Entrepreneurship is at an all-time high. Over the last two years, more than 10 million new small businesses have emerged. While we celebrate the spirit of self-employment and applaud business moguls such as Slutty Vegan Owner Pinky Cole for gifting an entire class of college graduates their own LLC. We may be “building a house on land that we don’t own.” as Rosezena J. Pierce likes to say. Rosezena is known socially as the Biz Lawyer and specializes in trademark law. She shares the excitement of the new wave of business owners and looks forward to their growth and prosperity. However, she wants to ensure the newfound entrepreneurs set their businesses up the right way to protect their dreams.
Starting a business comes with making mistakes. Especially, when you are only focused on the product or service that you are selling. We’ve all heard “the only way to get started is to just start” While this is true, we have to make sure that we are starting with the right foundation. Rosezena’s drive to become a lawyer started relatively early in life. After some run-ins with the law, her father was hired by a criminal attorney, while sitting in the county jail bullpen, to be an investigator in the communities that the attorney was not welcomed in.
During the 1970s, in Chicago, a white lawyer would have a hard time finding out answers in a Black community. SO Rosezena’s father would do the investigating for the firm. Rosezena would trail her father to work either in the courthouse or at the law firm. Even though she had no idea what he was doing, she fell in love with seeing the power that her father had and how he could make a difference in the lives of others whether they were good or bad people.
From that moment, whenever someone asked Rosezena what she wanted to do when she grew up, she would tell them that she wanted to be a lawyer. However, she enrolled in the cosmetology program through the Vocational Training High School because she knew it was a lucrative way to take care of herself. Rosezena’s school had a function on Groundhog Day where the students would shadow someone who had a career that they found interesting. Rosezena picked a Lawyer. Her cosmetology teacher, while shocked at the desire, informed Rosezena that she had a friend who was a lawyer and would set up the meeting. While she enjoyed her day and finished with excitement and ambition, reality struck…she was pregnant.
Feeling like she was losing her way due to being a soon-to-be mother, it was the arrival of her son that pushed her into full gear to not only go after her goals a little harder but to be as fearless as possible in their pursuit. She felt like her son didn’t ask to be here and she needed to make sure that she gave him the best quality of life that she could provide. But it wasn’t going to be easy.
“I went to a big university, University of Illinois Chicago and it just wasn’t for me,” Rosezena reflects. She is on vacation in Jamaica and sitting on her balcony looking at the ocean. She takes a deep breath and speaks to herself aloud “I need to do this more often” as we laugh she explains “I never give myself a break. I’m always on “go” and this was a much-needed moment for me.” Then as if she is thrown back into work mode, she says “So with school…(laughing) I ended up dropping out of college. I remember working, living on my own, I had like 15 bills to pay, (laughing) as a single mom. And so I was just like, ‘you know what, let me figure this out. I’m looking at this struggle and I don’t want this to be my life.’ So I was just like, let me focus on how can I get back in school. I enrolled in a small business college that had an evening program and got my associate’s degree. And then I was like, okay, it’s time to switch jobs so that I can go get my bachelor’s degree and it could be convenient. I made sure that I always set it up where it worked with my lifestyle. And it was crazy because it got so discouraging. I would talk to people and they will always tell me, “In order to do this, you have to go this traditional way. You have to do this traditional route.” Then, while in undergrad getting my bachelor’s degree, I found out I was pregnant and carrying my daughter. And so now I’m like, well I can’t do it the traditional way. But I always just stayed focused and was like, “I’m gonna be a lawyer. I’m gonna be a lawyer.” And then the last class I took was paralegal studies because I felt like the quickest way I could get into the law was just by being around a bunch of people who taught law and are lawyers.”
After being engulfed in the paralegal course, Rosezena realized that she loved what she was learning and it made sense to her, it was just clear, and it was also fun. She knew she would feel most rewarded if she was able to work on something that would then come out into the public and she could see it. At the time it was, it was entertainment law and intellectual property law, helping entertainers acquire ownership of their creations through intellectual property law. That took hold when she looked at the life of one of her favorite entertainers…Redd Foxx.
