Copyright and Trademarks Basics

Q: I have a new business logo idea? Should I protect it by registering a trademark, or copyright?
A:  It depends.

If you are just starting your business venture you have some options.  You can register a trademark NOW for future use.  Or you can avoid the costs and register it LATER, even after you have begun to use it for your business ventures.  Trademark is what you would need to protect a logo, or catch phrase that you use or plan to use in commerce.  i.e. the NIKE swoosh, or “Just do It”

FYI ” Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship
including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies,
songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed” (US Copyright Office)
Trademarks are expensive to register and do not have to be registered right away.  The process  varies and fees do as well, but can range from $125 up to $400.  If your aim is to be more economical, you may chose to defer a formal trademark registration until you are bringing in some profits or can afford the investment.  However, if  you notice that there is another trademark, logo or slogan out there similar to yours, then you may need to take action to protect your rights to use the mark.
Basic trademark Searches 
Q:  How do you know what’s out there? Is my trademark or catch phrase really unique? 
A:  You may check the USPTO database periodically by performing a search to see if other people are using it or have similar trademarks.  Be advised that once a mark is registered, you must maintain its protection by periodically filing paperwork and paying fees at designated time periods.  I have linked some helpful videos on the USPTO website https://www.uspto.gov/trademark  that you may find informative.
Establish an online presence.  If you haven’t already, stake your place on the internet.  Design or host a simple blog,  or website as a “place holder” for your business.   This can be your way of establishing the business as “coming soon,” and is saying to the world, “I’m here, with my business, you are on notice!”  Wix.com has free website design services, as well as WordPress.com, which I use for this site.   (No official endorsements here.)  Finally, consider joining your local chamber of commerce.  They may host events to welcome new businesses, and even may help to get your business or services featured or advertised in local media outlets.

Disclaimer: This blog is Commentary Only and nothing here is to be interpreted as legal advice, solicitation, or any claim that the quality of legal services offered by The Keli R. Edwards Law Office, LLC is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers. I welcome your feedback and comments!

Employment contracts 101

Employment law is a complex area, but generally, the laws favor the employer over the employee.  Be weary of signing agreements that give you little recourse in the event of a breach.  For example watch out for–

  1. Covenants not to compete.  These may be in sales contracts, or other industries that rely heavily on a book of clients.   For example, the contract may have you promise not to work for a competitor for a period of two years, and may also limit the geographic area you can work in for a competitor.
  2. Temporary employment contracts that are strictly at will.  These contracts may have you promise that you understand the nature of the employment is at will and can be ended at any time by either party.  Alabama and Georgia are “at will ” states, meaning, if your employer doesn’t like the color shirt you have on that day, you could be fired.  Literally.  They do not have to show a reason.  You do have protections for discrimination based on age, race, sex, religious belief, etc., under Title 7,  but these types of claims are very time consuming, and difficult to prove.

There are some employee friendly states in which case law precedents have accorded the employee  a reasonable time to demonstrate his/her ability to do the job..i.e. 90 days.  In addition, the “at will” nature of an employment agreement has exceptions and an enforceable contract may be formed:

  • Where the employer has made some assurance of job security, the act of relocating to accept an offer creates an implied contract.
  • When circumstances surrounding the formation of the contract, such as resignation of old employment and relocation, are legal precedents to conclude that there is an enforceable contract.
  • When the circumstances surrounding the employment agreement are fraudulent
  • When the employee has relied on a promise of employment to his/her detriment and injustice can be avoided by enforcing the contract

Overall, your outlook should be cheerful and exciting when you embark on a new job.  Be the best you!  But also be aware of your rights, and be cautious.

Disclaimer: This blog is Commentary Only and nothing here is to be interpreted as legal advice, solicitation, or any claim that the quality of legal services offered by The Keli R. Edwards Law Office, LLC is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers. I welcome your feedback and comments!

Why I cancelled my Affordable Health Care Insurance Plan. Are you required to use a network of “preferred labs?”

Read the fine print. You hear it all the time. Be advised, your new insurance plan under the Affordable Health Care Act, may leave you up the creek without a paddle.

Case in point, I was excited to have my Bronze Saver plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield, and based on the brand of Blue Cross, I thought I had “good insurance.” Well, shortly after I used my plan for routine tests I received a nasty letter that read something like

You must review your benefits online before visiting your doctor to make sure those services are covered. Your recent lab services were not sent to in-network labs, and are not covered. It is your responsibility to review this information before you see your doctor.

Really?

