Trademarks 101

A guest post by Anthony Verna

Trademark questions come up frequently among small business owners and freelancers. It’s an issue that I’ve see coming up often in the past couple of years as trademarks are being filed by trademark owners that don’t properly reflect the goods and services that trademark owner actually sells.

But it’s imperative that the goods/services description in the trademark application or registration match the goods and services that the trademark owner actually sells. Why?  Because the penalties are harsh and can include cancellation of the trademark, meaning the loss of the right to use it.

trademark

The Trademark Process

When an applicant files a trademark application before the USPTO, the applicant signs an affidavit that the uses listed in the application are truthful and accurate.  Because an affidavit is a sworn statement, given under oath that everything that has been represented in the application is, in fact, truthful, if any aspect of the application turns out to be false or inaccurate, the entire application is considered a “fraud on the USPTO.”  The result of such “fraud” is the automatic cancellation of the registration that had been granted.

Avoiding Trademark Fraud

The USPTO has no way to investigate how trademarks are used in the marketplace. Instead, it is forced to rely on the claims made by trademark owners in their applications and other filings. To motivate trademark owners to supply accurate descriptions of their goods and services, the USPTO has, since 2003, treated any error in those descriptions — intentional or not — as a “fraud” as to the entire application, because trademark registrations and applications are considered as a whole and cannot be split or separated.  The price of such fraud is draconian: the USPTO or its associated court, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, will cancel an entire registration if it learns of any absence of use of a mark as represented by an applicant.

The TTAB has concluded that a trademark owner should always know whether or not it has used the mark with each good or service it claims. As the TTAB’s logic goes, an applicant’s false statement about facts that are uniquely within its control, knowing that the Trademark Office will rely on that statement in acting on the application, is a fraudulent attempt to secure the benefits of a trademark registration. To avoid committing “fraud” in this way, a trademark owner must verify its claim to each item included in a description of goods and services.

This situation continues to grow in trademarks that are challenged for cancellation.  It is important to review trademark applications before they are finished for the proper description of goods and services.  It is important to review trademark registrations when your business plans change, also.

[box border=”full”]anthony vernaAnthony Verna is a partner at Kravitz & Verna LLC, a law firm in New York, NY that focuses on trademark, copyright, advertising, promotion, and general business law.  He helps business owners protect intellectual property, follow established regulations and ensure smooth business operations. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.[/box]

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The iUniverse Rants: Coming Clean

This is a difficult post for me to write. Partly because I have to reveal to you that I’ve been duped, and partly because I prefer to ignore any and all things related to my ex-husband.

It’s also difficult to write because the story is not linear, and explaining to you what’s happened to me since I wrote my first book review on Suess’s Pieces last July won’t be simple. Please bear with me.

For several months now, I’ve suspected that my ex-husband was behind the drama leading to my open tirades against iUniverse here on my blog. Some of the communication I had with the authors requesting book reviews just didn’t sit right with me. And, although I couldn’t really prove it, I knew deep down I was being played. Used.

Without much in the way of evidence to call out my ex on his backhanded badgering, I pretty much just went off on iUniverse and the individual authors in order to vent my frustrations and try to discourage any further interaction with them.

Not that it worked.

Some of you probably thought I was taking it all a little too seriously, but in reality I wasn’t prepared to go public with my conspiracy theory. I offered little in the way of explanation for my outbursts. I figured it would have made me look like an insane ex-wife with a grudge to blame my ex for what was going on with all these authors. General venting on my blog was all I had.

Then by chance (or perhaps not by chance at all) a man I once knew left this comment on my April 18, 2012 blog post. A light bulb went off, and that was all it took for the rest of the pieces to begin to fall into place.

As I kept digging deeper for confirmation of my suspicions, I became more enraged with every telling morsel I found.

This is my story. This is my attempt to explain to you why a woman who has never even written a book would waste her time trying to encourage writers to become skeptics of the self-publishing world in general, but these companies in particular: iUniverse, AuthorHouse and AuthorSolutions. (AuthorSolutions is the company that owns iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Trafford and xLibris, and it is connected to Hay House’s imprint, Balboa Press—the corporate incest is relevant. I think you’ll see why as you read on.)

