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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)


FAQs about Altera Law Group | FAQs about legal services | FAQs about Employment Law | Frequently Unknown Facts (FUFs)


FAQs about Altera Law Group

Q: What are your areas of expertise?

A: We have a core of services typical of what most businesses who depend on patents or brands for their success need. These areas of focus principally relate to intellectual property law, corporate law and employment law. We work both on transactions and litigation and dispute resolution for our clients in these areas. Due to the composition of our attorneys and other team members who come from various and diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer a unique perspective on these legal issues on behalf of our clients.

Q: What kind of credentials do your attorneys and team members have?

A: Our professionals are some of the most accomplished individuals in their areas of concentration. We have a highly experienced legal group – at the time of the launch of this website in 2005, our average years in practice among lawyers is about 15 years. Most of our lawyers are admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota, and in addition, we have license to practice in the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Georgia, and Texas. Core to our business are our intellectual property attorneys. Most of these attorneys are admitted to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. To get this certification, one must first have a technical degree in engineering, chemistry, physics, or other sciences plus a law degree, and one must pass a special exam administered by the Patent and Trademark Office. Further, most of our attorneys have background in industry and many are working on their second career. Thus, they understand what it is like to stand in the shoes of the client. Finally, we maintain a group of Ph.D. technical specialists who work in conjunction with our patent attorneys on technical issues related to intellectual property protection.

Q: What do you do in the area of medical devices?

A: Our firm is known for the work it does in the areas of medical devices. We have close ties to the medical device community, and enjoy this aspect of our work, which not only promotes the useful arts but also contributes to improving health in our community and beyond. Altera works with dozens of medical device companies, and is uniquely situated to understand the needs of those companies. One Altera scientist spent 25 years in 5 different start-up medical device companies. Most Altera attorneys spent years working for corporations, and understand what it is like to walk in the client’s shoes. Altera prides itself on being able to meld the patent, FDA, and corporate concerns of its clients into a cohesive strategy designed to enhance its client’s bottom line objectives.

Q: What kind of clients do you have?

A: Our clients range from large multinational firms to start-up companies. Nearly all depend on technology or brands as a core asset of their business and a mechanism to provide strategic advantage. The bulk of our clients are mid-range in size, with small or no in-house legal services. In this circumstance, we partner with our clients and act as their inside counsel on the outside. We learn our client’s business, their objectives, challenges and opportunities, and work with them to utilize legal tools to help them achieve marketplace objectives.

Q: How many attorneys do you have?

A: We maintain the number of attorneys that we need to appropriately service our clients' needs. In addition to attorneys, we also employ scientists and engineers with advanced technical degrees. On average, we have about a dozen professionals (attorneys, scientists, and engineers) devoted to servicing our client’s needs. For more information, see our biographies under the section titled “Our People”.

Q: How did you pick the name “Altera”?

A: Altera’s founding partners knew they did not want to pick a traditional “Smith & Jones” name for the firm that highlighted only a couple of people. Rather, they wanted to establish a brand identity for the firm that transcended the name of any individual connected to the firm. Further, it was important to Altera’s founding partners to use strong branding principles in selecting a name for the firm. “A’s” in a name evoke a strong image, depicting mountains or peaks. “Altera” has its roots in Latin, which seemed appropriate for a group of legal professionals. Roughly, “Altera” translates to “alternative”, a word which helped to describe what the founders hoped to establish – a firm that took a different path in looking at its client’s issues, one that brought together highly experienced people from diverse backgrounds who were capable of offering their clients something above and beyond the basic bread and butter legal services, and were willing and able to help their clients achieve their business objectives.

Q: When did you start your firm?

A: We started our firm in 1999. The founding members came from a prestigious firm had on average more than fifteen years’ average experience each. Throughout our history, we have maintained a high level of legal experience.

Q: What kinds of attorneys do you hire?

A: We hire intellectual property attorneys, corporate attorneys, litigators, employment attorneys and other attorneys we need to help our clients achieve their strategic goals. In all cases, we hire only attorneys with five or more years’ experience. We often look for attorneys who have had significant experience in corporate America in non-legal roles, because we find that adds to their ability to understand our clients’ objectives and appropriately counsel to achieve those objectives.

