Intellectual Property

A patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. The goal of patent law is twofold. First, and most obviously, patent law aims to protect the interests of and provide compensation to inventors for their creative contributions to society. Secondly, patent law seeks to encourage invention and innovation by providing the promise of such protection to potential inventors. This protection creates a monopoly on the patented material, and this monopoly has its foundation in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. It states, “Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

To obtain patent protection in the United States, an applicant must submit an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The application is reviewed by an examiner to determine if the invention is patentable. This process is called patent prosecution. If the patent is issued, United States law grants the patentee the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Trademark law is similar to patent law in both its purpose and the protection it affords to its owner. An important difference between the two, however, is that it is not necessary to register a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to be given protection. Rights in a trademark can be established by showing legitimate use of the mark. However, registration of a mark with the USPTO provides several advantages should litigation arise, such as constructive notice to others attempting to use the mark, a legal presumption of the registrant’s ownership of the mark, and the ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court.

A copyright protects works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed. The Library of Congress registers copyrights which last for the life of the author plus 70 years. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.

An important difference between copyright law and patent and trademark law is that a copyright protects the “form of expression” rather than the subject matter of a work. Sometimes a combination fo copyright, trademark, and patent protection is desired and available for a work.

Trade secrets are valuable and protectable intellectual property interests that are not registered with any governmental entity, and thus are not publicly accessible. The value of a trade secret is in the fact that it is, in fact, kept secret. Whether or not a court will consider certain information to be a trade secret is based on how the information is treated by the company alleging its trade secret status.

Since trade secrets are not registered or public, and their qualification as a trade secret is based on the information’s internal treatment, trade secrets are protected by utilizing company policies to address treatment of the information, as well as written agreements to contract for their protection.

Non-disclosure agreements are utilized when disclosing information that is proprietary to another party. Non-disclosure agreements are often used when discussing a new potential business relationship or acquisition. Common situations in which non-disclosure agreements are utilized also include manufacturing agreements.

Confidentiality agreements are similar in that their main purpose is to keep the subject information from being disclosed to other parties, however these types of agreements are generally used in employment contract provisions as well as lawsuit settlement agreements.

Licensing agreements are drafted to provide terms that will allow another party to use the owner’s intellectual property in exchange for payment, generally either an agreed-upon annual or monthly fee, or a royalty fee. Licensing assists the owner of the intellectual property by contracting for that intellectual property to earn income, and it assists the entity licensing the intellectual property as well by allowing them to utilize the intellectual property for their benefit, which may include brand recognition or other notoriety associated with the intellectual property. All forms of intellectual property can be licensed based on the circumstances of their use.

An intellectual property audit is an important step for individuals and businesses in commerce to take in order to evaluate and protect their available rights. The audit consists of several steps, the first of which is identifying any existing and potential intellectual property that the individual or company may possess, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. These items make up the individual’s or business’s intellectual property portfolio – an integral part of a company’s value.

Next, the intellectual property is evaluated to determine what rights you may have in the relevant IP. Depending on the type of IP in question, there are specific steps that should be taken to protect the owner’s rights. These steps may include non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality agreements with prospective business associates, employees and independent contractors; implementation of best practices to preserve secrecy and the likelihood of a court finding the material to be protectable; and state and/or federal registration to secure statutory protection against potential and actual infringement.

Without evaluating the intellectual property that you or your company may possess, you may be losing out on valuable equity that can be counted toward the worth of your company, or closing off potential revenue streams that may be available via licensing.

Real Estate

Residential real estate law involves rights in the ownership of land and buildings attached to the land. This law is often called the law of ”Real Property” as opposed to “Personal Property” which is governed by different laws and regulations. Real estate ownership entitles an owner to sell the property, to use the property as security for loans, to improve the land and the buildings on the land, and to use and possess the property.

The most common issues encountered in real estate law are those involving the purchase or sale of a residential home, and landlord-tenant issues. When purchasing or selling a home, title must be transferred to transfer ownership of the property. Ensuring that a “clean” title is transferred is vital to success of the transfer and avoidance of future legal problems. This can be accomplished by performing a title search which will turn up defects and give the seller an opportunity to cure them. A deed is a written instrument that transfers title of a property from one person to another. Generally, in Illinois, title is transferred by a general warranty deed which provides the greatest amount of protection to the buyer. Finally, a recording must be made after a real estate sale/purchase to give the public notice.