How I Got Started Writing Book Reviews

A self-published author named Georgia Brock contacted me on Twitter in June 2011, asking if I did book reviews on my blog. It seemed a little odd to me—since I wasn’t a known reviewer—that a complete stranger would reach out to me for an evaluation of her book. But I figured self-published authors probably struggled a lot trying to get attention for their books, and my blog was relatively well-established.

I agreed to review Brock’s It Started on a Garden Tour if she provided a review copy, and I announced on my blog and on Twitter that I was planning to accept more titles. A couple of authors who were already online connections asked if I’d take on their works. Of course, I agreed. Those two or three authors are not in any way related to this tale.

Between July 3, 2011 and September 3, 2011, I wrote a total of five book reviews on Suess’s Pieces where the books were directly connected to AuthorSolutions and iUniverse.

  • It Started on a Garden Tour (AuthorHouse)
  • Just Another Eylsian Sidetrip (AuthorHouse)
  • The Velvet Thorn (iUniverse)
  • Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit (iUniverse)
  • What on Earth Are We Doing Here? Exploring the Case for Human Suffering (Balboa)

In August of 2011, I received an email from a social media publicist at AuthorSolutions. She explained to me that I had agreed to review one of her author’s titles, and asked me if I would be willing to look at another. I agreed and let her know that from then on she could just send me additional titles. No point in wasting time on formalities.

What Triggered My First Meltdown

About a week after I made this agreement with the social media publicist, I wrote “When Book Reviews Attack!” This veritable snarkfest of a post resulted from requests coming to me through various authors’ Twitter accounts and blog comments. They were getting out of line, in my opinion. So I spelled it all out for them, lest any other authors think about asking me for similar ridiculous favors.

That meant sending a retraction to the social media publicist I mentioned earlier. I needed to let her know I’d axed the free reviews on my blog. I thought I’d send her a quick message on Twitter.

Looking at her Twitter profile, I discovered a tweet she sent to my ex-husband in her timeline, and I stopped cold. I wasn’t in the habit of following him on Twitter, so it came as a surprise to me that they knew each other. I chalked it up to coincidence because the company hails from nearby Bloomington where he went to school. I did not care to look into it any further. My wont is to avoid my ex and any people I know to be connected to him. I unfollowed her, and things were relatively quiet for the next few months.

Divorce is Ugly

I suppose now is as good a time as any to fill you in on how I came to be happily divorced. I filed with the court on July 10, 2008 because I could no longer stand being in his company. But for several months prior to that, I’d been trying to work it out with him.

“Trying to work it out” included a few sessions with a counselor at the pretty, white, suburban church we’d been attending. Those sessions were all very much the same: me crying with a box of tissues by my side, the counselor asking soothing and non-accusing questions, and my ex-husband flapping on while his pants idiomatically ignited into white-hot flames.

The whole experience left me disillusioned with the idea of church and rather offended by that church in particular. Promises to “protect me” (whatever that meant) amounted to nothing more than the coddling of an unremorseful man.

At one point after I’d filed for divorce but before the 90-day waiting period was up, I remember telling my ex-husband that he couldn’t go to that pretty, white, suburban church anymore. Essentially I was saying that I was getting the church in the divorce. You know, the way some couples fight over who gets to keep the condo or the SUV.

I had no intention of ever going back to that church; I just couldn’t bear the thought of him using it as a social club for getting jobs and networking on Sunday mornings. I had my suspicions he was lying to me when he agreed, because the church was comprised of moneyed families and sucessful businessmen and women. And my ex-husband? Well, he was a public relations professional without a job.

Putting the Pieces Together

After a few months of pleasant blogging without the annoying pokes of iUniverse authors, two new authors started blipping on my radar. That’s how “OMFG, iUniverse Authors!” came to be published on April 18, 2012.

