Intellectual property law can be scary – but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, just a few hours of an expert’s time can protect you from costly legal headaches down the line, and no one knows this better than Suzann Moskowitz.
Suzann is the Founder of The Moskowitz Firm, a boutique law firm specializing in helping individuals and businesses protect their intellectual property – trademarks, branding, logos, domain names, and more – in essence, everything businesses need to nurture in order to grow.
Suzanne and I spoke about her journey, her passion for intellectual property law, how to protect yourself as an entrepreneur, and the major issues all business owners need to watch out for as they start, grow, and scale their companies.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
As you’ll hear in today’s conversation, a great attorney protects your intellectual property, stays up to speed, and can offer ongoing protection without charging their clients an arm and a leg…
If you want to see how Suzann can help you protect your intellectual property as you start, grow, or just keep running your business, she is offering a FREE consultation call for podcast listeners.
Hi. This is your host, Andrew Rafal, the founder and CEO of Bayntree Wealth Advisors and I wanted to personally welcome you to Your Wealth & Beyond, a podcast that will empower you, the entrepreneur and business owner, with the insight and information you need to effectively manage and control your personal and professional finances. My goal is to help each of you get your fiscal house in order so that you could take your business to the next level. We’re going to be looking at things through a financial lens. I’m going to help you focus on growing your business, building your wealth, and most importantly, finding purpose in what matters most.
[00:00:45] Andrew: Welcome, everybody, to another episode of Your Wealth & Beyond. I’m your host, Andrew Rafal, the founder and CEO of Bayntree Wealth Advisors and I am very pleased to welcome to today’s show, Suzann Moskowitz. Suzann is the founder of the Moskowitz Firm. The Moskowitz Firm is a boutique law firm that specializes in helping businesses and individuals identify and protect their intellectual property, things like trademarks and brands, logo, copyrights, domain names, all the things that we as business owners no matter what business that you’re in that we’re taking the time to nurture and grow. Today’s show is going to be so important because we’re going to learn about how to protect that. And, Suzann, how are you today? We’re so glad to have you on board.
[00:01:37] Suzann: I’m great. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:39] Andrew: We’re very pleased to have you on board. Before we jump in for you listeners out there, Suzann and I have actually known each other pretty much our whole lives. We grew up together on the mean streets of the east side of Cleveland and although I’ve been away from Cleveland for quite a while, I still call it home, still very passionate about everything about it, and it’s one of those unique places. And I think you’re back in Cleveland right now. Is that correct?
[00:02:07] Suzann: I am, yes.
[00:02:08] Andrew: Awesome. And before we jump in and go through things today, I wanted to let the listeners know how we kind of connected again and I was having some trademark issues with the rebrand of my company. And we’re going to dig in to it a little bit later of what happened, the trials and tribulations, but I was talking with a good friend who is also the website designer for my firm. Now I was explaining to Sigi what was going on and he said, “Oh, I’ve got the right person for you. She went to Stanford, went to Cornell. She focuses on the exact issue, helping small businesses.” I’m like, “This sounds perfect. Who is this person?” And he said Suzann Moskowitz and I’m thinking, “There can’t be that many Suzann Moskowitz’s out there, right?”
[00:02:51] Suzann: No.
[00:02:52] Andrew: And lo and behold it was you. So, it was great to connect with you again. And today, we wanted to dig in on a lot of different things but before we do, let’s walk back in how did you get to where you are today. If you could maybe walk through some of the experiences and how you ended up in the legal side of things?
[00:03:07] Suzann: Absolutely. Well, a lot of it was luck. After I graduated from Cornell, I had this policy analysis degree and I figured I was probably going to go to law school. Didn’t want to go right away so I had this plan. I was going to go and save up to go to Europe. I was going to, no job, hang out in New York City and kind of live my life before going to law school. So, shortly thereafter, I show up at a temp agency and apparently, I did an amazing job on the typing test and the Excel test. So, I had my pick of dream temp jobs and I was very fortunate that one of my options was the legal department at Newsweek Magazine.
So, when I was there, it ended up that most of the position was task supporting, protecting the Newsweek brand and logo. So, I’ve worked with great people and they were very supportive of me moving forward and going to law school. So, I had this great chance when I got into Stanford to study IP with some of the top people in the field. By the way. IP, intellectual property including trademark and copyright which we’ll talk about today. I ended up, no, never went to Europe. Just went to law school. So, I had three great years at Stanford Law School and my summer experiences were really valuable working in the intellectual property departments at some big law firms over there and that really solidified my love of trademark law.
[00:04:35] Andrew: And when you think back to growing up in where you are today, was it always a passion? Was the legal field whether niching into what you are doing today but did you always want to be an attorney? Was that something that was a passion?
[00:04:47] Suzann: I did. When I was really little, I learned about consumer advocacy and I’ve watched Ralph Nader and these shows on TV about fighting for consumers’ rights and I thought that’s what I want to do, and you have to be a lawyer to do that. And then I learned that consumer advocacy really has a lot in common with trademark. At the heart of trademark law is the idea that you don’t deceive people. Actually, trademark law started because people were putting the aspirin name on things that weren’t really aspirin and it was hurting people. So, when I learned more about trademark law, it actually fit in well to the career I had in mind. So, at Newsweek when I learned more about trademark and I saw what a great combination of consumer protection, law, and marketing, I knew it would be a great field for me.
[00:05:43] Andrew: And so then after Stanford, did you stay out in the West Coast when you worked for the corporate world or did you come back to the East Coast?