Commercial real estate issues can be complex and involve many more issues than those encountered in residential transactions or litigation. Issues that may arise in commercial real estate transactions can include zoning and variance issues, environmental inspections and rectifications, complex contract negotiations, and long-term lease term negotiations, for example.

Particularly, lease terms in commercial matters are almost exclusively left to the parties to negotiate without court or statutory intervention. Therefore, it is crucial that items such as proper land use, municipal ordinance issues, and business licensing issues are discussed and provided for within the terms of the lease in order to preserve and enforce the rights of both parties to the transaction.

The process of evicting a non-paying or otherwise defaulting tenant from a property is a complicated one, especially for residential properties. There are many procedural formalities that must be complied with in order to properly evict a tenant from a property under the appropriate statutes. Even when the eviction procedures are properly followed, the process can still take several months and can incur significant fees. Having experienced counsel to represent your interests can help you determine the most cost-effective method to remove a tenant from a property, and can even help negotiate a settlement which saves money for both parties and allows the tenant to leave amicably without intervention by the courts.

Filing a property tax appeal can potentially lower the amount of tax assessed to your property based on its assessed value and the value of surrounding properties in the same area. The local assessor’s office handles the assessing and collecting of property tax. Our attorneys can assist you in determining whether your particular area is eligible for the filing of an appeal, as well as completing the requisite application forms for the appeal process.

A lease is an agreement whereby one person agrees to let another use and/or live in his or her real estate in exchange for rent. While no particular words are needed to create a lease, it should at the very least include the names of the parties, a description of the real estate, the starting and ending date of the lease, the amount of rent, and when rent is due. A lease can be oral or written, but the terms of an oral lease are understandably difficult to prove in court, and leases lasting longer than one year MUST be in writing. A lease can also be for a specified or unspecified period of time. The term of the lease affects how much notice the tenant must receive before an eviction proceeding may be started by the landlord. Many municipalities within Illinois have ordinances that grant additional rights in landlord/tenant situations, with Chicago being the most notable.Consulting an attorney in landlord/tenant situations, from questions as to how to properly draft a lease agreement to what to do when served with an eviction notice, will help protect your rights and potentially prevent costly and time consuming litigation.

Franchise agreements are those by which individuals are granted the rights by license to own and operate a location or locations of a local or national, or even international, business. Prior to entering into a franchise agreement, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the rights and obligations contained therein and to be familiar with the implementation of the business’s practices and procedures. Because the company licensing its brand in the franchise is concerned with protecting the level of quality and uniformity throughout its locations, franchise agreements often contain language stating that failure to adhere to the standards and practices set forth by the business may result in penalties or termination of the franchise agreement. Having an attorney review your franchise agreement will help you understand the commitments you are agreeing to, as well as assist in advising you on a plan to ensure compliance with all the contractual terms, especially those which preserve the brand you now represent.

Corporate Law

Starting a business is a daunting task. Deciding which type of business entity is right for you, completing all the necessary legal paperwork, and obtaining all the necessary local, state, and potentially federal licenses and permits are just a few of the things that must be considered prior to going into business for yourself. Our experienced attorneys are prepared to discuss all options and counsel our clients through the required steps and paperwork needed to start and continue to operate a business.

Corporations are business entities that are taxed in a particular way, issue shares to their owners/investors, and require shareholder agreements to dictate the terms and conditions of share ownership and company operation related thereto. A carefully drafted shareholder agreement can ensure that shareholders are protected from share dilution, restricted from selling to non-shareholders, and compliant with any federal and state regulations related to share transactions.

In the course of operating a business, oftentimes many contracts are executed for a variety of relationships and services. It is easy for the terms of individual contracts to be forgotten or overlooked over time, and sometimes this can lead to actions that would breach the terms of these agreements. A full contracts audit examines the terms and conditions of each contractual relationship of which our clients are a part. The audit also examines the business practices and procedures to ensure that our client is not unknowingly operating in breach of any contract terms and is continually protected by the terms of the contract. The contracts audit provides peace of mind that the business is securely operating within the bounds of its agreements, and provides an organized look at its relationships and obligations in relation to its current practices and procedures.

