SWB names Abigail Christmann as Senior Associate

Saunders, Walsh & Beard is pleased to announce the promotion of Abigail Christmann to Senior Associate.

Since joining the firm in early 2017, Ms. Christmann has continued expanding her legal expertise in areas such as civil litigation, real estate, construction law, appellate advocacy, and insurance law (coverage and defense).

Ms. Christmann is licensed to practice law in Texas and has added the ability to handle matters in St. Louis and St. Charles Counties in Missouri. We are very proud of the attorney Ms. Christmann has become and look forward to her continued success.

Protecting Your Brand with a Trademark

With a business, branding is everything. From McDonald’s iconic “Golden Arches” to Nike’s catchphrase “Just do it!”, any savvy company is best served in protecting its intellectual property, and there’s no better way to protect your brand than to register a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Registering a trademark provides federal protection from infringement and entitles you to statutory damages. Trademarks can be images, names, or phrases, so long as they represent your business.


Getting Started

Since the application is a sunken cost that is non-refundable, regardless of whether the mark is approved, it is advisable to perform a search on the USPTO trademark search engine, to see what possible “competition” you might have for your mark. The link is here – Trademark Search Trademark Search (uspto.gov). The 45 International Classes cover any goods or services that a business might provide. It is advised to only be concerned with the International Class(es) that would apply to your mark. It’s why Dove Soap and Dove Ice Cream can co-exist. Trademarks exist to prevent consumer confusion, so ideally an individual wouldn’t take a bite out of a bar of soap, nor would they rub a chocolate-covered ice cream bar under their arms in the shower.

5 Levels of Distinction

Also, even if your mark is not found in the search engine, we will need to make sure that it has a certain level of distinctiveness. There are five levels of distinction for trademarks with the stronger the distinctiveness is, the more likely you’ll be approved for registration.

I. Fanciful

The highest level is “Fanciful.” This is a mark that has no relation whatsoever to the goods or services being offered and is also created solely to represent the good or service. Things like “Adidas” or “Xerox” are examples, as those words did not “exist” before the companies created them.

II. Arbitrary

The next level is “Arbitrary.” This mark is a word that has been known to the populace before the application/use of it as a mark, but it is wholly unrelated to the goods or services provided. Things like “Apple” or “Starbucks,” as if you’d never known of the computer company or the coffee chain, you’d be hard-pressed to assume what the companies do.

III. Suggestive

The third level is “Suggestive.” These marks suggest the product or service offered, without explicitly saying it. For example, even if you’d never heard of the chain, if I asked you if you wanted something from “Burger King,” you’d assume that it was a restaurant of some sort, probably selling hamburgers.

The next two levels are difficult, in terms of justifying federal protection.

IV. Descriptive

The “stronger” of the two is “Descriptive.” These marks describe the purpose, nature, or attribute of the product or service and are not considered to be eligible for registration. However, in exceptional circumstances, a descriptive mark could be registerable if it has acquired distinctiveness—through long-term usage in the eyes of consumers. When possible, you always want to argue that your mark is “Suggestive,” rather than “Descriptive,” and this is a common area where you’ll receive an office action from the USPTO, where they’ll claim it is the latter, and you’ll want to argue that the former applies.

V. Generic

Finally, the weakest mark is “Generic,” and it will never be protected, as it is too commonly used to have any distinctiveness. For example, I couldn’t trademark “Computer” or “Phone,” by themselves, as they are the names of the products they represent. (That being said, “iPhone” is a Suggestive mark, through the use of the letter “i” at the front of the name.) Also, a brand can be a victim of its success, in that it has come to dominate the market and as such, the brand name represents not just the particular product line, but the type of product in general. (Think of “Kleenex” being interchangeable with “facial tissue.”)

Even if you do get a refusal or opposition to the mark, once you’ve applied (an “Office Action”), you will have the ability to respond to that office action to state your case why their refusal is not well-reasoned, so know that you can always fight back against a refusal.

At some point in the application process, you must show that the mark is in use in commerce. If you have an idea for a slogan or a logo, but don’t have it currently used to represent your business, you can still file to register the trademark, but at some point, you will need to show that it is being used by your goods or services.

Give Us a Call

The experts at Saunders, Walsh & Beard are more than happy to assist you with any questions or needs in registering a trademark, renewing a trademark registration, or defending against an Office Action. The trademark process is a lengthy one, where applications submitted aren’t reviewed for ten months, as of 2023. You want to make sure you have a professional on your side to save you the time and stress of undergoing this process alone.

Warning to Restoration Contractors and Roofers: The Old Way of Doing Business is Over.