[00:05:49] Suzann: I was actually planning to start a job in Seattle and then my husband at the time had the opportunity to go work overseas. So, finally, I did get to go to Europe but wasn’t able to get a work permit. So, that was when I really did some soul searching, where do I want to go, and what kind of career do I really want to have. So, I had some family reasons to move back to Cleveland and now I’m very happy to be here now. I also knew that Cleveland has a pretty sophisticated legal market but after being at these huge brand-named firms on the West Coast, I felt that wasn’t exactly my speed, but I still wanted that strong large firm, sophisticated work. And fortunately, I had a few good options and I ended up at Midwest, large Midwest firm. I was there about six years and it was a great place to really build up my skillset. I learned a lot. I worked with great people and I learned how to build my book of business which was really important.
[00:06:46] Andrew: So, when you were building the book of business working in the corporate world, I mean, was that all on you? Were you happy to go out there and build the relationships and get the referrals and continue building that book or was it looked on as current clients were provided to you?
[00:07:01] Suzann: It was both. And certainly, what I’ve learned about being in a law firm environment are there are a lot of worker bees and a lot of people are really happy to just do work for other people’s clients. I liked getting out there going to events, gave a lot of talks, speak at colleges and businesses themselves. So, for me that was natural, building my own book but when you work for other people, you don’t have that same motivation to go out there and be entrepreneurial. And I had been working with these entrepreneurs doing exciting things completely on their own and that’s what I wanted. I wanted that for myself, but I really wanted to know what I was doing first, and I think that experience at the law firm gave me that chance to actually know how to be a lawyer and that’s really important.
[00:07:55] Andrew: When I think a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs, most I would say a high percentage started in the corporate world, learn their trade but realize that whether they didn’t want to work for somebody for their whole lives or all of the hours that go into being a high-level executive, that is where you have to make that decision. And I think for many they think about it, they dream about it.
[00:08:17] Suzann: Sure.
[00:08:18] Andrew: But then they never pull the trigger for many reasons and it could be family, it could be monetary. But the fact that most of the listeners to this podcast are business owners, they had probably success, a lot of them in that space. I’m sure if you stayed in the corporate world, you would’ve done tremendous and the benefits were there, and the money was good. But I think there’s also one of the things that may have led you to start your own firm was maybe the lifestyle as well like having the ability to build something but then having a life and being able to control your time.
[00:08:49] Suzann: Absolutely. Now during those six years, I actually had two kids and the appeal of going downtown every single day was waning certainly and at a certain point, I was really running my own day anyhow. I was doing my own work whether it was for a firm client or my own client. So, we just felt unnecessary being part of somebody else’s organization when I felt ready to launch on my own. And it was scary. No doubt it was scary, but I also had the great fortune of a good firm client. A growing software company really wanted someone in a part-time in-house role. So, I had that kind of landing pad right away but not in an exclusive deal. So, I was still able to build my business but have a bit of a soft landing right away.
[00:09:42] Andrew: Yeah. And for listeners out there that have never been to Cleveland, Cleveland is a great place to I think start businesses, right? The cost of living is pretty effective or the cost of living is minimal compared to other cities. And I just think that the city itself doesn’t have a lot of corporations, so you do see a lot of small business owners which for you I guess bodes well because anybody could be a client. And I assume you have both small, midsized, and large corporations but being able to start something in Cleveland and have that work-life balance probably was a little bit easier to do than if you were in Seattle or still in New York, a lot tougher to make that transition.
[00:10:16] Suzann: That’s 100% true but I will say that more than half of my client base or at least the hours that I bill are for clients outside of Cleveland now. But Cleveland, I mean, it is very important part of my business and giving back to the community and doing pro bono work in my community is really important too. But you’re absolutely right, that Cleveland is a great place for entrepreneurs to start because of the low cost of starting a business. So many people. I mean, of course in many cities there’s a lot of incentives for startups especially if they have something that’s beneficial to the city or in the public interest. But Cleveland also has plenty of big businesses and I enjoy doing work and several of my clients have large trademark portfolios in their large businesses but it’s nice to have that variety, absolutely.
[00:11:05] Andrew: And we would call Cleveland now Rust Belt Chic, right? It’s come a long way. We lived there before it was cool to live there. So, it’s definitely come a long way. So, when we look at you starting your firm, obviously, coming up with a name or any business is an important factor. So, walk me through. Was that an easy choice for you to choose The Moskowitz Firm or did you have a couple of options that you looked at before you came to the notion of using your name?
[00:11:32] Suzann: Well, part of my story is that under state law in certain industries in medicine and law and some other fields, this is all state-by-state, there are restrictions on what you can call a business. If you’re a lawyer, you have to use your name and unfortunately, you can’t get creative. Like in California, had I stayed there, I could’ve been the Trademark Extravaganza Firm. You can’t be creative in Ohio. You have to, well, you can be creative in Ohio but not in your firm name I should say. So, I knew I wanted to do a play on words because trademark is really my passion and so I knew I was going to start it with The Moskowitz so I could be TM. So, if you go to my website which I hope you do, you can see how I play off the TM so that I can have my branding but not run afoul of state laws.
[00:12:22] Andrew: Awesome. TheMoskowitzFirm.com, and this will be in the show notes as well where you can go there, view a little bit more about Suzann, the services she offers so that will be in the show notes itself. I like your website. It’s nice and clean, very easy to navigate, not cluttered up a lot. Is that something that you make a conscious decision there to keep it clean?
