience?

I recently invited my email list to meet me for ice cream (ICE KREM!) instead of coffee this summer. Come on – it’s freakishly hot in Phoenix. We should have something refreshing. Besides ice cream, I’d love to network over a game of cards or Skip-Bo. For people who are a more adventurous we could go bowling or hit my favorite trampoline playground. I would be happy to meet with people before attending a book signing at Changing Hands or a movie screening by the AZ Tech Council or wander around the Phoenix Art Museum on a Wednesday night when it’s open to the public for free.

When the weather cools down, I think it would be fun to meet people while feeding the fish at the Japanese Friendship Garden, wandering around First Friday, or taking our dogs to the dog park.

So, if you are a professional networker who wants to kick the experience up a notch and you work in the same circles as me, drop me a line. Of course, if I find you unbearable or you hit me with a hard sell, I will assume you don’t understand the real purpose of networking and invoke the Law of Two Feet.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How To Trademark a Business Name

Can programming language names be trademarks? by opensourceway from Flickr

Can programming language names be trademarks? by opensourceway from Flickr

Last week a friend asked me if a business could trademark their name. Anyone who’s spent much time with me knows that the answer to every legal question is “It depends.” In this case it depends on whether your business name is trademarkable and if anyone else had claimed the same or a similar name for your category of goods or services.

When you start a business, check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database to see if anyone has registered the name you want to use (or a similar one) for selling the same goods and services as you. If someone’s already using the name you want, you will likely be infringing on their trademark rights if you use the name on your products. They could force you to change your name and rebrand if you use the name that someone’s already registered. If you were using the business name on your products and someone registers the name before you, you’ll be in the Burger King situation where you can keep using your name, but only in your established market.

Once you establish that your desired name hasn’t been registered by someone else, you have to look at whether the name you want is trademarkable. Not every business or product name can be a registered trademark. Here are the five types of trademarks.

1. Fanciful Marks: Fanciful marks are words that didn’t exist before you stuck it on your products. Examples include Exxon and Kodak. These marks can be registered with the USPTO main registry.

2. Arbitrary Marks: Arbitrary marks are words in real life, but they are stuck on a product that has no connection to the word. For example, the mark “Apple” for computers, cell phones, and digital music players is an arbitrary mark. The fruit has nothing to do with digital machines and gadgets. These marks can be registered with the USPTO main registry.

3. Suggestive Marks: Suggestive marks are marks where if you think about it, you can make a connection between the mark and the product. “Playboy” as a mark for a men’s magazine is a suggestive mark. These marks can be registered with the USPTO main registry. It’s sometimes hard to discern the difference between suggestive and descriptive marks.

4. Descriptive Marks: Descriptive marks merely describe the product. This includes businesses where the owner names the business after themselves. These marks can be registered on the USPTO main registry after they’ve established “acquired distinctiveness,” which usually means you’ve been using the mark for five years.

5. Generic Marks: Generic marks are the name of the products themselves. It would be if you had an apple orchard and wanted to sell your apples using the mark “Apples.” If the USPTO let you register that mark, no other apple farmers could call their apples “apples” without infringing on your trademark rights. Generic marks can never be registered with the USPTO.

This video may help. You can watch it below or see it here.

If you want to know if your business name can be your trademark and the risks and rewards surrounding registering your mark, contact a trademark attorney in your community.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Reddit’s New Privacy Policy – How Terms of Service Should Be Written

Startup Schwag Bag #2 by homard.net

Startup Schwag Bag #2 by homard.net from Flickr

Are you on Reddit? I love Reddit. It’s a great way to connect with the various online communities that matter to you.

Reddit recently announced that its new privacy policy is going into effect on May 15th. You can read the text of the policy here. Seriously, go read it.

What I love about this policy is how simply it is written. It’s straightforward, well organized, and written in English – not legalese. It’s a policy that Joe Average people can read and understand how the site will use their information. I appreciate that Reddit even said that they want their users to read and understand their policies.

Reddit’s approach should be the standard way that lawyers write a company’s terms of service for their clients’ websites. They should be simple, direct, and be organized in a way that it’s easy for users to understand the site’s rules. They don’t need to be excessively long or use words that no one uses in real life.

A website’s terms of service is a contract between the site’s owners and its users. If you disagree with a site’s terms, don’t use the site. It’s important when you join a website where you will be interacting wth others or posting content that you understand your dos and don’ts as well as what the site can do with your information and anything you post.

