The “Dot-Brand” Explosion: What You Need To Do Now

Dickinson Wright LogoEarlier this year the company that manages the global internet address system (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN) accepted the first round of applications for new “generic top level domains,” or gTLDs – the part of an address that goes to the right of the dot. Most businesses register domain names that use the familiar “.com” suffix or one of a handful of other available options such as “.org” or “.biz.” The new program makes it possible to register a business name, a trademark – indeed, virtually any word in any language – as a TLD in its own right. Depending on whose crystal ball you consult, this Dot-Brand initiative could revolutionize the way the internet works, or hopelessly complicate it, or both.

The initial application window recently closed. The list of applications offered a few surprises, a number of omens for the future – and some important action items for brand owners who did not apply for a gTLD this time around.

  • One surprise was the sheer number of applications. Originally, ICANN was anticipating 500 or so. In the end there were almost 2,000 (at $185,000 apiece!) The unexpected volume slowed down the application process, and will surely slow the review and approval process even more.
  • Many of the applications were for famous brand names (.chevy, .nikon, .walmart) and several were for geographic locations (.paris, .nyc, .amersterdam). The most interesting ones were for generic terms like .art, .tech, and .store, which will be of interest to a great many people. Lots of brand owners in the auto industry, forexample, may want to be part of the “.cars” domain.
  • Not surprisingly, many of these generic domains are the subject of multiple applications: thirteen for .app; seven each for .mail and .news; nine for .shop. There will be a lengthy dispute-resolution process, probably culminating in an old-fashioned auction to the highest bidder, to see who ultimately gains control of these domains.

A recent survey of attorneys responsible for protecting trademarks found that while 91 percent were aware of the new gTLD program, only 36 percent had read the Applicant Guidebook, which explains how the process work. That Guidebook, and the initial application list, suggests some important steps you should take now to protect your brand:

1. Make sure no one has applied for a domain that incorporates one of your trademarks. A formal objection period for addressing such issues is now open and will run until January 2013.

2. Identify “generic” domains of interest, and investigate the applicants and their business plans. If you’re in the financial services sector, for example, you’ll want to know who’s behind the applications for .bank, .broker, .finance, .fund, .insurance, .investsments, .lifeinsurance, .loans, .money, .mutualfunds, and others. A 60-day comment period, open to anyone, runs through August 12; if there is something ICANN ought to know about one or more of the applicants or proposed domains, now is the time to tell them.

3. Start planning for defensive domain-name registrations in appropriate generic and geographic domains. Depending on the business you’re in, you may want to make sure you are the first to register your company name and key trademarks within appropriate domain names – before someone else does. The “someone else” could be a competitor, or just an old-fashioned cyber-squatter of the sort brand owners have been dealing with in the .com sphere for years. And don’t forget about domains like “.sucks,” where having someone else register your brand could be embarrassing.

The best defense is a good offense. Starting in October 2012, for a small fee you will be able to list your brand names in ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse; anyone that tries to register your brand as a domain name will be advised of your rights.

Consumer Financial Services Basics 2013 – September 30 – October 01, 2013

The National Law Review is pleased to bring you information about the upcoming  Consumer Financial Services Basics 2013.

CFSB Sept 30 2013

When

September 30 – October 01, 2013

Where

  • University of Maryland
  • Francis King Carey School of Law
  • 500 W Baltimore St
  • Baltimore, MD 21201-1701
  • United States of America

Facing the most comprehensive revision of federal consumer financial services (CFS) law in 75 years, even experienced consumer finance lawyers might feel it is time to get back in the classroom. This live meeting is designed to expose practitioners to key areas of consumer financial services law, whether you need a primer or a refresher.

It is time to take a step back and think through some of these complex issues with a faculty that combines decades of practical experience with law school analysis. The classroom approach is used to review the background, assess the current policy factors, step into the shoes of regulators, and develop an approach that can be used to interpret and evaluate the scores of laws and regulations that affect your clients.

Obama Administration Delays Until 2015 Large Employer Shared Responsibility Requirements, Reporting and Tax Penalties

Dickinson Wright LogoOn July 2, 2013, the Department of Treasury announced a one-year delay in the employer shared responsibility mandate under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and related information reporting.