The first author merely commented on an old post. I bristled at his unfounded comment, but didn’t become truly angry until a second iUniverse author engaged me on Twitter. People who self-promote the way she did—by baiting me with talk of something I’ve expressed interest in only to lead me to irrelevant, self-promotional crap—are what’s wrong with social media marketing, in my opinion. I took screen shots. I posted them. I swore.

At least five different people said to  me, “I knew you were passionate about this iUniverse thing, but I had no idea.”

In hindsight, I was terribly hard on the authors, even though part of me suspected they weren’t actually the ones leaving the comments and hitting me up on Twitter. It seemed more like the work of a hack publicist, not someone truly vested in sharing their life’s work with the world.

But I didn’t care, because if these authors weren’t directly responsible for the communications, they were indirectly responsible for not monitoring how their online reputation was being managed.

Five days passed before the fateful comment I mentioned at the beginning of this post was submitted on “OMFG, iUniverse Authors!” When I saw it and saw the commenter’s unmistakable name, it only took a second for me to start connecting the dots. Four years ago, the commenter spoke in front of the congregation at that pretty, white, suburban church.

I have no idea what he spoke about anymore. Maybe it was an upcoming event or program. But it doesn’t matter now anyway. Seeing his comment on my blog, I no longer doubted that my ex-husband had been using me and my goodwill to get free book reviews for his clients. And the absurd requests—like the one asking me to take my picture with a book at the race track?—I think that was all him too.

What I Know vs. What I Think to Be True

There are some things I will never be able to prove. For instance, I don’t know that my ex was the one composing those comments and tweets*. I do know, however, that someone at AuthorSolutions left a comment for me under the name of Georgia Brock. Georgia Brock, you’ll recall, was the author of the first book ever reviewed on Suess’s Pieces.

I have Gmail. That means I have tons of space, killer search functions, and no reason to ever delete any of the emails I receive. That’s why I still have access to Disqus comment system notifications from 9 months ago.

You see, Disqus records the IP addresses of those leaving comments on my blog. That IP address can then be looked up easily online. This is what ip-lookup.net tells me about 206.53.252.80, the author of the comment in question.

If they’re writing comments for clients, might they also be Tweeting for their clients?

Also, do you remember the social media publicist who I discovered had tweeted to my ex-husband? That connection wasn’t a coincidence. I’ve since checked out the ex’s Twitter profile and confirmed that he works with her at AuthorSolutions.

AuthorSolutions’ Global Marketing Director? Well, looks like the pretty, white, suburban church has a rather effective Good Ol’ Boys club at work among the congregants. Based on his job title, I’m assuming he’s my ex’s current boss.

Considering that I went back to my maiden name after the divorce and considering that I had no meaningful  contact with the Global Marketing Director of AuthorSolutions while I attended the pretty, white, suburban church, I doubt he had any idea whose blog he was commenting on. If he did know who I was…well, I hope someone steals his favorite cufflinks or something.

My Self-Publishing Convictions

I still stand by all of my incessant rambling about the pitfalls of self-publishing and iUniverse in particular. Because even when you remove my ex-husband from the equation, I’ve read an overwhelming number of self-pubs that are lackluster, typo-ridden atrocities.

The one or two good self-published works I’ve read don’t convince me that self-publishing  companies are improving the industry; they just convince me that exceptionally capable authors occasionally succeed against all odds.

And remember: I say all of this not as someone with a dog in the traditional publishing vs. self-publishing fight, but as a reader. As one of the people everyone in the publishing industry is supposedly trying to win over.

I think too many authors who self-publish aren’t skeptical enough when it comes to shelling out their money. So in days to come I’ll be posting interviews with people who have used iUniverse and wanted to share their experiences.

Why am I singling out iUniverse if I think all self-pubs need to try harder? Well, not to sound like I’m eight years old…

But they started it.

*9/5/12 I do, however, know now that the Author Solutions publicity team did create Twitter accounts and post updates on behalf of their clients. This was verified by an anonymous employee.