[00:12:41] Suzann: Absolutely. I didn’t want to have to change it all the time. It’s dynamic in so far as it connects to my social media. But otherwise, I kept it simple because I didn’t want to bury the information and I wanted to be really upfront about my values and why I’m different from another law firm. So, that’s really the starting point of what makes the Moskowitz Firm different.
[00:13:06] Andrew: And I assume you didn’t have to do a lot of research in regard to trademark or copyright with your name, right?
[00:13:11] Suzann: No.
[00:13:12] Andrew: Because it’s specific for you.
[00:13:13] Suzann: But there are some interesting issues when it comes to registering a name because a lot of the laws related to trademark in the United States relate to fairness. Is it fair if you have a common last name? Is it fair to have a registration on that name? Because what if there’s another lawyer with the name Moskowitz? How can I keep that person out? Because that’s what it is, and we’ll talk more about this, but a trademark really is a limited monopoly. You get it right and you get to keep other people from using the same words. So, it’s not there to use a generic word. If you sell apple pies, it wouldn’t be fair for you to get a registration on the word, apple pie, because that will keep other people from using apple pie. Same with the name. And even a name like Moskowitz which isn’t necessarily that common, there’s plenty of lawyers with the last name Moskowitz. So, the trademark office actually has a rule that if your mark is primarily your name, you don’t actually get full protection for the first five years. So, I actually waited for the five years to pass before I filed for my name because I wanted to have a top-level registration the first time I filed.
[00:14:19] Andrew: Okay. And that’s interesting. So, let’s talk high level before we dig into the details. So, for listeners out there who don’t know anything about trademark or copyright but when you look at for instance on your site, The Moskowitz Firm, and then we have the TM, the trademark right up next to the firm and then on the bottom left of the homepage, The Moskowitz Firm, LLC with the copyright. So, walk us through the TM and how would a business go about doing that and really the importance of that and maybe the distinction between that and the registered mark which what Bayntree has.
[00:14:53] Suzann: Okay. So, let me first distinguish between the main areas of trademark, copyright, and patent too because I think people mix these up a lot and it’s easy to do so because there’s a lot of overlap actually. So, first let’s dismiss patents. I don’t do patents and patents relate to inventions. Sometimes they can be business methods, but they’re a completely different area of law. So, then let’s put that aside. Let’s talk about trademark and copyright. Trademarks are brands. They can be logos. They can be slogans.
So, if we’re looking at Bayntree, for example, we’ve got the word Bayntree on its own. That’s a trademark. Bayntree Wealth Advisors with a tree so that’s a stylized trademark a.k.a. a logo. A slogan, You Dream We Plan, that too is a trademark. Don’t be confused because it’s also a slogan. It’s a trademark. But then you get to the full text of a website so then let’s get to my website and why there’s a copyright notice on the bottom of my website. That’s content. So, a full website, the audio recording of this podcast, a book like your book about retirement, the photo, my photo on my website, the photo of your team on your website, so this is all content and even though it’s part of your IP, it’s something you own and it relates to your brand, It’s actually copyrightable works. And when I say copyrightable, I’m drawing a distinction between that which you actually register the copyright in and that which you just automatically have rights to by virtue of creation. So, I can tell you a little bit about registration or we can talk about that later.
[00:16:36] Andrew: So, when we think about registration and this is where a lot of business owners who are coming up with creating their firm, creating their brand, creating the name, I think a lot of times that’s overlooked is the name and the intellectual property that they’re going to be building. Because we’re all a business to what, to maybe we found a passion but we’re out to build something that hopefully will last a long time. So, do you see that a lot of business owners who aren’t well-versed in your world which most of us aren’t, they don’t even think about it? They just kind of go with it or do you see some that do understand and then do the research?
[00:17:12] Suzann: Sure. I mean, one of the most typical mistakes I see, I think most people now at least get on Google and they look to see, and when we talk about trademarks, they get on Google and they look to see if anyone has the same exact name or they go, and they go on GoDaddy and they register the domain name and they think, “Okay. Done. I’ve got the name. I locked it down.” And that’s such a common misperception about trademark. Because what is a good trademark? A good trademark sounds good, looks good but then there’s what’s legally a good trademark. And one of the most important things is that you’re not confusingly similar to someone else’s trademark. So, can I give an example?
[00:17:54] Andrew: Yes. We’d love it.
[00:17:55] Suzann: Okay. So, hypothetical, let’s say you come to me and you want to call your firm Bob’s Bug Basher so you’re a pest control company, Bob’s Bug Bashers, and you see that that domain name is available. You see, you google it and nobody’s using that exact same thing and you come to me and you say, “Okay. I’m ready to register it. Here’s your file. Here’s the filing fee, $225 to the government. What do I need to pay you? Let’s register this.” So, oftentimes I need to slow people down and say, “Okay. Let’s talk about if this is a good name,” and what we’ll do is we’ll run a search. We’ll talk about it and usually, for searches, I always offer a flat fee once I know more about the situation. So, what I’m doing is looking at other businesses that have names that are similar, and what’s the standard for similar? Similar is close enough that a reasonable consumer might think that these companies are affiliated or might just get confused.
So, doing the kind of search I would run, I find that there’s another company out there called Bug Bashing Bobby. So, it’s not the same words. My client is Bob’s Bug Bashers. Not the same words but close enough. So, then let’s just say that Bob says, “I don’t care.” I want to proceed anyhow. It’s not the same name. So, here’s what I’ll tell Bob. I’ll say, “The reason you want to have a name that’s unique is, one, for search reasons. Even if people aren’t searching the exact same name, you do want to get ahead in search engine optimization, to have that unique name. But more importantly, you want to be able to get this mark registered and kind of side-by-side with that, you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you might get sued by the first company that was there. And by the way, when I say sued, generally speaking, you’re going to get a cease-and-desist letter. But that kind of letter is not something you want to receive.