“One of my favorite shows I used to watch with my dad was Sanford and Son,” Rosezena explained. “My dad told me that Redd Foxx died from a heart attack while they were just taking all his stuff away. And I’m like, how did that happen? This man is on TV, every single night. Who’s watching out, who’s looking out? And I just knew I wanted to be able to look out for people that looked like me because I just knew in that instant, somebody was not taking care of Redd Foxx.” She realized if you’re gonna be a business owner, you need to own your brand.
That became the premise of our interview. Rosezena wants to help explain some of the tools and myths of business ownership. While starting a business is the new 9-5 for the Millennial and Gen Z populations, it’s also the largest source of improperly formed businesses. Everything from trademarking, tax structuring, and business filings, there are mistakes that we are making that we more than likely have no idea about. Because starting a business is NOT as simple as “just start selling”.
SUAVV Magazine: When you see the ability of people going into social media influencing and people calling themselves brands yet aren’t protecting themselves as a brand, what are the things that we’re making mistakes in by jumping into things too quickly because the money’s there?
Rosezena: Yeah. So the biggest mistake, I think, is we’re starting to just build things that we don’t own. When we go to build a house, what do we do? We make sure that the land is first secured with a deed. Right? Where we own the land before we build the house. And it’s the same thing in business? Like why are we building brands and businesses that we do not own? I think the biggest misconception, especially among black entrepreneurs is that, oh, if I got my LLC, I got the domain name, I got the social media handles, I own it. But it’s like Facebook and Instagram do not give you the power to own things. Godaddy and hosting sites do not give you the power of ownership. Your secretary of state only has the power within your state. So who gives you that ownership? That’s where we go to the federal government so that we actually own a brand, at least across the nation. Right? And even the federal government can’t give you ownership throughout the world. You have to go to different countries to secure that registration. So for me, I’m not gonna put the cart before the horse. And I would like all of my potential business owners to be proactive instead of reactive as it relates to ownership. Just look at the young man, Lamont ‘Tory’ Stephenson who wore the “FREE” shirt to all these Hollywood parties. And then a year later Balenciaga has the same designed shirt. And now Diddy’s in a commercial rocking the shirt. That has happened too much to just the Black creators period. Especially in the music industry. Blacks are inventing things, but not getting full ownership rights and claims to them. And at this point and this time, I like to create the access or at least give the knowledge so that we can acquire the ownership.
SUAVV Magazine: Yeah. And I think that that is a big misconception that I have a website, I have an LLC. Nobody can take this from me. And it’s that step is skipped because a lot of people just really don’t understand that part of the business. So it’s like, you pay one of these platforms however much you paid them to register your business and you think you’re fine and you’re not.
Rosezena: Exactly. I see it often. And sometimes a lot of us, we like to utilize the cheaper service and things like that. But what we have to understand is we are lawyers, this is a part is the legal process. Not only is it a process with the government, but it’s also a legal process. You can file the application for yourself, but does that application support you if you need to enforce your rights? Recently a $33 million lawsuit was brought against LeBron James for the “more than an athlete” trademark. But when you look at that registration, it does not support a $33 million claim. See people also have to understand that trademarks can coexist in the marketplace as long as they’re not in the same trade channel. That’s why we have Dove chocolate and Dove soap, MAC makeup, and Mac computers. Pandora jewelry and Pandora music. Right? So you need someone who can properly advise you. As for me, TurboTax, can’t do my taxes, right? Because I need to put in some planning and some strategy with my CPA, who is an expert who is watching the tax laws and things like that. So that I can save more money and not pay more taxes, but do it legally. And it’s the same analogy to when you’re working with a trademark lawyer, because it’s like, we not just securing the name for you, but we are securing your brand. We’re securing your investment that you’re putting into this business. Because you have money that you’re investing, time that you’re investing, that’s at stake. If it’s not secured properly, you can lose it all.