Crowdsourcing: A Solution for the Overworked Freelancer

Lots of solo business owners, freelance writers included, tend to dismiss advice about delegation when it comes to running their businesses. Why? Because being a solopreneur means there’s no one within the business to delegate the extra work to.

crowdsourcing freelance writersBut freelancers do have options for delegation, and that’s because of the overwhelming number of virtual service providers out there. If you don’t have a go-to logo designer or website guy, for example, thousands of them can be reached through crowdsourcing sites.

For instance you can:

What makes crowdsourcing appealing for the business owners is that with relatively little effort, you can post a job that will be seen by hundreds and hundreds of professionals all over the world. On the flip side, with the traditional quoting process, you’d spend a lot more time contacting just a few different businesses to explain what you’re looking for and request a quote.

The Difference Between Job Postings and Job Contests

If you choose to crowdsource a task for your small business, there are a couple of ways you can go about it. The standard job posting allows you to give the details of your project just once and let interested contractors make bids. In this scenario, you’d probably make a hiring decision based on two factors: price and your overall confidence in the applicant’s ability to do a good job.

But you can also hold contests on some crowdsourcing sites. Take www.99designs.com, for instance. I ran a contest on that site over a year ago for a logo design. I gave some basic instructions on the project and designers began submitting concepts to me without receiving any upfront payment or any promise of pay. They were working merely on the hope that they would win and receive the “prize.”

I’m not a huge fan of contests, and don’t plan to ever run one again. Although my financial investment was protected (I didn’t have to choose a winner if I didn’t like any of the submissions), I didn’t feel it was particularly fair to the people doing the work. I also think overall the quality of submissions I received were just so-so — probably because the designers didn’t want to put in too much effort only to see the prize awarded to someone else in the end.

And can you blame them?

Crowdsourcing Pros & Cons

  • You learn the crowdsourcing business. Freelance writers, designers, virtual assistants–you can all work for these sites too. If you’ve used crowdsourcing as an employer, you have an advantage as a provider because you know what you loved and what you hated about applicant bids.
  • You have no shortage of choices. This can be good or bad, depending. If you’re easily overwhelmed by to many choices or have a hard time making cuts, crowdsourcing might not be your first choice for delegating your small business tasks.
  • You can’t micromanage the entire process. Lots of solopreneurs work alone because they have control issues. (Yeah, I said it, and you know who you are.) If you crowdsource, you’ll have to trust someone else to take pride in the details.

This post is part of the April Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners. (It’s the most fun you’ll have all month!) Check out the rest of the posts on outsourcing here.


Build Your Team

How to Break Into Freelance Writing

break into freelance writingI spend a good part of my day replying to emails from readers who want to know how they can break into freelance writing. Although I’ve worked hard to put good information in the hands of aspiring writers through content like my ABCs of Freelance Writing series, Writers’ Week, and 100 Resources for Writers, it’s become clear to me that what new writers need most is an actual opportunity.

To write.

For pay.

When I think back to how I got started doing this whole thing, there was a lot of right-place-right-time luck involved. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have survived a day without the proper skill set. But you never know where you might find a job lead, and you never know who else might be applying for that job you want so bad.

Freelance Writing is Tough

Crowdsourcing sites aren’t all bad—I’ve used them to find work myself. But for most of the gigs, what you’ll find is a huge cluster of applicants from all over the world willing to work for almost nothing. You have to do lots of filtering and send lots of applications to get a bite.

So where am I going with all of this? I’m starting a new program this summer for aspiring freelance writers. I’m calling it Break Into Freelance Writing, and here are a few details:

  • You must apply to be considered
  • The focus of this session is professional blogging
  • 10 applicants will be selected to write a paid post for Suess’s Pieces
  • Pay is $20 for 400-500 words
  • You must link to a resume and cover letter (post a page on your blog, use you LinkedIn resume, whatever)
  • Write your resume and cover letter to me like it’s for a real job — because it IS a real job
  • Applications must be turned in by May 15, 2012
  • Applicants will be notified of my decision by June 1, 2012
  • The workshop style course will be conducted via a private group on Studio 30+
  • You can join my open group, Freelance Writers, on Studio 30+ now or subscribe to this blog for additional information

Got Questions?