[00:19:55] Suzann: Especially when you’re an entrepreneur just starting, you want to focus on delivering your services. You don’t want to get into a fight whether that fight is with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, that’s the USPTO, or that fight is with a third-party that already has that name. I would rather have my clients start with a name that’s easy to protect. The other thing that I mentioned about apple pie before too is if you come to me with a name and you say, “I have this great business idea. I’m going to call my business Apple Pies because all I make are apple pies.” I’m going to say, “Slow down. You’re not going to be able to protect that as a business name.” Now let’s say you decide you want to be Phoenix Apple pies. Well, Phoenix, if you’re located in or around Phoenix, is also not protectable because that wouldn’t be fair to keep other people in Phoenix from having a similar business name so that wouldn’t be protected.
As a side note, it’s funny you may know from Cleveland too that there’s a popular coffee place in town called Phoenix Coffee. They have a federal registration and how do they do that? Because they’re in Cleveland. They have nothing to do with the Phoenix area. But if somebody came to me who lives in Phoenix and wanted, spent a lot of money and went and roasted their own beans and went and looked for fair-trade farmers overseas and was ready to have their sign printed that said Phoenix Coffee, in Phoenix or near Phoenix, I would say, “Hold on. You’re going to have a real problem protecting this name.” So, talking to a lawyer before you get too invested in a name is a good idea because you don’t want to waste your money. You don’t get a refund if you file and it’s refused, and certainly, if you’re sued or get a cease-and-desist letter, there’s going to be expense in dealing with that. I prefer to avoid that.
[00:21:47] Andrew: Right. It’s an investment and it’s minimal investment in the beginning versus what could happen five, six, seven years later when you potentially are growing and now you got the issue.
[00:21:59] Suzann: Absolutely. Even an hour or two of lawyer time can save you so much in the long run.
[00:22:03] Andrew: So, back to your Bug Bashers scenario here, so if Bob’s Bug Bashers went out, we looked and we found this other company, Bug Bashing Bobby but we just found it online. We see, okay, there’s a website, they’re located in Oklahoma but then you do the search through the trademark filing system and you don’t see anything for them. Does that mean that Bob’s Bug Bashers would be okay to work both in that?
[00:22:28] Suzann: Great, great question. Okay. So, it can be a little complicated so let me just try to simplify it. If you are in completely different parts of the country and you have no intention of expanding your business from let’s say Scottsdale to Oklahoma, if that’s the case, then you can file first because the other guy didn’t file. Oklahoma guy didn’t file. If you file first, you get the presumption of rights in all 50 states. The worst thing that can happen assuming Bug Bashing Bobby is really only in Oklahoma and searchable on the web but that gets a little murky but if it’s true, I mean, that’s the kind of business, people don’t travel for pest control. Clearly, pest control or dog grooming, these are businesses that happen that are pretty localized and that’s kind of murky for some other kinds of businesses as you can imagine. But generally speaking, you can feel free to feel safe to proceed with your mark. And it’s a good question because we are in a world that’s so saturated with brands because there are so many businesses and there are so many failed businesses that are out there that you still can find online and you’re not even sure. Is this even in business? So, it’s important to identify the level of risk you’re comfortable with to proceed. Because you know what, you’re never going to be able to get your risk level to zero in this day and age. There are just too many brands out there.
[00:24:00] Andrew: Right. Well, and listeners, I actually just purchased the domain for Bob’s Bug Bashers so don’t get any ideas out there so we’re going to be building that out. So, let’s kind of dig into my personal experience and we work together to kind of rectify a situation. It could’ve been a lot worse. So, for you listeners out there in previous podcast know I’ve rebranded and built a new firm a few years ago and the reason for that was I wanted to be able to build a firm that was based on the culture I wanted to build and bring on more advisors and help as many clients as we could. So, as we talked, Suzann, earlier, coming up with that name was critical, especially in the financial services space. And as we know, there’s hundreds and hundreds of financial services firms, and how do you differentiate yourself? Everything’s been used.
So, thinking back to this Cleveland roots is one of the streets that I grew up on was a street called Bayntree, and so I thought about that and I was like, “This actually could work.” It has the story and the emotional side of it for me going back to my roots. We tie in the tree which just helps with retirement planning and building your financial future and the fact that really Bayntree in a sense didn’t really exist. It was a name that very few people would know. And I thought that was cool where all three of those things working together. So, what I did is I said, “Okay, we’re going to move forward with this.” And actually, before working with you, Suzann, I consulted a firm here in town in Phoenix to just make sure that we would be cool with going forward with it, so I actually made that conscious effort to work with somebody to do the search. And so, real quickly again, walk us through what you would do in that situation. You would basically spend a little bit of time going through and seeing what other firms are associated with that name and then you weigh that risk-reward.
[00:25:52] Suzann: Exactly. So, all my searches are customized. I talked to the client first and actually, typically, I’ll go in on my own as a courtesy, poke around a little bit to see if I find a huge issue right away. I’m not going to even charge the client. I’m just going to say, “Hey, there’s a real problem here. You really want to rethink this name.” But let’s just say it’s in this typical zone where I think, “Okay. There might be something there,” and I see that there are companies with similar names. We’ll establish a flat fee and that will include the time of my research, writing a brief written summary, and then a phone conference to kind of go through and make some strategic recommendations. So, that usually is typically between one and two hours of my time.