Yes, my plan required me to use a series of “preferred labs.” This was indeed a little different for me, having a background in managed care, and health insurance, I found it extremely odd. Even the billing specialist at my Doctor’s office was unaware of the “preferred labs” requirement when she submitted my lab work, and “it wasn’t clear on the insurance card….they usually tell you…”

Even after all this, I stuck with my plan, and began the appeals process, which is actually one of the protections under ACA–a guaranteed right to appeal coverage determinations. This is what pushed me over the edge though–

At a visit to a primary care location I called my insurance plan Blue Cross Blue Shield, knowing my history of the rejected lab charges, and simply asked “What Doctor can I use in this area that will utilize the lab that you want me to use?” The agent directed me that the lab was Quest Diagnostics and that I would have to ask the doctor at my visit which lab they used.

WHAT??! Me: “So you are telling me you can’t give me or direct me to a list of providers that use your “preferred labs?”

Agent: No, I’m sorry. But you can go to an in network hospital…

Me: This is ridiculous, you can just cancel my plan right now!

And that’s how it happened. I just share this so that you can be aware of the fine print. Health insurance is a good thing but if you are not informed it can be a drag. Talk about drag. After my appeals were denied, I had to settle a bill for lab services in excess of $1300.

If you haven’t already, review your benefits plan online. They probably didn’t send you a real booklet. Another tactic that I feel is terribly unfair. But life is not fair, nor is the law of contracts. So if they directed you to review your plan online, Do it! Read everything before you use your plan. Don’t just assume because your insurance is a certain, or “trusted” name that you are good.

The idea of a “preferred lab” versus a preferred provider, is still very hard for me to accept.

I can understand your insurance plan being a HMO or restricting you to a certain group of MDs, but the idea that we should take the extra step to inquire where my MD is going to send my urine or blood sample after my visit to make sure it is a preferred lab is a little over the top.

What do you think?

Disclaimer: This blog is Commentary Only and nothing here is to be interpreted as legal advice, solicitation, or any claim that the quality of legal services offered by The Keli R. Edwards Law Office, LLC is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers. I welcome your feedback and comments!

Bankruptcy 101

Considering Filing for Bankruptcy? You probably have some questions and concerns. No worries…

341 Hearing, commonly known as the Meeting of the Creditors, is one of the first steps in a bankruptcy proceeding.  As the person who files a petition for bankruptcy, you will meet with the trustee, who is not a judge, in the bankruptcy court. The trustee represents the interests of the creditors.   The creditors will not likely show up; if they do, they can ask you questions about your assets, but the trustee will limit them to brief questioning.

The trustee will review your bankruptcy paperwork for accuracy, and compliance with applicable bankruptcy law.  You will have to swear under oath that the information you submitted and your answers are true.  The trustee will ask you questions about your assets, to determine your ability to pay, for example whether you have a security deposit box at the bank?  Or if you have any other “hidden” assets.    Questions may focus on any errors in completing the bankruptcy forms, and search to discover undisclosed income, property of value that you have that you transferred to another in attempt to defraud the process, or any other suspected abuses of the bankruptcy process.    Be aware that failing to disclose assets or attempting to defraud the bankruptcy process can result in criminal prosecution.

Sample questions the trustee may ask at a Meeting of the Creditors

1)      Have you listed all your assets on the bankruptcy schedule?

2)      Do you have any safe deposit boxes?

3)      Have you transferred any property to another in the last year?

4)      Do you own any interest in any real estate?

5)      Is all the property listed yours?

6)      Do you have any law suits pending against you?

**Then the trustee will direct any creditors who may be present to ask any questions**

Your bankruptcy attorney will prepare you for this hearing and help you to get the best outcome in your bankruptcy estate by being strategic about managing your assets.   In fact, gathering information before this meeting is the most important step.  You must work with your attorney to locate and notify all of your creditors.  Also, you must attend the required debt counseling classes.  After the hearing, there is a waiting period for the creditors to object to your bankruptcy petition.  Then, the trustee will issue a court order.

BANKRUPTCY OVERVIEW

In a bankruptcy, your debts are discharged, which doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t owe anything.  The treatment of your bankruptcy estate depends on whether your debts are secured or unsecured.  Secured debts are those that are “secured” by some tangible thing,  i.e. a mortgage note on your home, or a car note for your car.   The debts for these items will not be discharged in bankruptcy–either you can give them up, which is probably not what you’d desire, or work with your attorney to get an affordable payment based on your income.  Everything else falls into unsecured debts, i.e. credit card payments, medical bills, utilities.  There are some exceptions, debts due to fraud, a DUI driving offense and student loans cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy.

The Bankruptcy shouldn’t be thought of as getting rid of your debt, it is literally starting over.  You get a second chance to re-establish your credit and all the existing debts that can be discharged will be after a certain time.