SUAVV Magazine: And there’s a whole lot of people who can have their businesses snatched from underneath of them because they just haven’t registered properly.
SUAVV Magazine: Another mistake that I know entrepreneurs have made over decades is what’s called “poor man trademark”, is that correct?
Rosezena: Yes, They call it a poor man’s trademark, poor man copyright. But those are not recognized in a court of law. With technology, people can like falsify documents. You can try to use them as evidence, but also, we all know that the government likes to regulate things, right? So that you could pay them. And if you have not paid that fee, that filing fee, that processing fee, they don’t recognize that. So like, if you want to have your copyright protected, you need to go to copyright.gov or the copyright office and file that copyright. If you want to have your trademark protected, you go to usbto.gov. And if you wanna have your patent protected, you go to usbto.gov as well. Those are different types of intellectual property. Another one is trade secrets. Now trade secrets are the only type of intellectual property that you do not register with a government entity and the reason being is that it’s supposed to be a secret. But other than that, you have to register your brands because you could mail that piece of paper to yourself, and leave it in your stamp envelope. But now if somebody goes and files the trademark with the trademark office, and based on public perception, they are the rightful owner of those rights. So now that burden of proof shifts to you to prove that you are the owner. And there is something called common law use and prior rights as well. And I feel like there’s a lot of misconception around that because sometimes certain lawyers who do not practice, they’re not real trademark lawyers. They’ll be like, oh, well, you can assert your common law rights. But how much? But they don’t tell you how much it costs to assert your common laws. Right. Cause nobody knows about you. If you sitting in your little state, and you operate in your business, and they say, for instance, you are in Illinois and they’re in California and they do a search. Nothing comes up regarding you and your business. Right. They search the USPTO and you’re not registered there. So they file the trademark. And so now if you want to search your prior use or your common law rights, now you have to pay a lawyer to file an opposition to their trademark, which an opposition usually takes at least two years if no settlement is gonna be reached. And how much do lawyers charge? For instance, our firm charges to take those cases, $3,600 as a retainer. And then if it goes past the first 60 days, it’s a monthly $1,000 retainer fee, (which we’re about to go up on it, because we just can’t afford that low rate anymore.) Right. But think about that, that’s almost $25,000, right? If it goes the full two years… versus you paying $1,500 to just get the application on file in which, if you are on file, your trademark is registered. If that person did a thorough search, they probably now will be detoured to even use the name because they see it’s already registered.
SUAVV Magazine: Right. And it’s crazy because I think there’s so much ambition on starting a business and everyone wants to jump in and just start it’s like, let’s just go, let’s make money. And like you said, you’re just on a horrible foundation. And you start making mistakes that cost a lot of money on the back end to fix. So where should people start? What is the first step that should be taken before jumping in and starting a business, even if it’s just selling t-shirts on Instagram?
Rosezena: I want to address that too, because, I do want to tell people yes, just start. Because we want to make money. We’re all here to make money. But, because I’m a trademark lawyer and I’ve seen some things. Two worst-case scenarios, say you just start. And you order, let’s say 1500 units of t-shirts. And you spent about $10 a unit. That’s $15,000. You get your t-shirts in, and you’re posting on Instagram. So far you probably just sold about a hundred t-shirts and then you get a cease and desist letter from someone telling you that they own the name that’s on those shirts. And now in that ceases and desist letter, they also are demanding that you turn over any remaining inventory that you have so that they can destroy it because they have that right. Under the law, if they own the rights and trademark. You’re out of business and money spent. So I would be almost negligent to tell people to just start as ambitious as they want to be. Scenario two, you do just start. I have seen this happen too. You start. And the brand takes off. I have had a client who made over a million dollars and eight minutes. The brand goes crazy. And people are loving the brand, but now you have all these different copycats and counterfeiters who are popping up. And you don’t have a registration to like support it. And a lot of counterfeit is coming from overseas. But guess what, if we have the trademark certificate, we can register that with the US Border Customs and Border Patrol, and if they inspect any of those containers and it has some of your counterfeit products on them, they will confiscate them. But they will only do that if you have a trademark registration.