Q: How do you charge for your services?

A: Each of our professionals is assigned a billing rate that is applied on client projects. The billing rate is set according to the professional’s experience and areas of knowledge, while taking into account the market for similarly experienced professionals. While we do not characterize ourselves as the lowest cost providers of services of our type, we believe our professionals are priced lower than the market for similarly experienced people. How that translates to clients is – you get high experience at a fair price, translating into the value proposition that we view as our hallmark.

Q: Will you consult with me for free?

A: If you have a legal issue that falls within the scope of our expertise, we will on occasion offer a short initial consult for free. You need to clear this with one of our attorneys in advance.

Q: Do you take on contingent fee cases?

A: Under the right set of circumstances, we may be willing to take your case on contingency or alternate fee arrangement. To qualify, you must be a patent holder whose patent is being infringed, or a party who has suffered some monetary damage due to a business issue. For more information, contact the Managing Director of the firm.

Q: Where are you located?

A: We have two offices, one in the Twin Cities and one in Atlanta. Our main office is located in downtown Minneapolis at 1700 U.S. Bank Plaza South, 220 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402. Our Atlanta Office is located at 1201 W Peachtree NW Suite 2000, Atlanta, GA 30309.


FAQs about Altera Law Group | FAQs about legal services | FAQs about Employment Law | Frequently Unknown Facts (FUFs)


FAQs about legal services

Q: What’s the difference between a patent, a trademark, and a copyright?

A: A patent is a right granted by the government for someone to have exclusive rights to practice specific “claimed” technology for a period of about more than 15 years (U.S. patents last for 20 years from the date of filing). An inventor applies for patent rights, and must demonstrate to the government’s satisfaction that their invention is new, useful and non-obvious. If the inventor succeeds in convincing the government that the invention qualifies, a patent will issue.

Inventors often employ patent attorneys to draft the patent application and argue their case before the government, in a process that is known as patent prosecution. Patents fall in the following broad categories: utility patents (mechanical, chemical, electrical, or computer software), business method patents, and design patents. The U.S. system works on a first-to-invent basis, so the first person to conceive of a given invention and reduce it to practice (make it work), is entitled to the patent.

A trademark is a word, symbol, sound (etc) that is associated with particular goods or services in the mind of the consumer. For example, when someone says “Coca-Cola,” most people think of a soft drink. There are common law rights that exist just because someone is using a trademark in connection with a given set of goods or services. It is also possible to register a trademark with a state or with the U.S. government. Brands that are denoted with a name and the ® symbol indicate that the particular mark has been registered. Companies often employ an attorney to assist them with the process of registering a trademark. Generally, as with patents, in the case of two companies using the same mark, the first one to use it wins.

A copyright is a right that exists when words are fixed in a tangible medium, such as when someone pens a poem or writes code to create software. The copyright exists as soon as the fixing in the tangible medium; that is to say, as soon as it is written. Copyrights can be registered with the federal government. An advantage to registering a copyright is, if someone infringes the work, the owner of a registered copyright may obtain statutory damages and attorneys’ fees, whereas the owner of an unregistered mark is not entitled to those benefits.

Q: What do I need to do to get a patent?

A: In order to obtain a patent from the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“Patent Office”), an invention must be useful, novel, and non-obvious. However, there are certain events, called statutory bars, that can prevent a person from obtaining a patent. For example, a person cannot obtain a patent if the patented invention was on sale or in public use in the US for more than a year before a patent application is filed on the invention.

You should consult a patent attorney if you are interested in obtaining a patent in the U.S. and/or abroad. A patent attorney will ask questions about your conception of an invention, use, any offers to sell, or sales of a device (seeking patent protection). The terms such as useful, novel, non-obvious, and public use, have particular legal meaning derived from the United States patent statutes and law. For example, what a lay person may perceive as a “public use” or a “conception” of an invention may not be the same. A patent attorney is conversant with these complex legal concepts.

Once you have conceived an invention, the invention must be described in sufficient detail and the proper format in a patent application to comply with Patent Office’s regulations. A patent applicant or his patent attorney then files a patent application (with claims that cover the invention disclosed within the patent application), drawings (as needed), requisite oath of the inventor, and fees with the Patent Office.