Complexity Leads to Delayed Reporting Implementation

The Department said that over the past several months, the Administration engaged in dialogue with businesses about the new employer and insurer reporting requirements under ACA. It took into account employer concerns about the complexity of the requirements and their need for more time to implement them effectively. Based on this, the Administration announced that it will provide an additional year, to January 1, 2015, before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin. It said the delay is designed to meet two goals. First, it will allow the Department to consider ways to simplify the new reporting requirements consistent with the law. Second, it will provide time to adapt health coverage and reporting systems while employers are moving toward making health coverage affordable and accessible for their employees. The Department said that within the next week, it will publish formal guidance describing the transition. In doing so, it said it is working hard to adapt and be flexible about reporting requirements as it implements the law.

More specifically, the Department said that the ACA includes information reporting (under Code Section 6055) by insurers, self-insured employers, and other parties that provide health coverage. It also requires information reporting (under Code Section 6056) by certain employers with respect to the health coverage offered to their full-time employees. The Department expects to publish proposed rules implementing these provisions this summer, after a dialogue with stakeholders – including responsible employers that already provide their full-time work force with coverage that exceeds the minimum employer shared responsibility requirements – in an effort to minimize the reporting, consistent with effective implementation of the law.

Once these rules have been issued, the Administration will work with employers, insurers, and other reporting entities to strongly encourage them to voluntarily implement this information reporting in 2014, in preparation for the full application of the provisions in 2015. It said that real-world testing of reporting systems in 2014 will contribute to a smoother transition to full implementation in 2015.

Delayed Implementation of Shared Responsibility and Tax Penalties

The Department said it recognizes that this transition relief will make it impractical to determine which applicable large employers owe the shared responsibility tax payment for not providing minimum essential coverage that is affordable and provides minimum value (under Code Section 4980H) for 2014. Accordingly, the Department is extending transition relief on the employer shared responsibility payments. Under the transition relief, applicable large employers will not owe either the $2,000 tax or the $3,000 tax for 2014. Any employer shared responsibility tax payments will not apply until 2015. During the 2014 transition period, the Department strongly encourages employers to maintain or expand the health coverage they provide to their employees.

Importantly, the Department said its actions do not affect employees’ access to the premium tax credits available under the ACA, although without employers reporting on who they provide coverage to, it is hard to see how the government will know which individuals qualify for a tax credit. Without more, this suggests that the Department intends that marketplaces for individuals will still be available January 1, 2014. It also suggests that most Americans will still have to obtain health benefits coverage or pay the individual tax. It is not clear if the notice employers are required to send to all employees by October 1, 2013 advising them of the marketplaces will still be required. The upcoming guidance should address this and other requirements. The Department also said that this delay does not change the compliance requirements under any other provision of the ACA. This suggests that the PCORI fee payable by July 31, 2013 is still due, the 90-day maximum waiting period for benefits eligibility in 2014 still applies, etc.

Hopefully, the upcoming guidance will provide more detail on on-going employer responsibilities. Until then, it appears that, presuming there are no additional delays or relief:

  • Employers will not have to count full-time employees and full-time equivalents in 2013 to determine if they are applicable large employers beginning January 1, 2014.
  • Applicable large employers will not have to determine their full-time employees for purposes of providing minimum essential coverage in 2014.
  • Applicable large employers who do not provide minimum essential coverage to all full-time employees in 2014 will not owe the $2,000 tax times all full-time employees (minus 30) if one full-time employee purchases coverage through a marketplace and obtains a tax credit or subsidy.
  • Applicable large employers that provide minimum essential coverage that is not affordable or does not provide minimum value in 2014 will not owe the $3,000 tax times all full-time employees who purchase coverage through a marketplace and receive a tax credit or subsidy.
  • Employers will not have to report to the government on their full-time employees and health plan coverage in 2014, although the government will urge voluntary reporting.
  • Employers that have been considering adjusting the structure of their workforces to minimize the number of their full-time employees appear to have additional time in which to analyze and implement workforce changes.
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What Windsor Means for Same-Sex Married Couples Seeking U.S. Immigration Benefits

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On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) is unconstitutional. This Section of DOMA prohibited the U.S. government from conferring any federal benefits to same-sex couples who were married in any jurisdiction in the world.

