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New Prop 65 Regulations Are Active!

As of August 30, 2018, California businesses must adhere to the new regulations relating to Prop 65 warnings. By way of background, The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (a/k/a Prop 65) requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, encounter in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. Businesses are required to provide a “clear and reasonable” warning before knowingly and intentionally exposing anyone to a listed chemical. Prop 65 allows for private enforcement actions if it is brought “in the public interest.” This indefinite standard has notoriously been exploited by persons seeking attorneys’ fees and settlements rather than improving public safety. In particular, the cannabis industry has experienced its fair share of Prop 65 enforcement actions. For example, in May 2017, a single person sent approximately 700 60-day warning notices to dispensaries, alleging Prop 65 violations due to the presence of Prop-65 listed fungicides and insecticides in edible products. Failing to provide Prop 65 notices can result in penalties as high as $2,500 per violation per day. Due to this enforcement risk, many dispensaries and delivery services are requiring that all products have a Prop 65 warning, regardless of the type of product or if the product does not, in fact, contain any of the Prop 65 chemicals. However, Prop 65 does not apply to all cannabis business or products, therefore, it is essential to understand when (and if) Prop 65 applies, and how to comply. Prop 65’s warning requirements do not apply to: Businesses with less than 10 employees Products that do not...

Guest Blog: Why You Need (or Should Update) Terms of Service & Privacy Policies

Guest author Alexandra Harmer of Ascenda Law Group discusses the importance of having terms of service and privacy policies for businesses operating in the digital world.  If you receive email, you have likely received many of the seemingly endless notices notifying you that [insert Vendor name here] has updated its website terms of service and privacy policy in the wake of the enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). You may even have had a good laugh at one of the many memes inspired by this phenomenon. But aside from perhaps having a good laugh and deleting more emails than normal, you might also be wondering if your website terms of service and/or privacy policy need an update, or if you need these documents at all. Facebook and Twitter have them, but does that mean every website needs them? Below are three reasons why you may need website terms of service and a privacy policy or should be updating the ones you currently have. Users Want Them At the heart of it, terms of service and privacy policies are contracts, which act as guides, explaining the relationship you have with another party. A contract tells each party what it can expect from the association, and, if well drafted, can even help resolve disputes without litigation. In the case of website terms of service and privacy policies, these documents tell the visitor what their rights are, and may include information about how to use the website, what the relevant policies are (like, return policies and, yes, privacy policies). Making your terms readily available means customers don’t have to spend time contacting...

International Trademark Protection

Trademark protection outside of the U.S. can be important for a number of reasons. You should at least consider filing for trademark protection internationally if your sales, distribution, and/ or manufacturing position is as follows: You conduct business in another country You plan conduct business in another country You manufacture, distribute, and/or advertise in another country A country of future interest is known for counterfeiting or intellectual property infringement Your products come into contact with nationals from another country, e.g., through tourism Owning trademark registrations outside of the U.S. may be the only means of enforcing trademark rights. Unlike the U.S., many countries recognize trademark rights based on the first-to-file, rather than the first-to-use. Additionally, most international countries do not require use of a mark prior to issuing a registration; meaning, you can effectively reserve your brand name for 3-5 years (depending on the country), when a registration could become vulnerable for non-use. Keep in mind, if you file international applications in most other countries within 6 months of the filing date of a U.S. application, your international applications may obtain the filing date of the U.S. application for priority. This is because the U.S. is party to the Paris Convention treaty, which allows applicants to obtain their U.S. filing date as the priority date in many foreign countries that are also parties to the Paris treaty. There are two main ways to apply to register a trademark and obtain international protection: (1) filing an application through the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), aka “Madrid system,” based on a prior-filed U.S. application/registration, or (2) filing a “national application” directly through a country’s trademark office. A third...