Various business relationships are formed among and between companies and individuals at every stage of the life of a business. Having an experienced attorney to draft the agreements you need is crucial to defining the terms of the business relationship, the duties and obligations of both parties, and what will happen in the event of a breach or default. Discussing and drafting these provisions from the beginning is an excellent way to avoid misunderstandings or expensive litigation down the road. It is always recommended to consult with an attorney prior to signing any contract or otherwise entering into a business relationship.

Legally speaking, a merger occurs when two (or more) companies combine assets and operations to form a new business entity, whereas an acquisition is when one company incorporates another’s assets and operations into its own. Mergers, asset purchases, and equity purchases are taxed differently, and consulting with an attorney and an accountant is crucial to ensuring that the best possible taxation scenario is found for the specific situation. Having an attorney is also vital during the due diligence period in order to investigate any potential pitfalls of the transaction and to verify the supporting documentation and existing obligations of each business. Mergers and acquisitions are complicated transactions, but with proper counseling and representation, the transition into the final business entity can be made as smooth as possible.

Franchise agreements are those by which individuals are granted the rights by license to own and operate a location or locations of a local or national, or even international, business. Prior to entering into a franchise agreement, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the rights and obligations contained therein and to be familiar with the implementation of the business’s practices and procedures. Because the company licensing its brand in the franchise is concerned with protecting the level of quality and uniformity throughout its locations, franchise agreements often contain language stating that failure to adhere to the standards and practices set forth by the business may result in penalties or termination of the franchise agreement. Having an attorney review your franchise agreement will help you understand the commitments you are agreeing to, as well as assist in advising you on a plan to ensure compliance with all the contractual terms, especially those which preserve the brand you now represent.

Litigation

Unfortunately, the reality is that the longer your business is on operation, the more likely it is that you will need to be involved in a lawsuit in one way or another. The issues can range from collections, to breach of contract issues, to intellectual property protection. Since our firm represents businesses in all phases of their existence, we are well-equipped to handle litigation at any stage, and to prepare and prevent your business from suffering litigation to the fullest extent possible.

Injury to your person is one of the most traumatic and potentially life-altering events one can experience. It takes an experienced attorney to make sure that you are adequately compensated for your injuries and suffering.

Class action lawsuits permit one lawsuit to handle the claims of many plaintiffs, the “class” of persons affected in the case, through one or more individuals. In a class action suit, the issues in dispute must be common to all members of the class and the number of persons affected is so high that it would be impractical for each one to bring suit individually. The types of cases that may become class action cases can be varied, including fraud, product liability, and illegal conduct.

Construction litigation covers many different issues, some of which have strict rules and timelines governing how they are legally handled. Some of these issues include breaches of contract, securing and enforcing mechanics liens, environmental hazards, and legal rights and obligations of contractors and subcontractors. Construction of contract language can be crucial in determining liability for various payments or mishaps occurring in the course of a construction project, but if the contract has already been executed, it takes an experienced attorney to recognize potential options when dealing with an impending lawsuit.

Protecting your intellectual property is very important to the protection of your brand and the fortification of your IP portfolio. Intellectual property litigation is oftentimes complex and detailed, and requires the attention of practitioners experienced in the area. Whether it be copyright, trademark, trade secret, or patent protection, our attorneys possess the background knowledge and experience to spot the relevant issues in these types of cases and protect and enforce your rights.

Breach of contract litigation covers all types of contracts, including written, oral and implied. Contracts can be as simple as those for painting a house, or as complex as those for selling a business. A well-drafted contract can head off many litigation issues at the pass with proper language. But even less well-written contracts can hold rights and obligations via interpretation of their language and existing case law. Our attorneys are familiar with contract drafting and enforcement, as well as the procedural steps necessary to enforce or invalidate the existence of an agreement.

The Department of Administrative Hearings is an independent quasi-judicial body. The cases that come before the Department concern public health, safety, licensing, and building code violations. A business brought before an administrative body faces a myriad of esoteric procedures, which automatically places that business at a disadvantage. As knowledgeable and experienced advocates in these matters, we will provide effective and efficient counsel to navigate through these treacherous waters.

Products Liability is the area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make products available to the public are held responsible for the injuries those products cause.

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