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Promoting employees; when two companies have the same name.
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Q How can I smooth the transition for employees promoted above their peers? Should I establish any rules?

Brian Boubek, Cultural Experiences Abroad, Tempe, Ariz.

"All animals are equal," proclaimed the pigs in Animal Farm, "but some are more equal than others." Those words resonate whenever a power shift disrupts once-egalitarian relationships. It's a fact of (office) life: Peers get on differently than do bosses and reports, and no amount of one-big-happy-family rhetoric will change that.

Employees must overcome their natural resentment at being left behind, but responsibility for making the arrangement work lies largely with the new manager. Garson Foos, co-founder of Shout Factory, a Los Angeles-based record label and film studio, hadn't considered that when he promoted an employee last year. Foos realized he had a problem when another employee quit, complaining that the new manager did not treat her professionally, acting instead as though the two were still just pals. In response, he developed a training program for new managers. Executives convene every other month to discuss real problems and hypothetical situations, such as giving a former happy-hour buddy a poor review. The program also serves as a support group, providing new managers with a place to cry now that the old familiar shoulders are off-limits.

Sometimes it helps to draw lines around the new relationship. W. Scott Hardy, an employment attorney at Pittsburgh law firm Cohen & Grigsby, suggests adding a clause to the employee manual that reminds managers that socializing with subordinates after work "impedes the effective direction of the work force." Or you can simply lead by example. Foos doesn't hesitate to join employees for happy hour. But after one drink, he is outta there.

Q I've done business as Ace Tutoring since 1998. I was recently contacted by a competitor that trademarked the name in 2001. Who has the rights to it?

Vinh Trieu, Ace Tutoring, Walnut, Calif.

If only one company could operate under a trade name (an unregistered moniker) the world would be poorer by several thousand Cut Above hair salons and Earl of Sandwich luncheonettes. A trademarked name registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, however, is protected property.

But you may have an ace up your sleeve. If the trademark was bestowed less than five years ago, and if you can prove that you provided services as Ace Tutoring before the other guy, the USPTO may revoke your foe's trademark. Start by filing a notice of opposition on uspto.gov (you have to file once for each industry in which the trademark is registered, at $300 a pop). If the agency sees merit in your claim, you will plead it before a panel of three judges. You'll have to produce tax forms, ads, and other evidence proving that you were there first. It's complicated, so consider hiring a trademark attorney for about $1,000.

The process can take years, warns Andrew Ehard, a trademark attorney with Merchant & Gould in Minneapolis and a former USPTO patent examiner. And even if you lock up Ace Tutoring for yourself, you may have to sue the other Ace into dropping the name.

It may be cheaper and easier to strike a compromise. For example, you might agree to change your company's name if your rival offsets the cost of producing new marketing materials. But be prepared for a major rebranding effort to reassure customers that Ace Tutoring, by any other name, smells as sweet.

Resources

The First-Time Supervisor's Survival Guide, by George Fuller, offers tips for handling a variety of touchy situations that new managers are likely to face. For step-by-step instructions on filing a notice of opposition with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, go to the agency's Electronic System for Trademark Trials and Appeals (www.uspto.gov/ebc/estta).

Looking for answers? Stumped by a thorny business problem? Let Inc. help. Send your questions to askinc@inc.com.




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