Some people think it’s ok to simply take another website’s terms of service, change the name of the company to their own, and slap it on their website. This is asking for trouble, especially if you don’t understand the terms that you’re copying. You may be creating rules for your users that you don’t want in place. Reading other website’s terms of service is a good place to get ideas if you want to try to draft your own, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for making sure your terms of service reflect your individual or company’s needs. You never know who draft the terms you’re copying.

I love drafting custom website terms of service. I get to combine my client’s needs with what the law allows and come up with a document (in English) that will work for them. I know it sounds boring to some people, but to me it’s like a big puzzle that I get to figure out.

If you operate a website where users get to post content or interact with each other, please make sure you have a solid set of terms of service that fits your needs. If you can’t afford to hire an attorney to draft your terms of service from scratch, at least have one to review your terms of service or pay for a consultation to discuss what your provisions should be in your terms of service.

You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How To Get a Free Consultation with Ruth Carter

Photo by Don McPhee

Photo by Don McPhee

I’m excited to share that I’ve teamed up with Gangplank in Chandler to offer free legal mentoring services on the first Monday of the month from 1pm until 4pm. I can see 3 people for 45-minutes each every month at no charge.

Hello Beautiful by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Hello Beautiful by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

My legal mentoring hours are a great opportunity to informally bat around your ideas and questions about your projects and business. Coming to my mentoring hours does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. We won’t have any ongoing obligations to each other unless we decide to create a formal working relationship.

Gangplank provides free collaborative workspaces in Arizona, Virginia, and Canada. They provide the physical and social infrastructure for creative people to launch their startups. These are wonderful places for freelancers and new business owners to work. In Arizona, Gangplank has locations on Chandler, Avondale, and Tucson.

I love working with Gangplank. They have a fantastic group of dynamic people who have an enormous amount of creativity and drive. They have a very informal environment and they do incredible work. It fits brilliantly with my desire to be the approachable lawyer who wears t-shirts.

Skulls & Stripes by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Skulls & Stripes by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Gangplank in Chandler is located at 260 South Arizona Avenue. Their events calendar shows their mentors’ availability and also all their other events like their weekly brown bag presentations, hacknights, and workshops. They have a wealth of other mentors too who provide assistance in the areas of business, leadership, marketing, design, finance, and technology.

Gangplank is in charge of scheduling the mentoring hours so please check their event calendar for my availability. You can book a mentoring appointment with me by emailing them at chandler@gangplankhq.com.

Please note: my mentoring hours at Gangplank are not for my ongoing clients with whom I’ve created an attorney-client relationship. These appointments are for people who think they might need a lawyer, people who just want some general legal information, law students, anyone else who wants to chat for an hour.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Affordable Legal Services for New Business Owners

One Upon a Time . . . a Direct Line to the President of the United States by AGeekMom from Flickr

One Upon a Time . . . a Direct Line to the President of the United States by AGeekMom from Flickr

Some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year as an attorney is that a lot of entrepreneurs, especially those who are operating on a shoestring budget, don’t seek out legal services when they start their business. There seems to be three main reasons why a new business owner does this:

  1. They think it’s too expensive.
  2. They are afraid it’s going to be complicated.
  3. They don’t understand the legalities of starting a business.

None of these are valid reasons for not calling a business attorney.

I recently attended a business seminar where a young man admitted he put off creating a business entity for years because he thought it was going to be hard. He was blown away by how easy it was. His fear put him at serious risk because until he created an entity, he could have lost his personal assets if the business was found liable for causing damage to someone because he didn’t have an entity that separated the business’ assets from his personal assets.

Before you assume you can’t afford legal services, call an attorney and ask what you need and what it will cost. Even if you can’t afford everything a lawyer could do for you, a lawyer who understands your situation will work with you and your budget. They will tell you what you can do on your own and likely provide resources to help you do it. They can tell you when it’s worth it to pay an attorney to do something for you, and the ramifications you could face if you don’t.

When you can’t afford to have your attorney draft a document for you, ask them if you could purchase a consultation to discuss how you could do it yourself or if you could draft it yourself and pay them to review it. There will be times when it’s cheaper and better use of your time to hire an attorney to draft the document from scratch than to try to write the first draft yourself. Call the attorney you’d hire to review the documents first to make sure that’s going to the best course of action. It might be more expensive to fix what you wrote.

There may also be organizations that provide cheap or free classes and consultations for business owners in your community. I spend three hours on the first Monday of the month providing free legal mentoring at Gangplank in Chandler. These services are a great way to get your needs met while keeping you within your budget or to free up more of your budget to afford your business’ legal needs.