References

http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/Bankruptcy/BankruptcyBasics/DischargeInBankruptcy.aspx

http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/bankruptcy/questions-meeting-creditors.html

Disclaimer: This blog is Commentary Only and nothing here is to be interpreted as legal advice, solicitation, or any claim that the quality of legal services offered by The Keli R. Edwards Law Office, LLC is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.  I welcome your feedback and comments

Ups and Downs with my New Affordable Health Care Act Bronze Saver Plan

Good news first, then the bad:

The last time I went to the pharmacy I used my new Prescription insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield Bronze Plan, and I thought I did something wrong when the clerk told me my prescriptions had no co-pay!  I was very excited about that.  I also got a decent price on my antibiotic.  So that is the plus.

The cons are that I was never notified by my plan Blue Cross that I had to use preferred labs! So now, I just got slapped with a $900 lab bill for a service that should have been covered under the ACA.  The insurance company did not send the book explaining my benefit plan, instead all I got was a card and a bill.  It was on me to investigate my plan and make sure that I was using preferred labs.  I was supposed to log on and check the benefits before I went to my doc.  This info was buried on page 18 of the 52 page document.  Apparently insurance companies can get away with these types of practices, so I am going to appeal the coverage decision (a new guaranteed right under ACA).  Not sure how it will come out, but more likely than not, I will lose..  Just a warning to those of you who may have a Bronze plan.  The Silver and Gold plan do not require you to use preferred labs with Blue Cross.

Recently I gave a talk and overview of the ACA.  Here are some key points to know:

March 31st is the deadline to enroll for 2014 coverage and avoid being taxed!  if you miss it, the tax penalty (Individual Mandate) will be $95 per person or 1% of household income, which ever is higher, and if applicable  $47.50 per child under 18

Some exemptions, that would excuse you from paying if you don’t sign up, include:
foreclosure on your home, being homeless, filing bankruptcy, or if the lowest priced plan would exceed 8% of your annual income
Affordable Care Act Overview: 
  • The ACA bans lifetime limits on coverage for most benefits
  • College age children get coverage on parent’s plan until age 26
  • Women’s preventative care covered–well woman visits (pap smear, pelvic exam)
  • Contraception (religious organizations exempt)
  • Mandates coverage for those with pre-existing health conditions, and children under 19 with pre-existing condition cannot be limited (cancer, long term disease)
>>>Did you know that previously pregnancy, previous Cesarean section, or a history of having survived domestic abuse, were considered pre-existing conditions and could have been used as reason to deny coverage or adjust rates? The ACA stopped this practice.
Grandfathered plans?  Yes you can keep your old plan for now, but this is only a one year grace period.  If your old plan is found to be non compliant with the ACA, for example, if it does not guarantee your right to appeal a coverage decision, after 2015 you will still be subject to the tax (individual mandate).
There are ups and downs here.  Please share your stories here. Sign up at www.healthcare.gov , if you haven’t yet, time is running out;    You may qualify for income subsidies to contribute to the cost of your health care insurance.  
 Disclaimer: This blog is Commentary Only and nothing here is to be interpreted as legal advice, solicitation, or any claim that the quality of legal services offered by The Keli R. Edwards Law Office, LLC is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.  I welcome your feedback and comments
 

HealthCare.gov: I signed up.

So, I finally signed up for “ObamaCare.”  I was able to get a Bronze plan for $180/mo with approx. $6k deductible. No tax credit for me though.  My plan is set to start Dec, 31, 2013.  The website was a little laborious at times, but not much unlike applying for a job.

I did find it annoying that I had to keep logging back in to continue the process.  The first time, it will verify your email, then it sends you a letter with your plan eligibility and whether you can get tax credits, or Medicaid, etc.  Being that I’m in Alabama, the Medicaid was a long shot, but that was already impossible due to income restraints.  Medicaid is like the best insurance ever, but I digress.  According to sources, the Medicaid expansion in Alabama would enable some 300K citizens to become insured, with “the best insurance ever”  to quote myself.  I once worked in the state Medicaid realm, so I can definitely back up this claim.  Stay tuned, there is still one more month for the expansion to occur, before Jan 1st, when that provision of the Affordable Health Care Act (ObamaCare) kicks in;  Not sure how many “working days” are left for the Ala. legislature to consider it though.

Back to my Healthcare.gov adventure.  So I waited a week before I decided on a plan.  It wasn’t that difficult because of the “monopoly” Blue Cross Blue Shield has here in the State, I just went with them, especially to ensure I get my choice of providers (doctors). It was a pretty fast choice deciding, since the choices were limited.  It was either hamburgers or hot dogs…(The available selections of plans averaged seven in Alabama, compared the the national average of over 50. )

***The Healthcare.gov site just warned me that I would be logged out due to inactivity, or to refresh my session***.  This always happens on my online banking site.  I have been following the media concerns about security of personal info.  At this point, it’s more “wait and see.”

Please, Share your thoughts with me.

Disclaimer: This blog is Commentary Only and nothing here is to be interpreted as legal advice, solicitation, or any claim that the quality of legal services offered by The Keli R. Edwards Law Office, LLC is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.  I welcome your feedback and comments!