Once in the Patent Office, the patent application is eventually assigned to a patent examiner in a particular group having expertise in the technology. The patent examiner determines if the application and invention meet the requirements of patentability and procedure. The examiner will search to determine if there are any references called prior art that show the exact invention or are so similar as to render the invention to be deemed obvious. While being examined, the patent examiner may: issue a rejection based on a patent, patents or other published documents; identify procedural objections to content of the application; or issue a notice of allowance of the claims. The applicant is given an opportunity to respond to the examiner, and can amend claims to describe an invention that is novel and non-obvious. This process of communications between the applicant and the examiner can be repeated several times; may end in issued claims, or in abandonment of the patent application, or be continued in a continuing patent application, or result in appeal from the decision of the patent examiner.

Once the claims of a patent are deemed allowable, the patent applicant must pay an issue fee to obtain an issued patent. The patent is published, and the patent owner obtains a right to exclude people in the United States from making, using, selling, offering to sell, or importing the patented invention into the U.S. A utility patent typically is in force for 20 years from the date of the initial filing of a non-provisional patent application.

Q: How long does it take to get a patent?

A: The time frame for obtaining a patent varies with the technology, the type of patent, and how long the application is in the prosecution process. Patents can issue as soon as a year or may take several years. For example, a design patents is a type of patent that frequency issues without prolonged examination before the Patent Office. In some instances, the patent procedure can be expedited by a procedure called a petition to make special. A patent must fall within certain categories to be made special, and a fee is required to process the petition to make special.

Q: What are typical costs of getting a patent?

A: The costs of securing a patent depend on the type of technology involved, how much prior art exists, and the level of invention disclosure you provide us with. Oftentimes, we will give you a quote for the work up front so that you know the costs going into the process. To give you that quote, however, we need to understand the specifics of your situation. For more information, contact Altera Law Group’s CEO or your attorney contact.

Q: What do I need to do to get a trademark registration?

A: The United States Patent and Trademark Office is responsible for issuing and managing federal trademark registrations, while each State has an equivalent government agency responsible for issuing and managing state trademark registrations. A federal trademark registration confers certain rights throughout the United States, while state trademark registrations, generally obtained for marks not used in interstate commerce, bestow more limited rights. Contact your Secretary of State’s Office for more information on State registrations.

In order to obtain a federal trademark registration, an application must be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This application must include a $335 filing fee, identify, among other things, your basis for filing the application (past use of a mark in interstate commerce or an intent to use a mark in interstate commerce), the exact representation of your mark, including any claims as to particular design or graphic elements incorporated in the mark, specific information about the owner of the mark and an identification of the goods and/or services that have been or will be used in connection with the mark. These applications are examined closely by the Patent and Trademark Office before maturing to registration. Part of this examination is to ensure that only marks that are “distinctive” or that have “acquired distinctiveness” populate the Federal Trademark Register. Another part of this examination is to ensure there are no pre-existing applications or registrations for confusingly similar marks. Clearance searches can be performed to help determine ahead of time whether such prior filings exist. If your mark passes these and numerous other types of examinations, you only need to show the Patent and Trademark Office that you are actually using your mark in interstate commerce before receiving a federal trademark registration.

Q: How long does it take to get a trademark registration?

A: Surprisingly, it can take roughly two years on average to receive a federal trademark registration. This does not mean, however, that you have no trademark rights until you receive your certificate of registration. For marks that you are already using in commerce, you have certain common law trademark rights, including the right to prevent others from using similar marks on similar goods and/or services in the geographic areas in which you operate your business. And for applications filed based on an intent to use a mark, you will receive retroactive federal protection for your mark from the date you filed your application, assuming your application eventually matures to registration.

Q: What do I need to do to get a copyright registration?

A: You must submit a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee of $30, and a nonreturnable copy or copies of the work to be registered in the United States Copyright Office “Copyright Office”). The Copyright Office’s answers to other FAQs on copyrights are available at http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/.

Q: How long does it take to get a copyright registration?

A: If your copyright registration is in order, you may generally expect to receive a certificate of registration within approximately 4 to 5 months of submission. However, the time between receipt of a properly filled out application and registration depends on the amount of submissions received by the Copyright Office, and may be longer or shorter considering the workload.