If you’re a new business owner or thinking of starting a business, please call a business attorney in your community to discuss your legal needs. I’ve worked with enough clients to know that it’s easier and cheaper to do things right the first time than to clean up the mess that results when you don’t.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Celebrity Trademark Woes

Ivy Leaves by D H Wright from Flickr

Ivy Leaves by D H Wright from Flickr

In the last week there have been a few stories about celebrities running into trouble with prospective trademarks. I thought I’d break down the two major stories I’ve heard.

Blue Ivy
Jay-Z and Beyonce had a daughter earlier this year and named her Blue Ivy Carter. (Why do celebrities give their kids such stupid names?) According to the news report, Jay-Z filed an application to trademark her name within days of her birth. It seems very strange to me that a high priority of a new parent is starting a product line based on their kid’s name.

To have a trademark, you have to select a mark and the product or service you’re going to use it with. A mark can be anything that will differentiate your product or services from the competition – a word, a tag line, a color, a scent, a sound, etc. Its purpose is to inform consumers about the source and the quality of the goods they’re buying. Once you register a mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, no one can use a similar mark on similar goods and services because it might lead to consumer confusion.

Jay-Z’s trademark plan hit a bit of a snag. When he applied for the trademark, he was likely informed that there are several registered trademarks featuring the phrase “blue ivy.” One is an event and wedding planning service, another is an online furniture retailer, and another is a retail store that sells clothing, jewelry, accessories, and giftware.

Jay-Z and Beyonce could register “Blue Ivy Carter” as a trademark, but not to sell a good or service that was similar to one of the existing registered marks. It appears they’ve registered the mark for skin care products, baby products, ring tones, key rings, and accessories among other things. The list is disgustingly extensive.

The best part of the trademark record is where it says, “The name ‘BLUE IVY CARTER’ identifies a living individual whose consent is of record.” That’s funny.

Khroma
The other trademark story I heard recently involves the Kardashians. Apparently they plan to release a makeup line called Khroma Beauty that is expected to be sold in Sears and CVS Pharmacies. The problem they’re running into is the fact that there’s a salon called Chroma Makeup Studio in Hollywood that sells its own Chroma brand of makeup. I couldn’t discern in a quick search if the studio owner had registered the trademark.

The general rule in trademark is that it’s not enough to have a different spelling of the same word as your competition’s mark. For example, if someone owed an “Alligator Furniture Store” in your city, you probably couldn’t open a competing store called “Allig8tor Furniture.”

Even without registration, the owner of the Chroma mark gets the exclusive rights to use his mark in commerce wherever the market has been established. If nothing else, he might have a valid argument to keep Khroma makeup out of the stores near his studio. He’s asked the Kardashians to change the name of their makeup.

When selecting a potential mark, it’s a good idea to check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if someone has already registered the mark you want to use on similar goods and services. If they are, you’ll have to pick a new trademark.

It’s also prudent to run a simple Google search to see if someone is using the mark in commerce without registering it. If they are, you’ll have to consider whether it would be better to pick something new or use a similar mark knowing that the other user has the exclusive right to use the mark where they’re established. If you register your similar mark, you can use it everywhere in the country except the areas where your competition established itself prior to your registration.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Avoid Piercing the Corporate Veil

Shadow Theatre by tamadhanaval, Piercing the corporate veil

Shadow Theatre by tamadhanaval

After I published the blog post on starting a business in Arizona, someone asked me if there was anything wrong with using PayPal to accept business payments if their PayPal account is connected to a personal bank account. I cringe when I hear stories like this.

One of the benefits of creating a business entities is it limits your liability. If you have a corporation or an LLC and the business gets sued and loses, the prevailing party can only take the business’ assets if the business is set up properly. They can’t go after your personal home, car, bank accounts, or other possessions.

You get this protection by keeping the business assets and your personal assets separate. Your business needs its own bank account, credit card, etc. You should pay for business expenses with the business accounts and personal expenses with your personal accounts. If you don’t keep your accounts separate and you lose in a lawsuit, the prevailing party could make the argument that the business is not a separate entity but is merely an alter ego for you. If that happens they can take assets from the business and your personal property to collect their damages.

Creating an LLC is a good start to protecting yourself against personal liability, but it may not be enough if you don’t keep your business and personal accounts independent from each other. Services like PayPal are so easy to use that it will be simple to create separate accounts for business and personal use.

If you have questions about whether you’ve properly set up your business to protect yourself against liability, please contact a business lawyer (like me) in your community.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.