On August 3, 2017, the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth granted class certification against Lon Smith Roofing (LSRC), a prominent North Texas Roofer, for violation of the Texas Public Insurance Adjusting Act. Given the direction the courts in North Texas have gone in the past few years, the ruling is not a surprise. It is a warning to restoration contractors in general, and roofers in particular, that the old way of doing business is over. Contractors that negotiate with, or even represent themselves as able and willing to negotiate with, insurance adjusters do so at their own peril. (read more)

By way of background, in September 2013, the Keys sued LSRC asking the court to declare their contract void and to order the return – to them – of all monies their insurance company paid to the roofer. It’s important to remember that this is not a lawsuit about whether the roof was properly or timely installed. The roof doesn’t leak, the color isn’t wrong, the roofer didn’t damage the driveway or flower beds, or fail to respond to warranty claims. This lawsuit, which is a continuation of a dispute that started in 2011, is about language that, until recently, was commonly found in roofing contracts throughout the state of Texas.  Language that I still routinely see in roofing contracts today.

The Keys asked the 236th District Court in Tarrant County to approve them to act as representative plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against LSRC. On October 15, 2015, the district court judge signed an order granting the class certification. That order was immediately appealed. Last week, after almost two years, the appellate court issued its ruling upholding the class certification on the Keys’ claim for the “return” of all monies paid to the roofer as part of their declaratory judgment claim (violation of Public Insurance Adjuster’s Statute/Insurance Code 4102) and the DTPA claim that provides for the potential for treble damages for violation of Texas Insurance Code 541 (unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices). Class certification was denied for the DTPA claim for unconscionability.

The appellate court’s decision can, and likely will, be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, who can choose to review that ruling, or to leave it undisturbed. In the meanwhile, the ruling upholding class certification is a further step in the continuum of cases favoring consumers to the detriment of restoration contractors. In discussing the facts supporting its decision to uphold the class certification, the court cited to testimony from Mr. Keys that the roofer “never told him that he could or should get a public insurance adjuster involved in his roof-damage claim under his homeowners’ policy” and that the homeowner “understood that [Roofer] was contracting to discuss his insurance claim with his insurer and was also contracting to repair his roof.“

Some groups are claiming this as a victory for consumers. Whatever your perspective on this issue, what is clear is that lawsuits claiming violations of the Public Insurance Adjuster (PIA) law have just been given a big boost via class certification.

What does mean for those of you working in the restoration contracting community? First, what happened to this roofer could have happened to any number of other roofers using the same or similar language in their contracts. Or any roofer negotiating claims with insurance adjusters. The ability to initiate class action lawsuits will embolden plaintiff’s attorneys to pursue similar claims against restoration contractors and roofers since they’ll only have to prove the representative plaintiff’s claim rather than the claims of every plaintiff taking part in the class action suit (one plaintiff – multiple verdicts). The cost to defend against a lawsuit of this type, win or lose, is extremely expensive. Further, if you lose, you not only have to write a check to the property owner for anything paid to you by them or their insurance company, sometimes tripled depending on whether the violation is determined to be knowing or intentional, you’ll also have to pay their legal fees, which will almost certainly greatly exceed the cost of the roof, to potentially every owner you sold for the last ten years (the span of the Keys/LSRC class action certification).

What should you do? Make sure your contract doesn’t contain any of the language the courts have determined violates the PIA statute. Include language in your contracts that specifically puts the owner on notice that you are not offering to and will not provide any PIA services. Don’t hold yourself out as an insurance expert. Understand and be ready to educate owners about their rights and options for dealing with insurance adjusters (attorney, appraisal, public insurance adjuster), making referrals where appropriate to ethical attorneys, appraisers, and public insurance adjusters who can advocate for the homeowner without taking away your sale. Restrict your conversations with insurance adjusters to answering questions regarding your scope and price – don’t negotiate the claim with the insurance adjuster.

Karen, you say, you don’t know what it’s like out in the real world. But I do understand, including that the majority of “negotiations” are initiated by the insurance adjuster. However, this PIA law isn’t going away. Instead, it is being vigorously and strictly enforced in the courts and by TDI, and the ramifications to your business cannot be ignored.

Legal (and Common Sense) Advice for Halloween


With Halloween just around the corner, it seems only fitting that it should be the topic of this week’s blog post.  While you are decorating your house, carving your pumpkins, and picking out your costumes, you might not be thinking about avoiding legal entanglements that may result from the celebration.  Thankfully, you read my blog, and I have compiled a short list of things for you to consider this holiday weekend:

Emails Can Create Enforceable Contracts

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Email has become the standard form of written communication in the business world.  It should come as no surprise that the laws have adapted to accommodate this new age of electronic communication.  We routinely enter into contracts while shopping online, but the formality of the experience leaves little question that we are entering into an enforceable agreement.  What many of us fail to recognize is that an enforceable agreement can be reached as a result of an exchange of emails.