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What does the Windsor decision mean for same-sex couples seeking immigration benefits?

On the immigration front, DOMA has been the main obstacle prohibiting married same-sex couples from accessing any immigration benefits that would otherwise flow to a spouse. For example, a U.S. citizen may sponsor a spouse who is a foreign national for permanent residence, and that foreign national spouse is considered an “immediate relative” of a U.S. citizen and exempt from annual numerical limitations on immigrants. Before Windsor, this option of “immediate relative” sponsorship did not exist for same-sex couples. Same-sex spouses also were not able to qualify for derivative nonimmigrant visas, or to qualify as dependents in an employment-based immigrant visa or adjustment of status process. Windsor has permanently shifted this landscape, with same-sex married couples being recognized as married and therefore able to access immigration benefits, provided they can demonstrate eligibility under the law for the specific benefits sought.

What marriages are valid under Windsor?

Generally, if a couple’s marriage is valid where it is performed, it is valid for purposes of immigration law. If you and your foreign national spouse were married in one of the 12 U.S. states that recognize same-sex marriage or in a foreign country that recognizes same-sex marriage, such as Canada, your green card sponsorship and application process should be treated exactly like the application of a different-sex couple. In fact, Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in Windsor, married her wife in Canada. To determine the validity of the marriage, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) focuses on the place where the marriage took place, not the location where one or both spouses live. This same principle is applied by other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security as well as at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.

Recent Guidance from the Federal Government

We expect government agencies to implement the Windsor decision swiftly. This means that immediately we will see changes at the various federal agencies that process applications for immigration benefits and visas. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a statement following the Court’s decision. She directed USCIS “to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.” Recent Department of Homeland Security guidance is now clear that family-based immigrant visas will no longer “be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage.” Following the Court’s decision, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the Department of State (DOS) will work with the Department of Justice and other agencies “to review all relevant statues as well as benefits administered” by DOS. We expect to see guidance from U.S. Consulates in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

Same-sex couples who are married now have equal access to immigration benefits. The scope of the Windsor decision extends to same-sex spouses of individuals pursuing employment-based immigration benefits, such as green card and nonimmigrant visa sponsorship. We will continue to monitor developments in the law and provide guidance on immigration options for LGBT families.

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SAP Joins Patent and Trade Office against Versata in Eastern District of Virginia

Schwegman Lundberg Woessner

You may recall that Versata sued the Patent Office in the Eastern District of Virginia to challenge the PTAB’s decision to institute a CBM review of Versata’s U.S. 6,553,350 patent.  Versata Development Group, Inc. v. Rea, 1:13-cv-00328-GBL-IDD (E.D. VA).  It turns out that SAP America, Inc. and SAP AG (collectively “SAP”) filed a Motion to Intervene in that suit.  On June 24, 2013, Judge Gerald Bruce Lee granted SAP’s Motion to Intervene over Versata’s objections (the PTO did not oppose the motion).  The motion was granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(b).  SAP is now an intervenor in the lawsuit.

SAP also filed a motion to dismiss the suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), alleging a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.  That motion has not yet been decided; however, this is a very important case for all post-grant practitioners because it will likely give guidance as to which types of PTAB decisions may be appealed.   First, SAP argues that the decision is not appealable under the AIA, in particular 35 U.S.C. § 324(e).  Second, SAP contends that a decision to institute trial is not appealable because it is not a final decision by the PTAB; it is the very beginning of the PTAB trial.  In its Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss, SAP stated:

First, Versata invokes the APA to challenge a decision by the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) made on her behalf by the newly-created Patent Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board”). 37 C.F.R. §§ 42.2, 42.4. Specifically, Versata challenges the Board’s initial decision to institute a post-grant review proceeding. But under the America Invents Act (“AIA”), Congress expressly precluded judicial review of the exact decision that Versata seeks to challenge: “The determination by the Director whether to institute a post-grant review . . . shall be final and nonappealable.” 35 U.S.C. § 324(e). Simply put, the APA does not apply—and this Court cannot exercise jurisdiction—where, as here, a “statute precludes judicial review.” 5 U.S.C. § 701(a)(1).

SAP’s Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss, page 1 (italics in original).

This is certainly an interesting development.  We will stay tuned into the future events of this matter.