So, we do that but as you can imagine from a lawyer and because of what I’ve already told you about the saturated market, it’s never going to come 100% guaranteed. We’re just going to identify the things that are red flags, yellow flags, and decide if we can live with it. And I assure my clients that if there’s something that’s a huge issue, I’m going to tell them and I’m going to discourage them from using the name. And in the case that you related to me when we connected, there was a situation where I would’ve not necessarily even thought that it was a yellow flag. It might have been something that I pointed out but really, we’re talking about an issue that came up from a larger company that potentially was being overzealous, but a company has the right to protect their marks.
[00:27:25] Andrew: Right. And I think from the standpoint of if I didn’t go down that process of trying to get the trademark with the name after doing the research and weighing that there are a couple of companies with the same name but working with the attorney to say, “Here’s my risk and we’re comfortable taking on that risk.” And I think, Suzann, probably what would happen is if I never trademarked it, I would’ve been under that radar for quite a while. Would you assume that to be probably correct if I’m just building a little firm here in Scottsdale, Arizona that the big behemoth of a firm that did find me, wouldn’t have probably found me for maybe never if not years from now?
[00:28:03] Suzann: Yeah. Well, here’s what I’ll say. Once you file, you absolutely are on the radar. Any large company that has a large trademark portfolio is going to be doing what’s called monitoring of the trademark register, actually looking every time somebody files with even a few letters of their name. And sometimes lawyers would like to prove that they’re doing their job and sometimes things get I think a little bit out of hand in terms of what they decide to enforce. But your question about had you not filed, it’s a good question but once you’re out there and you spent any energy making sure that you’re coming up in search engine listings, people are also running Google. They’re also monitoring Google, doing Google search, automated Google searches of their name and variations. So, we can assume that at some point you’re LinkedIn, you’re Google-able, at some point if you’re still in business and the company is aggressive enough about protecting their marks and their attorneys’ approach is so aggressive that they reach out to everyone, that you will be identified at some point. Probably the benefits of filing for a federal trademark probably outweigh the risks of being out on the radar. But certainly, we can talk more about why you wouldn’t file federally and there are other reasons for that.
[00:29:40] Andrew: Yeah. And you were talking about the cease-and-desist and literally, it was probably five days after we filed for the trademark that I still remember to the day, it was about two years ago, maybe two-and-a-half years ago where I got the letter. It was a wonderfully well-written cease-and-desist and I was like shocked like can’t believe this is happening. Not only do I get this letter and I’m trying to rebrand my firm and move my clients over, but I also paid for all the marketing materials. We had lots and lots of money spent on the marketing. Obviously, the website and the domain I had purchased and it’s kind of like a punch to the stomach and it’s just like, “What do I do now?” And that is where from my side, I look at it as a blessing now but what we did after we got connected is we weighed out again the pros and cons of it. And ultimately, could I have fought and potentially won? I think maybe. We don’t know. But based on from your recommendation, this could’ve lasted a while, one, two, three years. It could’ve been a battle.
[00:30:43] Suzann: Absolutely. These battles can get expensive. They can make you lose sleep and like I said, you are growing a business. Everybody I work with has more important things to worry about than whether their name is going to get them in trouble. So, when there’s a good alternative and in your case, you came up with a great very creative solution, when there’s a good alternative, I strongly recommend making a change.
[00:31:14] Andrew: Yep. And looking back, changing one of the letters and now differentiating me from any other firm that has the name that I was utilizing was a game changer. And now I love it. It worked out really well. The one advantage I had is that even though we spend all this money to build the marketing materials and I had the website, we hadn’t really promoted everything yet. We were still in the infancy of letting everything out there, doing the search engine positioning where I would’ve been in major trouble if it’s now two, three, four, five years, 10 years in and all of a sudden everyone’s used to that name, the email address, the search engine positioning. Now I’m in some real hurt. And I’ll give you an example. I was just at a mastermind training with other advisory firm owners and he, literally, one of the owners explained what he had just gone through which after being in business for 10 years they did, they finally went to the trademark.
So, they hadn’t trademark anything and lo and behold just like what’s happened to me with Bayntree, they got the cease-and-desist from the big corporation and this was a battle that they couldn’t win. It wasn’t even – well maybe. It was not going to be a pleasant experience for them. So, they had to spend I think they said almost $50,000 in total not fighting it but just redoing everything from the logo, from the signage, marketing material, the website and the problem too is the search engine positioning and the content that some firms have that potentially all goes away or becomes very difficult to find. So, for you, business owners out there, if you haven’t gone down that path to see the firm that you’re building, to see if you have potential issues or to protect what you’re building, you have to, have to, have to find whether it be Suzann’s firm or a local firm in your town, you got to work with somebody and spend the money. I mean it’s less than probably $1,000 to find out if you’re going to be okay. And if you’re not, then you can weigh the risk-reward of what you should do. So, that’s so important and I’m sure you have stories like this left and right of firms that you’ve worked with that have had the same situation.
[00:33:25] Suzann: Of course. And I should say that I’m both sides of the situation. Many of my clients need to protect their brands. I mean all of my clients need to protect their brands. And even though I try not to be overzealous, there are situations where we do need to reach out to somebody whose name is too close. And I try when possible, I encourage an owner-to-owner phone call. I don’t need to create work for myself. A lot of situations can be resolved informally. But having a registration, so being on the side of the company that came first, having that registration is an extremely valuable insurance policy.