SUAVV Magazine: Another big issue that has played out on social media is name likeness. I know this gets tricky because names are oftentimes very much like another brand and there’s a conflict that happens when the brands collide. How do you avoid that?
Rosezena: First you start with developing a unique name. You want the name to be as unique as possible. Like everybody’s talking about Kim Kardashian and Laurie Harvey with this skin thing. Neither one of them has distinctive names, right? Like it’s both of them have skin and they both sell skincare brands and guess what? They both have other prior users that have prior rights before them. That has a trademark on file. So because skin is so common, you want to start with something distinctive. Great examples of distinctive names are Nike, Kodak, Exxon, and Disney, which those names don’t mean anything as it relates to the product or service that they provide. Therefore, if your competitors try to use your name, the details are very clear. They’re only using it to infringe upon your brand. But also, if the name is unique it makes it easier to register with the government. Like we won’t possibly see that many if any challenges because no one is using that name. So once you develop the distinctive name, the unique name, I will say, now it’s time to do the research. And this is a part that everybody skips over. And by researching, first search the name at spto.gov, just see if anything comes up. Now, what I will tell you is that your search is gonna be different from our search. Because as attorneys, under trademark law, it’s not about what’s the same, but what can be deemed confusingly similar. So even though your exact name may not come up, it might be something else that may cause a conflict or issue with the trademark. So that’s why you want to hire your attorney to do a thorough search for you, but just search the name, and start there.
SUAVV Magzine: This is a lot of really good information. I think my last question for this part of the interview is just about why this is soo important to you and why you felt the drive and need to help people set up their businesses properly. Because we spoke about how you not only want to help create successful businesses, but you also want that business to be a tool of generational wealth.
Rosezena: Yeah. You know I always tell people they need to secure the brand so that they can secure the bag, which in turn secures their legacy. Everyone is talking about generational wealth and creating a legacy. And really you can’t sell anything, you can’t control anything, and you can’t have a legacy if you don’t own it. I’m sitting here in Jamaica and Bob Marley’s legacy is everywhere. But his family does a great job of making sure that they maintain his trademark and that he has his legacy is protected. And they’re able to do that because he’s a famous person and a lot of people like to use his trademarks and his likeness. It’s more than just making sure you file your trademark because the trademark lawyer says so. But it is something that you can pass down to your family because a trademark can outlive you. Think about who created Mercedes or Coca-Cola. I don’t think they’re around anymore unless they have some type of rich money pill that still has them around here (Laughing). In all seriousness, we’re trying to provide our clients with something so much deeper where it’s allowing their kids and their kids, kids to have something of ownership. Like the Hilton brand, and the Gucci brand, these brands exist and they have long-lasting legacies because they do such a great job of making sure that they own what they’ve built. So, that’s what I would say. I absolutely love what I do. It’ll be 10 years for me next year that I’ve been practicing. We were just rated number 32 out of 33,000 trademark attorneys in the country. My firm is number 37 out of 28,000 trademark law firms in the country. And I really think I’m on God’s assignment because I really just wanted to finish law school and get a big job working at a big law firm or working at a big company helping people. However, when I finished law school and was able to finally be home when my kids came home from school, I was like, ‘oh my God, like I’ve been missing out on motherhood and I really want to be there.’ And I think God had me conflicted at that moment because he had something more powerful and profound for me to do, which is what the professor planted into me after passing a bar. He said, ‘You’ll go a long way serving the underserved.’ And I really believe that small business owners, creators, influencers, and entrepreneurs, we are underserved when it comes to accessibility to legal knowledge and legal practices within our businesses and what we’re building. So that’s what we’re here doing, serving the underserved.
To listen to the full interview with Rosezena, please visit SUAVV Sessions the podcast on all of your streaming platforms.