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In a Pro-Employee World, U.S. Supreme Court Rulings Offer Employers Hope

GT Law

In a pair of important opinions released last week, both of which are helpful to employers, the U.S. Supreme Court raised the bar for employees asserting claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. _, No. 12-484 (2013), the Court ruled that an employee claiming retaliation must do more than show that retaliatory animus was a “motivating factor” for discipline – it must be the “but-for” cause.  In Vance v. Ball State University, 570 U.S. _, No. 11-556 (2013), the Court ruled that for employers to be held vicariously liable for the actions of a “supervisor,” the plaintiff must demonstrate that the “supervisor” had power to take a “tangible employment action,” such as transferring or terminating the employee. Authority merely to direct aspects of the employee’s work will not suffice.

Nassar and Vance represent significant victories for employers faced with Title VII retaliation and discrimination claims. The heightened requirements that charging employees now face should enhance an employer’s prospects for obtaining summary judgment and, failing that, impose a more rigorous hurdle for plaintiffs at trial.

Nassar Imposes More Stringent “But-For” Causation Test for Title VII Retaliation Claims

Plaintiff in Nassar was a physician of Middle Eastern descent. The defendant university hired him as a member of its medical faculty, and under the terms of the university’s affiliation agreement with a local hospital, the plaintiff also worked at the hospital as a staff physician. The plaintiff alleged that the University’s Chief of Infectious Disease Medicine harassed him because of her discriminatory “bias against Arabs and Muslims.” The plaintiff ultimately resigned from the university faculty, and accused his superior of discriminatory bias in his letter of resignation, which he sent to the university’s chair of Internal Medicine and other faculty members. The chair was allegedly dismayed by the public accusations of discrimination, and said that the chief must “be publicly exonerated” of the charges against her. When he learned that plaintiff had been offered a staff physician position at the hospital, the chair objected that the affiliation agreement required all staff physicians to also be faculty members, and the hospital therefore withdrew its offer to plaintiff.

Plaintiff brought suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, alleging that he had been constructively discharged by reason of the chief’s discriminatory harassment, and that the chair subsequently allegedly retaliated against him for complaining of that harassment. A jury found for plaintiff on both claims, but the Fifth Circuit affirmed only as to the retaliation claim, holding that retaliation claims under Title VII required a showing merely that retaliation was a “motivating factor” for an adverse employment action rather than its “but-for” cause.

The Supreme Court vacated that decision, concluding that “the text, structure and history of Title VII demonstrate that a plaintiff making a retaliation claim … must establish that his or her protected activity was a but-for cause of the alleged adverse action by the employer.” The Court reasoned that because Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision appears in a different section from the status-based discrimination ban, which utilizes the lesser “motivating factor” causation test, the “but-for” standard applies to Title VII retaliation claims. Accordingly, “Title VII retaliation claims require proof that the desire to retaliate was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action.” To establish a retaliation claim, employees must now show that their employer would not have taken the challenged employment action but for the employee’s protected activity.

Vance Limits “Supervisors” to Those with Power to Take a Tangible Employment Action

In a second critical decision for employers, plaintiff in Vance, an African-American woman, worked in the university’s Banquet and Catering Division of Dining Services. Plaintiff alleged that a fellow employee, a white woman named Davis, harassed and intimidated her because of her race.  Plaintiff sued under Title VII, alleging that her white co-worker created a racially hostile work environment. “The parties vigorously dispute[d] the precise nature and scope of Davis’ duties, but they agree[d] that Davis did not have the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline Vance.”

The District Court granted defendant summary judgment, holding the university was notvicariously liable for Davis’s alleged actions because she could not take tangible employment actions against the plaintiff and therefore was not a “supervisor.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide “who qualifies as a ‘supervisor’” under Title VII. The Court held that “an employee is a ‘supervisor’ for purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII [only] if he or she is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim” and affirmed.

In analyzing when an employer is vicariously liable for the actions of its employees, the Court defined “tangible employment actions” to include effecting “‘a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.’” The Court specifically rejected the EEOC’s definition of “supervisor,” which tied “supervisor status to the ability to exercise significant direction over another’s daily work[,]” as “a study in ambiguity.” Hence, under Title VII, if an employee is not authorized to impose tangible employment actions against another, the employer cannot be vicariously liable for the subject employee’s alleged harassment.