So, for government fees of about $225 and then maybe an hour or two of attorney time for the actual putting together the first application and then less if you’re doing more applications just because there are economies of scale, what you end up with is not just a nice fancy frameable registration certificate. You end up with the ability to enforce your trademarks. What that means is if you have a dispute, you don’t even have to prove you’ve been harmed. You don’t have to hire an economist. You don’t have to hire an economic expert to come and testify. You don’t have to even pay your own attorney fees if you win. So, this is a valuable tool to have in your arsenal as you build and grow your business.
[00:34:52] Andrew: Well, we looked at our tagline and a lot of businesses have taglines and our tagline is You Dream We Plan. And I came to you and I said, “Hey, let’s protect this.” So, you went and did the search and you said, “Well, there’s a couple of scenarios here where we may have some trouble,” but you felt pretty confident that we’d be okay and then we went down the path. First, what I did is I had a TM and then when we finally got to that process and it became and correct me if I’m wrong, a registered…
[00:35:15] Suzann: It’s a registered trademark.
[00:35:16] Andrew: Trademark now? Okay. So, the difference between when I have that R with the circle versus the TM, what does that mean to the layman that’s looking at a website or reading content? What’s the difference?
[00:35:29] Suzann: Sure. So, a TM, anybody can use a TM. Actually, on my website, it’s a little bit of a joke. If you look closely, it actually says TMF instead of a TM so it’s kind of like I’ve carried the pun of trademark in my name. So, it’s a little bit hard to see. Maybe I need to increase my font size but normally you put TM and, by the way, you’re not required to do so but it’s a way of telling people this is a brand. This is my intellectual property. But once you have a registration certificate and by the way, that’s a federal USPTO certificate in hand, you can use the R in a circle.
I do want to clarify for your listeners that there is such a concept as state trademark registration. So, let’s say you’re a local bug control, you’re a local pet groomer, you would have no reason and you actually wouldn’t even be eligible to get the federal trademark because you don’t have any out-of-state use. That’s a requirement to file. So, you could file in your state but generally speaking, state trademark registrations are of limited value and I strongly recommend registering federally for really not much more money, you get the whole country and you get many more benefits.
[00:36:46] Andrew: And I think that is especially with businesses. Even if you’re not thinking of growing, growing, growing across the country, it’s so important to have that. From our side, we did that tagline, we did the name Bayntree. And for our listeners out there too, like once you go down this process and you get the registered trademark, how do you not protect it? I mean, I’m not going to sit here and google You Dream We Plan every week.
[00:37:10] Suzann: Well, you could set an automated Google alert and I would recommend that actually but besides that, some of my clients opt-in for service I offer for regular monitoring. Now monitoring used to be extremely expensive because it was manual essentially. Now we would outsource it to third-party research companies that would every week send this green slip of paper that gave a bunch of results, 99% of which were not even pertinent. Nowadays I have access to some great tools from companies that have built using some cool algorithms and artificial intelligence, have built these tools where we can do monitoring really cost-effectively.
It’s not for everyone but it is especially if you’re in consumer products or you know that you have a lot of people out there copying you or coming close, having that weekly search come to me, I scan through it, I let my clients know if there are any issues, again, not foolproof. Nothing’s guaranteed but what’s nice about doing monitoring is you pick up on problems early on. So, on the flip side where you say if you spent $50,000 on your marketing materials and it’s very painful to fix, if I’m someone who is running the monitoring and I want to work something, I see somebody has a new company, I’m going to have better luck reaching out to them in a civil way and say, “Hey, your brand is too close to mine. Change it,” I’m going to have much better luck early on before they make that big investment. So, that’s why that monitoring is really effective.
[00:38:49] Andrew: Let’s talk a little bit about content. So, for instance, a lot of businesses including here at Bayntree, we write blogs and this is original content that we’re getting out on our website, we’re putting out on LinkedIn, we’re doing videos that are explaining certain topics on the financial services space or helping businesses grow. How do I protect that in the scope of somebody just cutting and pasting and putting it on their website? And then potentially, not only me being upset but then could that be an issue with Google as they see that my content now was across two or three different websites, what can we do to protect ourselves?
[00:39:24] Suzann: Sure. So, that’s where a copyright registration comes in. Copyright registrations pretty cost-effective, $55 government fee, again, about an hour of attorney time to do a first application. What makes it complicated sometimes is if you had a contractor or an employee create your content but that stuff we can clear up. I mean that’s standard of course but that’s what makes these applications a little bit more complicated. It may be that we have to put an application on hold and look at how did you get the rights to your website. Like I’m sure that you had an agreement with your very capable web designer because you’re both professional firms, but a lot of times people work informally and have perhaps a cousin developed their website and they have no contract. And sometimes we have to go backward, and I help people with those contracts which doesn’t have to be that complicated either, but it is important to have something in writing related to your rights.
So, first thing we do is we make sure do you even have the rights to this content. Once you do then we can file these copyright registrations. And the copyright registrations work much the same way as the trade trademark registrations. That is, they are insurance policies so if somebody copies you, you will have access to federal courts. So, copyright works much like trademark registrations. Copyright registration is an insurance policy which gives you the ability to take a case to federal court, to get damages that are set out in a statute and not having to prove that you’ve actually been harmed. That’s proving that you’ve actually been harmed is what gets expensive. It’s what requires these expert witnesses. Nobody wants to do that. So, if you just make the effort of getting the copyright registration, you’re going to have much better luck stopping somebody from copying you. So…
[00:41:14] Andrew: And that’s like a copyright as like the whole website itself is copyright. So, then you don’t have to get specific then on each piece of content that you put in there?
