Be Aware that Berkeley’s Minimum Wage Has Increased!

Author: Sean B. Gentry 


Brand & Branch LLP presents a guest post by Sean B. Gentry. Mr. Gentry is an Associate with Ad Astra Law Group LLP. They counsel clients through difficult situations to achieve great results in the areas of business, employment, real estate, estates/trusts, family, and criminal law.

The minimum wage for employees working in the City of Berkeley has been increased to $12.53 per hour effective October 1, 2016. Employers with locations in Berkeley should remember to make this change for their upcoming employee payroll and promptly notify their minimum wage employees of their new wage rate, either in writing or on a timely itemized wage statement for their first October paycheck.

Berkeley is not unique in passing a minimum wage ordinance higher than the California state minimum wage. Employers with locations throughout the various major cities of the Bay Area should routinely check to ensure that they are paying the correct rates for minimum wage employees in those cities. Further, the California statewide minimum wage will also continue to increase each year under recently enacted legislation, rising from $10.00 per hour to $10.50 per hour on January 1, 2017 for employers with 26 employees or more.

As a final reminder, employers may not use an employee’s tips as a credit toward the obligation to pay the minimum wage for an employee that receives tips, such as an employee who works in a restaurant as a waitperson.

If you have questions about wage and hour laws governing your employees, Ad Astra can help you navigate the unique rules employers must follow in California and especially in the Bay Area. To read additional posts or learn more, please visit or call: 415-795-3579.

Selecting a Strong Trademark: Part II

Earlier this year, sociologist James I. Bowie published an article for Slate Magazine arguing that the marijuana leaf has become so ubiquitous in cannabis branding as to be visually indistinct. "Marijuana Branding Needs a Makeover," the headline declared. Bowie's position understandably created some controversy among cannabis activists, but it came as no surprise to trademark attorneys who have long been helping our clients balance a desire to honor marijuana's heritage with the need to create a distinct -- and therefore protectable -- cannabis brand.

According to Bowie,

The problem with the leaf in a marijuana business logo is that it is so commonly used that it acts as a symbol of merely the general category, rather than of the specific brand. Such visual clichés can be found in many fields, stemming from tradition (such as the use of striped poles as symbols for barbers) or obviousness (like dentists employing tooth logos). . . . This is fine when the category is more important than the brand. If you need a quick haircut or your molar is killing you, you’ll look for the first striped pole or tooth logo you can find. Because legal pot is still a novelty, the leaf itself is enough to attract business. But as marijuana becomes legally available on a more widespread basis, its branding is going to have to move beyond the generic leaf to incorporate more distinctive visual elements.

As trademark lawyers we can certainly understand Bowie's perspective. The marijuana leaf tells patients and customers that you sell cannabis. A distinctive brand communicates much more.

But it's complicated. Many cannabis businesses incorporate marijuana imagery into their branding to honor those who fought to bring about what today we call the "cannabis industry," and to root themselves in a long tradition of cannabis cultivators and activists. The iconic value of the marijuana leaf and the history it represents should not be understated. 

If your company is considering adopting a trademark that incorporates traditional marijuana imagery, it's critical to understand what makes a trademark distinctive, and why adopting a commonly-used word or image may make protecting and enforcing your brand both difficult and costly.

Selecting a Strong Trademark: Part I

The "Spectrum of Distinctiveness"

By: Nicole A. Syzdek, Associate, Brand & Branch LLP

Your brand is everything. A strong brand firmly establishes your presence in the marketplace, increases the value of your company, and makes acquiring (and keeping) customers easier. Creating a strong brand begins with selecting a memorable trademark that keeps your company in the forefront of consumers' minds, ensuring that when they're ready to buy, they'll think of you first. 

Selecting a Strong Trademark

Your trademark is an essential component of your brand. A trademark, or "mark," is any word, name, symbol, design, image, or even sound used in commerce to indicate the source of your goods or services and distinguish them from others'. Trademarks are extremely valuable assets and represent the hard-earned goodwill of your business. But not all trademarks are created equal. 

When generating brand ideas, many new companies initially select names that describe the goods or services they offer. They may assume that this helps customers quickly and easily understand what the company does, or is good for search engine optimization. Perhaps, but a good marketing team will steer its clients toward a strong and distinctive mark that helps distinguish their products in the marketplace, and away from a mark that merely describes what they do.

Not only do descriptive names make for weak brands, they are typically also not protectable as trademarks. The strength of a particular trademark is evaluated on a spectrum of distinctiveness ranging from the strongest fanciful marks to the weakest descriptive marks, which may not be protectable at all.

Notice, Notice, Notice! Are your internet policies enforceable?

Meyer v. Kalanik


Court Declines to Enforce Uber’s Terms of Service

By: Nicole A. Syzdek, Associate, Brand & Branch LLP

On July 29, 2016, the Southern District of New York in Meyer v. Kalanick declined to enforce the arbitration provision of Uber’s Terms of Service on the grounds that the plaintiff did not have adequate notice of, and consequently did not consent to, Uber’s Terms. Since each online user interface differs, there is no bright-line rule to ensure the enforceability of your terms of service. Nevertheless, decisions like Meyer are instructive in helping business owners understand how to ensure that their own terms of service are enforceable if violated. 

USPTO Issues Major Ruling on Cannabis Trademarks

In re Morgan Brown

Is the sky falling, or is there still hope?

On July 14, 2016, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a decision refusing to register the mark HERBAL ACCESS for use in connection with "retail store services featuring herbs" on the grounds the mark was being used with the sale of marijuana in violation of federal law. While this decision presents some new hurdles, it doesn’t change what cannabis businesses have been required to do all along—find creative, legal ways to secure trademark rights at the USPTO.