Vance enhances an employer’s ability to limit the company’s responsibility for harassment. Employers should remain mindful of the duties of their employees, ensuring that only key management and supervisory personnel possess the power to effect a “significant change in employment status”. Clear definitions of an employee’s responsibilities should greatly limit any future claims of vicarious liability against employers. This more precise definition of “supervisor” should, like Nassar, increase the likelihood of dismissal at the summary judgment stage and help obtain favorable in limine and trial rulings.

Conclusion

Nassar and Vance afford significant advantages to employers defending against discrimination and retaliation claims.  Importantly, although the decisions themselves were concerned with claims arising under federal anti-discrimination (not just Title VII) laws, the Court’s reasoning may well find acceptance among state courts, which frequently apply the Title VII analysis to claims asserted under analogous state laws. Nassar and Vance are likely to prove valuable tools to employers defending against claims of discrimination and/or retaliation, increasing both the prospects of obtaining summary judgment and, if necessary, the odds of success at trial.

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New Requirement for Long-Term Care (LTC) Facilities That Arrange Hospice Services through a Medicare-Certified Hospice

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Effective August 26, 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services require that a long-term care, or LTC, facility that chooses to arrange for the provision of hospice services through a Medicare-certified hospice must have a signed agreement with the hospice delineating the services that will be provided by each.

New Condition of Participation Requirement for Long-Term Care Facilities

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has added a new Condition of Participation (CoP) that requires that long-term care (LTC) facilities (that is, Medicare-certified skilled nursing and Medicaid-certified nursing facilities) that choose to arrange for the provision of hospice services through a Medicare-certified hospice must have in place a written agreement delineating the respective roles and responsibilities of each.  The CoP requires that the agreement, signed by an authorized official of the LTC facility and the hospice, must be in place before any hospice services can be provided through the arrangement by the hospice.  The new CoP requirement is effective August 26, 2013.

In its description of the requirement, published in the June 27, 2013, Federal Register, CMS explains that where LTC facilities and hospices provide many of the same services to residents who have elected the hospice benefit, the purpose of the agreement is to ensure that duplicative or conflicting services are not provided to the resident as part of the hospice benefit, and that there will be no missing hospice services.  CMS believes that the written clarification of the responsibilities of the LTC facility and the hospice will increase coordination of care for patients as well as foster communication between the two providers assisting patients and their families.  CMS also believes that the clear division of responsibilities and increased communication required by this new rule will help address the duplication of services criticized by the Office of Inspector General in a July 2011 report, and address situations where neither the LTC facility nor the hospice are providing a needed hospice service.

Options and New Requirement

An LTC facility has two options under the newly added CoP: it may arrange for the provision of hospice services through a written agreement with a Medicare-certified hospice specifying the services to be provided by the LTC facility and the hospice, or it may assist the resident in transferring to a facility that will arrange for the provision of hospice services when a resident requests a transfer.

If the hospice care is furnished in an LTC facility through an agreement with a Medicare-certified hospice, the agreement must ensure, among other things, that the hospice services meet professional standards and principles that apply to individuals providing services in the facility and to the timeliness of the services.  The regulations prescribe what must be addressed in the agreement.  For example, the agreement would specify that it is the LTC facility’s responsibility to furnish 24-hour room and board care, meet the resident’s personal care and nursing needs in coordination with the hospice representative, and ensure that the level of care provided is appropriately based on the resident’s needs.  The hospice’s responsibilities are delineated to include providing medical direction and management of the patient, nursing, counseling (including spiritual, dietary and bereavement), social work and medical supplies and drugs necessary for palliative care associated with the terminal illness.  The final regulation and CMS’ commentary published in the Federal Register provide considerable guidance to providers in developing new agreements, or amending existing agreements with hospices, to address the new requirement.

LTC facilities choosing to provide hospice services through arrangements with hospices without the required written agreement can face sanctions for their failure to meet the requirement of this new CoP.  While one commenter suggested extending the deadline for implementation of the rule to allow hospices and LTC facilities more time to develop agreements, CMS believes that the August 26, 2013, effective date is an adequate timeframe.

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