[00:41:23] Suzann: Correct. Now there’s a lot to say about this and if let’s say on your website you have one flowchart that is so amazing that you feel or you know people are ripping off and using in their presentations, you might also want to register that flowchart on its own and just for specific legal reasons about what constitutes copying up a substantial portion. So, what I tell people is, “No, you don’t have to register every single piece of copyrightable work.” That would get crazy. I mean even major production companies, creators of comic book characters, etcetera, they don’t register everything. They choose examples of core works of art or works of authorship and they register those. It is important to get things registered within 90 days of publication because that gives you an extra set of benefits and actual access to these financial remedies that you might not otherwise get if you wait to file after somebody copies you. Again, a little bit complicated but a lawyer like me can walk you through it.
[00:42:32] Andrew: So, Suzann, we’re working together right now on kind of a concept of how we’re marketing a certain process that we have and trying to differentiate us from other financial services firms. So, we’ve come up with this terminology, these three words that we’re going to be wanting to protect. Why would we go about doing that in order to differentiate us but also protect from somebody else using it?
[00:42:55] Suzann: Now great question. And people often get a little bit mixed up with how you protect an idea and it’s challenging. Like I said, certain business processes can be patented but that’s really rare. So, let’s put that aside and let’s talk about whether it’s a plan for retirement, a plan for saving money. The general context, unfortunately, can’t be protected but what can be protected is the unique way that you articulate it. So, if you put together something that has like a flowchart that has some details or even a number of bullet points, maybe a certain five keywords and then descriptions of those when you put that together, that becomes a work of authorship. And even if somebody doesn’t copy that exactly, if what they put out there is substantially similar, having a copyright registration will protect you and will make it easy to get that person to take that data down.
[00:43:56] Andrew: Okay. Yeah. I mean, this is why your job is recession-proof, right, because as a business owner, this is just such – it’s a complex rule. Even though it may not be as complex as it sounds, there’s just so many moving parts there and that’s where I think it’s so important for a business owner to work with somebody that knows what they’re doing. So, that’s great advice with that. So, in the context of for you as a business owner, I assume you don’t do a lot of marketing yourself. Is it mainly referrals of how you’re generating your clients now that you own your own firm?
[00:44:27] Suzann: Almost entirely. I’ve never spent money on traditional advertising. I have grown organically from a few clients the day I launched almost eight years ago to now where I have hundreds of clients.
[00:44:44] Andrew: And then you do some speaking engagements so you kind of have a passion for getting the messaging out there. I think I’ve read that you do get out there and maybe it’s at trade shows or different conferences that you speak in.
[00:44:55] Suzann: Absolutely. I tried to do a few a year. As your business gets busier, I’m sure you understand, it gets harder and harder to get out there. So, I’m a little more selective about the talks that I do now but I’m committed to certain engagements like every semester I go and I speak at a local university because I think it’s important to be there for some of these fledgling entrepreneurs. And especially if it’s in my community and people are doing something in public interest, I’m more inclined to give my time.
[00:45:32] Andrew: And do you have visions for The Moskowitz Firm to continue growing and bringing on other attorneys or are you satisfied with where it is right now of keeping it more of a lifestyle practice?
[00:45:42] Suzann: Great question. Well, I mean it’s not as much of a lifestyle practice as it was when I first started. I am working a lot and one thing that’s helped is finding a great assistant who is partly virtual, but I do meet from time to time who can handle much of the administrative work I was taking on, on my own way too long. Also, I contract with other attorneys. Sometimes I do their overflow. Sometimes they do my overflow and that just depends on who’s going out of town and who needs a little bit of extra help, but I like working on my own, personally. I like being the entrepreneur in charge who can set policies and who could make a decision to let’s say give a few hours of my time to somebody just because I think that they are doing something good in my community. I don’t necessarily want to answer to anyone but my own clients.
[00:46:39] Andrew: And if you talk about this new hire or the assistant and if you could look backward, would you have done it earlier? Would you have brought that person on to help you?
[00:46:47] Suzann: Oh gosh, I mean, I was so much more cost-conscious than I needed to be when I first started. The increased productivity I have by bringing her on is huge and I would recommend to anyone once you’re firmly established, you know you have clients, you know you’re doing your business, outsource as much as you can. It’s not merely a lifestyle choice. It’s simply a matter of survival and growth.
[00:47:23] Andrew: It’s what we all face. And I think as we grow a company, looking at hiring people not only as an expense, I think you look at that and having to manage people, but you have to look at it as an investment and it’s an investment in your peace of mind. It’s allowing you to focus on the things that you’re good at and doing some maybe the mundane task that was put on you that wasn’t for you cost-effective. You are great at what you do and although whether it’s paying a bill or getting out a brief of some sort, if there’s somebody that can do that, I think that’s a game changer and I’m glad that you are able to grow that way, but you don’t see yourself wanting to bring on more people at this time. It’s more of we’re in a good place.
[00:48:05] Suzann: I’m always looking for great attorneys that I can outsource some of my work to, but I’m not interested so much in the human resource element of it. What I want are the services and not the complexity.
[00:48:20] Andrew: It seems like a dream, right? I think…
[00:48:25] Suzann: You know, one day I may change my tune on that and I certainly am well aware of how large firms started. They started with one risktaker and I know that if I change my tune, it’s something I could do. It just doesn’t appeal to me honestly.