Q: Do I need to register my copyright to obtain protection?

A: No. Copyright protection is available the moment that a work is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Q: Why should I get a copyright registration if protection is automatic?

A: Copyright registration makes it easier to enforce a party’s copyright in court or in settlement discussions as a prelude to a law suit. Without a registration, many times it is simply not feasible to initiate a lawsuit unless the copyright owner can prove actual damages or profits of an infringer. Registration has the following benefits:

  • Establishes a public record of the copyright claim
  • Registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin before an infringement suit can be filed in court
  • Works registered before or within 5 years of a publication are considered prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate, and shifts the burden to a copyright infringer to overcome that evidence
  • Registration within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, means that statutory damages and attorney's fees are available to the copyright owner in court actions. Since proving damages can be difficult, it is an advantage to have this option. An infringer’s attorney knows that the court can also award payment of the copyright owner’s attorneys’ fees, and this is additional pressure for an infringer to settle on reasonable terms without prolonged time in court.

FAQs about Altera Law Group | FAQs about legal services | FAQs about Employment Law | Frequently Unknown Facts (FUFs)


FAQs about Employment Law

Q: What is an employment law audit and why is it necessary?

A: An employment law audit is an examination of a company’s existing policies and practices regarding its workforce to determine if the company is in compliance with laws and to determine if there are issues that create potential liability for the company. It is a form of risk management to avoid employee claims and lawsuits.

Q: Should a company have an employee handbook?

A: An employee handbook serves a valuable purpose by giving the workforce notice of the company’s policies and procedures. It is also a way of publishing policies that are required by law to be made available to employees. However, care must be taken to prevent the handbook from creating a contract of employment. It must contain proper disclaimers, reservations of rights by management, and non-specific policies regarding discipline and discharge. Review by an attorney is essential for an attorney will know which policies have been the subjects of litigation.

Q: Should a company have a probationary period for employees?

A: This is a common pitfall for employers. Since most employment in Minnesota is considered to be “at will”, meaning an employee can be terminated for any reason or no reason, as long as the termination is not for an illegal reason, a probationary period gives an employee a false sense of security. Employees often believe that if they pass the probationary period, their work is satisfactory. There is no good reason to specify an initial period of time as a probationary, introductory or training period.

Q: How can a company prevent sexual harassment claims?

A: A company can never completely prevent sexual harassment claims but it can reduce the number of claims and have notice of sexual harassment problems by training its workforce. Periodic sexual harassment training is essential and almost mandated by law. The main defenses an employer has when faced with such a claim is that it has a good sexual harassment policy, the policy has been provided to the workforce, and employees have been told how and to whom to complain. The training doesn’t have to be lengthy but should state the company’s policy, explain the types of conduct that is considered to be offensive, and clearly outline the company’s complaint procedure. Separate training should be given to supervisors, for they can create liability for the company through their conduct.

Q: What other types of training are important for supervisors?

A: Since supervisors deal directly with employees, their conduct has the potential to cause claims. Supervisors must learn to objectively assess performance, how to give performance appraisals, and how to discipline employees. Supervisors must also be taught to document workplace events and issues. Supervisor training is good risk management.

Q: Can a company drug test its employees?

A: Drug testing is considered to be an invasive procedure, and therefore, a company cannot drug test its employees without a proper drug testing policy that strictly conforms to Minnesota law. The policy must specify, among other things, the conditions under which employees can be drug tested, the notices that must be given to employees, and the kinds of facilities that can handle the drug test. It also specifies the rights of an employee to challenge the results.

Q: Are unemployment compensation hearings important?

A: While the law governing an employee’s right to receive unemployment compensation is specific to that statute, an unemployment compensation appeal can foreshadow a lawsuit. Therefore, it may be important to consult with an attorney before an appeal hearing, particularly if the company believes a subsequent lawsuit is imminent. The testimony from an unemployment compensation hearing cannot be used in court litigation for substantive purposes. However, information can be gained during an appeal hearing and provide the company with notice of the basis of a future employment claim.

Q: When a company gives an employee severance pay, is a release necessary?