Read through the information that’s been published so far. If you still have questions you can always contact me.

APPLY NOW

Amazon.com Widgets

OMFG, iUniverse Authors!

For an update on this story, read The iUniverse Rants: Coming Clean.

A couple of iUniverse authors are acting up again, and I thought I’d write about it today. While it might seem more humane just to let these folks fade into Internet oblivion, it’s a welcomed distraction for me. So let this be a lesson to anyone else out there who is thinking about a) sending me pitches for a self-published book disguised as a “real” social media conversation or b) writing comments on a months-old post without actually reading the post.

The lesson is: find out who you’re irritating first.

Oh wait, I should do one of those “previously on Suess’s Pieces” things, shouldn’t I?

The iUniverse Backstory

  1. I used to review books on this blog.
  2. Many were written by indie authors, several were published by iUniverse.
  3. Most of the books were shitty. I mean so shitty that when the iUniverse dude offered to send me a bunch more titles to prove some of them actually had merit, I was all, like, oh hell no!
  4. I began to feel the authors were expecting a little too much from me, the only girl in the world giving their tomes the time of day. When one author whose book was slated for a review asked me to take a picture of myself with her book at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I lost my shit.
  5. I effectively stopped doing book reviews by telling authors they now had to pay for my time, and I hoped beyond hope that the iUniverse people would finally leave me alone.

They did. For a while.

Then one day last week, this random comment shows up on one of those old iUniverse posts of mine. Joy of joys, it was from an iUniverse author who chastised me for tarring all iUniverse titles with the same brush.

Got right up in my craw, it did.

Tip for Authors: Want to sell me on the merits of your book? You’d have better luck sending me a review written by your mom.

I responded to the commenter a few days later, thinking I was done with that mess for another 6 months or so until the next poor soul decided to type “iUniverse reviews” in his favorite search engine. But then today I had the following exchange on Twitter with someone who turned out to be an iUniverse author.

At first, I thought she was genuine about her concern for the tradeswomen of Ohio. And because I’m a raging feminist who believes in things like the right to choose my own health care and the Fair Pay Act, I responded to her. I wanted to learn more about their cause, maybe offer them a little solidarity. (For someone as cynical as I am, I am still really stinking gullible sometimes.) Anyway, when she finally sent me the correct link, I landed on the front page of her blog, where every post is either about her or her iUniverse book.

Pee-yuke.

Trying to trap me into discovering your book is not going to sell me; it’s going to anger me. If some PR “guru” suggested you promote your book in this fashion (or worse yet, if someone in PR is doing this on your behalf), congratulations!  You have officially been hosed.

The best part? Girlfriend only had 72 tweets on record at the time, so I decided to check out her tweet history and found half a dozen other tweets that were pretty much the same only with different @mentions tacked on the front.

The Moral of the Story

I kind of side-stepped this issue when it last came up because, although I knew I was being a bitch, I didn’t want to be that bitch. I didn’t want to be the one to wreck the dreams of everyone who thinks that self-actualization only comes with a publishing contract. But that last remaining scrap of goodwill is gone from me now, and I’m just going to come out and say what needs to be said:

If you have to pay someone to publish your book, odds are it isn’t marketable. And if it isn’t marketable, that’s probably because it sucks.

Now, maybe your whole book concept sucks. Or maybe it’s just not ready for general consumption yet. Maybe there’s potential, but you need to do more work? If that’s the case, rushing the publishing process by paying someone to ignore industry standards is the last thing you should do.

Authors who write well receive advances instead of paying deposits. Authors who have something worth publishing don’t pay extra for professional proofreading packages. Authors with great stories to sell don’t pay additional fees for mediocre cover art. And authors who write well don’t have to beg or trick people into helping them promote their books.

Good or bad, real publishers agree to print marketable books because that’s how they make money. And, good or bad, vanity presses agree to print unmarketable books for a fee because that’s how they make money.

Any questions?