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Protect company name online

Special to The Times

Dear Karen: A business similar to mine is using a website address identical to the name of my company, which I incorporated 20 years ago. They have offered to sell the address to me. What are my options?

Answer: You could negotiate with them, sue them in federal court or pursue an arbitration process called the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy.

The dispute-resolution policy is designed to be simple, quick and cost-effective, said Joel Lutzker, a New York-based intellectual property attorney. If you prevail, an arbitrator could order the transfer of the domain name to you. However, only a successful court case would get you monetary damages or injunctive relief that would prohibit that business from using your business name again.

If you pursue a dispute-resolution action, you’d submit a claim to an approved arbitration organization, the most common being the World Intellectual Property Organization, Lutzker said. In 2006, WIPO adjudicated 1,824 online address disputes. It has adjudicated 917 this year.

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You don’t need an attorney, but you can have one if you wish. The filing fee is $1,500 for a dispute concerning one to five domain names to be decided by a single arbitrator. The disputes are decided based on written submissions, and no hearings are held. Cases are decided based on whether the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to your rightful trademark or service mark; whether the other business has any rights to or legitimate interests in the domain name; and whether the domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith.

“Evidence that the registrant has offered to sell the domain name, as is the case here, is often considered evidence of bad faith,” Lutzker said.

WIPO offers instructions and forms that can be completed to initiate arbitration on its website at www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/resources/index.html. The complete dispute-resolution policy can be read at www.icann.org/udrp/udrp-policy-24oct99.htm.

Rules on granting family leave

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Dear Karen: Several of my employees have elderly parents. Am I legally obligated to give them time off to care for them?

Answer: You have no legal obligation to grant unpaid time off to your employees with elder-care needs if your small business has fewer than 50 employees.

However, if you have 50 or more employees, your company is subject to the federal Family Medical Leave Act, said Eli Kantor, a Beverly Hills labor and employment attorney. California has a comparable law called the California Family Rights Act.

“If you have 50 or more employees who have worked more than 1,000 hours at your company in the past year, you do have to follow the FMLA and the CFRA,” Kantor said. “Those laws say that employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their own serious health conditions, to care for the serious health conditions of their family members or to provide care for newborn or adopted children.”

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The laws have been interpreted extremely broadly in the courts, Kantor said, so an employee who requests unpaid leave to care for an elderly parent probably must be accommodated.

Businesses aren’t obligated by law to provide paid personal leave. However, most offer it as a benefit of employment. If your employees typically get paid personal days, time off or vacation time, you must let them use it for any purpose, including elder care, in nondiscriminatory fashion, Kantor said.

Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.


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