[00:48:47] Andrew: Yeah. Well, especially with young kids you want to be there for them. Maybe that changes as time goes on and that’s something I grapple with. How big do I want to get and more people become potential more headache, but it’s also can we help more people. So, it’s a balancing act that every entrepreneur faces and as you’re building your business whether it be 70 hours a week or some weeks up to 90, 100 hour weeks, when you know it’s all on you, it makes it a little bit easier to go to work and put those hours in than if you’re working in the corporate world which you came from and a lot of the listeners out there may still be in and trying to determine, is it the time to make that change, I think it’s a lot easier to put those hours in when you know it’s all on you and you’re building something that you’re passionate about. And that’s critical for I think the success.
[00:49:30] Suzann: That’s exactly right.
[00:49:32] Andrew: So, as we close today with the evolution of technology laws that are changing and privacy laws changing, what are some of the things that you do to stay up to speed so that your clients are going to be at the forefront of whatever needs to happen in that regard when these changes occur?
[00:49:48] Suzann: Absolutely. So, I am of course always watching the news and Twitter and I’m on every list of trademark attorneys and other attorneys watching breaking news that affects my clients. So, what I do is I send out client alerts when something happens or if it only impacts let’s say a dozen of my clients, it’s a great opportunity and it’s an opening for me to reach out to them and say, “Hey, we haven’t spoken in a while. You need to know that this year,” for example, “The copyright office has a rule about registering agents under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which has to do with interactive websites and limiting your liability. They’ve changed the rule. Now you need to register online. Here’s the process. I can do this for you. Would you like to set up a call?” And then many times after sending out that kind of using that as an opportunity to reach out to my clients, more business develops from that point of contact. So, not only is it necessary for me to stay ahead of the news, but it can pay.
[00:50:57] Andrew: Yeah. And I also like the fact that you mentioned earlier that you’ve created that other service that it’s an ongoing agreement to review your trademark or copyright to make sure that there are no companies out there that are taking advantage of that.
[00:51:10] Suzann: Exactly. So, that’s for trademark and what I do is I set an annual flat fee. I don’t charge additional to look at it every week because some weeks I’m looking at 90 names for your company, other filers. Some days I’m looking at 15 but I only charge if then you asked me to do so. I don’t charge to review it and to report on it when I think there’s an issue but then if we’re going to take action like writing a letter or submitting what’s called a letter of protest at the USPTO then a little bit of billable time is going to be involved. But generally speaking, it’s predictable for the clients.
[00:51:46] Andrew: And would you recommend that a business owner if they see something whether it be their content taken or something of that nature is first send an email or call that company before we get the attorneys involved to say, “Hey, this is my content. Please take it down?”
[00:51:58] Suzann: I would say speak to an attorney first because the first thing we have to do is confirm that we do, in fact, have the rights. There are some horror stories there where one of my clients thinks they have the rights but as it turns out, a contractor that did work for them actually ripped off the material from a third party. Well, that’s an awkward situation to be in. So, what I try to do is make sure it’s a good idea to reach out because it may be more complicated than meets the eye.
[00:52:30] Andrew: Good advice. So, as we end today, anything else that we missed that would be important for the listeners to take away from our conversation today on trademark law and how to protect your content?
[00:52:42] Suzann: I just want people to realize that protecting your intellectual property by registering it is a very cost-effective way to stay ahead of your competition and it also builds value. Let’s say you are looking for investors in your company or to sell your company outright, anything you can do to build that intangible value especially since not all of us have a warehouse full of widgets that you can quantify, anything you can do to build value is probably worth it in the long run and it doesn’t have to be that expensive to do.
[00:53:19] Andrew: I think that’s great advice and I’m living and breathing it. I saw the value of it and I want to build something that will continue to grow and protect that, and that’s where I saw to work with somebody like yourself that can help guide me there. And it’s an investment in my peace of mind and I think I’m building intrinsic value. So, that’s one thing for you listeners out there, please make sure that you’re reviewing where you are today, where you want to be, and make sure that you have the right counsel to get you there. So, this has been great. I really appreciate your time today, Suzann. It’s always awesome talking with you. I think we hit on a lot of good points high level. We dug deep into the weeds on some things. And for the listeners, if they would like to contact you, if they have questions or just have an initial consultation, what we’re going to do in the show notes is give the ability for anybody out there that’s listening that they may have a question the ability to connect with Suzann but again, and correct me if I’m wrong, you won’t be able to give legal advice, correct?
[00:54:23] Suzann: That’s right. Let me put the whole disclaimer out there too. Even this podcast does not constitute legal advice. So, please keep that in mind but I would absolutely be happy to chat with your listeners and see if I can help them in the future.
[00:54:40] Andrew: Wonderful. And again, it will be in the show notes, but you can find Suzann on TheMoskowitzFirm.com. Thank you, everybody, who’s taken part in listening today to Your Wealth & Beyond and we will be back later this month with more episodes to help you build your wealth, find purpose, and create a world-class work culture to help get you to the next level. We’ll see you all soon. Thanks.
[00:55:08] Andrew: Thank you for joining me for today’s episode of Your Wealth & Beyond. To get access to all the resources mentioned during today’s podcast, please visit Bayntree.com/podcast. And be sure to tune in later this month for another episode of Your Wealth & Beyond.
Investment advice is offered through Bayntree Wealth Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor. Insurance and annuity products are offered separately through Bayntree Planning Group, LLC. Bayntree is not permitted to offer and no statement made during the show shall constitute legal or tax advice. You should talk to a qualified professional before making any decisions about your personal situation.