A: Yes, an employer should not give an employee any payment or benefit which the employee is not absolutely entitled to without obtaining a release of claims. The release must comply with certain statutory provisions in order to be valid. Therefore it is essential that an attorney review the release for compliance. Only a valid release will insure against future litigation from the employee.

Q: Should an employer have concerns about workers’ compensation claims?

A: An employer has an obligation to report job-related injuries to its workers’ comp insurer. An employer cannot retaliate against an employee for filing a workers’ comp claim, whether or not the company believes it is a valid claim. The workers’ compensation laws provide an employee with a cause of action against the employer for obstructing a workers’ comp claim or for retaliating against an employee for filing such a claim. The damages that could be assessed against an employer include a penalty in addition to actual damages.

Q: How can an employment law attorney be helpful to a company on a regular basis?

A: Besides the services set forth in the explanation of our employment law services, an employment law attorney can give counseling on specific employee issues as they arise. A telephone conversation with our attorney discussing the problem and subsequent advice on how to immediately deal with the issue can prevent workplace dysfunction and ultimately a lawsuit. We can guide the employer through the steps necessary to solve the problem, even if it results in a disciplinary action or a termination.


FAQs about Altera Law Group | FAQs about legal services | FAQs about Employment Law | Frequently Unknown Facts (FUFs)


Frequently Unknown Facts (FUFs)

  • The first U.S. patent was granted in 1790 to Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia for "making pot and pearl ashes" - a cleaning formula used in soap making. There are currently almost 7,000,000 patents issued. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database)
  • It took 70 years for the first million patents to issue. During the 20th century, patents issued at a rate of about 1 million every 20 years. Currently, the Patent and Trademark Office is on track to issue 1 million patents every 5 years. (Source USPTO Today)
  • In 1790, the U.S. issued just three patents. In 2004, the U.S. issued 187,170 patents. (Source United States Patent and Trademark Office)
  • The U.S. has issued over 7 million patents since 1790. (Source United States Patent and Trademark Office)
  • The average time in months from filing a U.S. application until an examiner's initial examination (Office Action) of patentability was 20.2 months in 2004. (Source United States Patent and Trademark Office)
  • The average time in months from filing until the U.S. application issues as a patent or the applicant abandons the application was 27.6 months in 2004. (Source United States Patent and Trademark Office).
  • About 25 years ago 80% of company’s assets were tangible (equipment, buildings, etc.) and 20% intangible assets, such as intellectual property. Now, the balance has reversed itself: less than 30% of company assets are intangible assets, and more than 70% are intangible assets.
  • The rate of patent litigation has increased about 8% each year since 1991. (Study by Professor Jean Lanjou of Yale University and Mark Schankerman of the London School of Economics).
  • The average cost of patent infringement litigation through trial and appeal was $500,000 in 2003 where less than $1 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of patent infringement litigation through trial and appeal was $2 million in 2003 with $1-$25 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of patent infringement litigation through trial and appeal was almost $4 million in 2003 with more than $25 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of a two party patent interference through trial and appeal was $302,000 in 2003. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of trademark infringement litigation through trial and appeal was almost $300,000 in 2003 where less than $1 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of trademark infringement litigation through trial and appeal was $602,000 in 2003 with $1-$25 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of trademark infringement litigation through trial and appeal was almost $1,006,000 in 2003 with more than $25 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of trademark opposition/cancellation proceeding through trial and appeal was almost $50,000 in 2003. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of a trade secret misappropriation lawsuit through trial and appeal was $350,000 in 2003 with less than $1 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of a trade secret misappropriation lawsuit through trial and appeal was $875,000 in 2003 with $1-$25 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of a trade secret misappropriation lawsuit through trial and appeal was $1,749,000 in 2003 with more than $25 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of a copyright infringement lawsuit through trial and appeal was almost $250,000 in 2003 with less than $1 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of a copyright infringement lawsuit through trial and appeal was almost $500,000 in 2003 with $1-$25 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22)
  • The average cost of a copyright infringement lawsuit through trial and appeal was $950,000 in 2003 with more than $25 million at risk. (Source AILPA Report of Economic Survey 2003, p.22

FAQs about Altera Law Group | FAQs about legal services | FAQs about Employment Law | Frequently Unknown Facts (FUFs)