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Denver Business and Commercial Law Blog

Supreme Court will review law against disparaging trademarks

Colorado businesses are usually allowed to register any of their trademarks as long as no other party has already done so. However, the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act states that a request for trademark registration may be refused if the content of the trademark may disparage persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.

An ongoing trademark dispute is bringing the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act into question, and the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether the provision is constitutional. On Sept. 29, the Supreme Court voted to hear a case that was brought forward by the founder of a rock band called "The Slants". The band member is arguing that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's refusal to register a trademark for his band name violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

AT&T might buy Time Warner

Many Colorado residents regularly view television channels that are owned by Time Warner, including HBO, CNN and TNT. On Oct. 20, there was a report that AT&T may acquire Time Warner and all of its subsidiaries. Talks about the deal were serious enough that Time Warner stock trading was temporarily suspended.

21st Century Fox offered to buy Time Warner in 2014, but Time Warner rejected the offer. However, the CEO of Time Warner has remained willing to sell the company if he receives an offer that he is happy with. Time Warner merged with AOL previously, but numerous business analysts have called the merger a failure.

Protecting a company's intellectual property

Some of the most valuable assets that are owned by Colorado companies fall under the category of intellectual property, or IP. There are four different kinds of IP, and a company may need to take action to protect all of them. Copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets can all be protected with legal licenses and an IP management plan.

Companies that sell original creative works such as written material, software code and artwork can obtain copyrights to protect the IP from unauthorized use. Registered trademarks are used to protect a company's business, product and service names as well as the company's advertising slogans and branding designs. To protect inventions, a company will need to secure patents. Trade secrets are confidential items like secret formulas, business plans and customer lists, and a company must protect these items by only disclosing them on a 'need to know" basis.

Tips for starting a small business

Colorado residents who are starting a small business for the first time should keep a few points in mind. One is that they can start the business even if they do not have much capital at the beginning. People have started businesses in all kinds of financial situations including after losing their jobs. There are a number of low-cost or even free resources available to new business owners.

Working with less funding than desired might mean thinking more creatively. It could also mean starting smaller. For example, rather than opening a restaurant, a new business owner might consider starting with a food truck that has much lower startup and overhead costs. Starting small is also a way of testing a concept, and a business can always grow from those small beginnings. People should not allow themselves to be deterred by fear of failure. Every entrepreneur struggles at times, and failure can also be a learning experience.

The advantages of a limited liability company

Choosing the appropriate legal structure for a new business venture is a decision that entrepreneurs in Colorado and around the country often find difficult. Corporations shield the personal assets of shareholders from business-related litigation, but they also require entrepreneurs to maintain detailed records and may lead to higher tax bills. Limited liability companies protect assets in the same way as C or S corporations, but they are less complicated to set up and do not require annual shareholder meetings or a board of directors.

The profits of a C corporation are taxed at corporate tax rates, and shareholders then are taxed ondividends received. This double taxation can be avoided by setting up an S corporation, but an LLC also offers this advantage. Adding the letters LLC after a business name may also add a degree of credibility and assure uncertain customers.

Strategies for developing a successful business

Many young entrepreneurs are eager to start their own businesses in Colorado, but doing so takes more work than some of them understand. Before taking the plunge, they need to learn patience, planning and other skills. They can also implement several strategies to take their businesses to the next level.

The first strategy young entrepreneurs are likely to benefit from is planning and investing. This involves analyzing the viability of spending resources, evaluating productivity with surveys and researching the market to maintain a feasible return on investment. Finances have a major impact on whether a business survives, so creating a business plan that includes financial and investment strategies is important.

Planning ahead for a service business

Talented Colorado residents may be able to start their own businesses through which they sell their services to others. Even if they are self-employed, it is still important for them to complete a business plan so that their business is likelier to succeed.

Such a document should have clearly defined goals as well as a plan for reaching them. People might want to include plans for how much they will charge per hour for their services, the number of provided services they will need to sell in order to meet their income goals and plans for attracting customers. The plan should also address the number of clients they will need in order to meet their goals.

Job interviews and intellectual property

Many Colorado companies possess valuable intellectual property assets such as software code, patents, trademarks and copyrights vital for marketplace advantages. Interviewing job candidates or having employees lured away by competitors present two situations when intellectual property could be compromised by outsiders.

When interviewing a job applicant, the discussion of proprietary information could become necessary. Cautious companies could use a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement to establish their legal claims to intellectual property prior to divulging any such content. A job candidate who signs the document would be exposed to legal action if information discussed during the interview was later shared with competitors or used to start a company.

Good strategic planning involves the bigger picture

Many Colorado businesses are entering into their strategic planning phases for the upcoming year. These businesses can make their plans ones that are more effective, propelling them forward rather than only enjoying incremental growth.

A mistake many business owners make with their strategic plans is not looking forward enough. Instead of only considering the upcoming year, it is better for the owners to instead visualize where they would like to see their businesses a few years down the road. Having a strong, overarching vision for the business can make it easier to plan how to get there. Without it, strategic planning may be unmoored, leaving the company only inching forward.

Protecting business intellectual property rights

Intellectual property is governed by the state laws of Colorado and the federal laws of the United States. In the brand- and information-focused business world, many of a company's most valuable assets may fall into the intellectual property category. There are four types of intellectual property: patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets.

Patents are governed by federal law and must be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Most patents are for either utility or design. A utility patent might cover an invention, such as the engine of a car. Design patents cover ornamental or artistic features.