Trademark Watch Services

If you don’t want to conduct a search for your company on the Internet and suddenly discover a competitor operating under a similar name, proactive enforcement efforts can provide peace of mind that the value of your company’s trademarks is being preserved. Moreover, it is the duty of a mark owner to enforce exclusive rights in a mark, or jeopardize the enforceability of the mark in the future. Unchallenged third-party uses of a trademark weakens the strength of your company’s mark as a source identifier. A trademark watch service is an effective monitoring tool to efficiently identify potentially infringing adoption of confusingly similar marks. Evoke Law partners with Corsearch, a leading vendor of trademark clearance and protection services, to offer a wide range of watch services that fits a wide-variety of business needs. Below are descriptions of the most commonly utilized watch services: Domain Name Watch: A Domain Name Watch monitors registrations of standard top-level domain names (e.g., .com, .net, .org, .info) that include the exact mark, as well as other similar variations to catch potential typo-squatters. For example, if someone tried to register www.evokelegal.com, the watch service would alert us to this activity. Purchasing a domain is typically one of the first actions a business takes when it decides to proceed with a chosen brand name, and this watch provides somewhat of an “early warning system.” Expanded gTLD Watch: An Expanded gTLD Watch has all the capabilities of the Domain Name Watch, but also monitors registrations of generic top level domains (gTLDs) and country code top level domains (ccTLDs) for potential infringement. Using the above example, the Expanded...

Branding a Cannabis Strain: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Originally published in the April/May 2018 edition of mg Magazine.  Before you name a strain, you need to know the strain name and the brand name are not the same. A brand name or trademark does not communicate “what” the product is, but rather “who” is providing it, meaning, a trademark doesn’t tell you about a product, but instead communicates the source or origin. When selecting a trademark, always aim to choose a term or phrase that is both distinctive and exclusive, staying away from names that are descriptive, deceptively misdescriptive, or confusingly similar to state or federally registered marks, an applied-for mark, and common-law (unregistered) marks that are used for related goods or services, as well as famous trademarks, which enjoy an even broader scope of protection. If you select a trademark that is also the name of a strain used in your products, the selected mark would be considered merely descriptive of the product and not protectable for such cannabis products. For example, if an edible product named “Blue Dream” incorporates the Blue Dream strain, the manufacturer would not be able to protect the product name because it is merely descriptive of a product feature. Alternatively, if your cannabis product shares a name with a strain but the product does not contain that strain, the selected mark may be found deceptively misdescriptive if consumers would assume (albeit incorrectly) your product contains the particular strain. Marks comprising strain names such as OG Kush, Hardcore OG, and Charlotte’s Web are examples of popular strains the United States Patent and Trademark Office has found potentially descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive. Unique...

Registering a “DBA” in California

Consider that when your company is conducting business under a name that is different from the entity name registered with the Secretary of State, this name is considered your “doing business as” name, or “DBA.” Because selecting a strong brand name takes time and effort, businesses may choose to form its formal business entity under one name, but ultimately choose a different name for its brand. DBA’s are also referred to as “fictitious business names,” but there is nothing fictitious about it. To the relevant target customer, the DBA is just as real as any other business name. And, just like other business names, DBAs must be registered with the county where the company’s principal place of business is located. A company planning to operate under a DBA is required to register its DBA within 40 days of commencing operations. Steps for Registering a DBA in California: (1) Determine whether the DBA is available by searching the applicable county clerk’s records However, before selecting a brand name that will be outwardly facing to customers and prospective customers, it is critical to first assess whether a proposed brand/DBA name is available from a legal trademark perspective, without a substantial risk of a challenge from someone else already using or claiming rights in the same or a similar name for the same or related products or services. As we discussed in connection with our blog post on the Importance of Trademark Clearance (https://evoke.law/importance-of-trademark-clearance/), the “financial costs of rebranding can be wide-ranging—pulling product from the market, disruption of the business, customer uncertainty, customer re-education, new marketing campaigns, revised product packaging, etc. Because...