Max Sneyd is a long-time TechTown Professional Services Network and Ask an Expert program member. Since 2017, Max has provided aspiring and existing entrepreneurs with thoughtful guidance and support through our free sessions. He is one of three experts offering in-person Ask an Expert sessions at TechTown Detroit!
Max Sneyd is a member at Kerr Russell and chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group. With 25 years of experience, he leads the firm’s intellectual property practice group.
Kerr Russell has worked with startups and established companies to help them grow and thrive. They are responsive and knowledgeable and pride themselves on their deep roots in the city.
Max assists clients with business issues, intellectual property protection, contract formation and negotiation and growth. He helps clients navigate business issues from a legal perspective and has considerable experience drafting commercial contracts, terms and conditions of sale, and master agreements for the sale of goods or provision of services.
Max enjoys helping entrepreneurs and small businesses grow mere ideas into viable, thriving businesses. He has extensive experience prosecuting trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as well as litigating trademark disputes before the Trademark Trial and Appeal board. He also regularly assists clients in negotiating technology licenses and other intellectual property agreements.
Q&A with Max
What is your main area of expertise?
I lead our firm’s intellectual property practice group. Specifically, my IP practice focuses on trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets, confidential information, and name/image/likeness issues. The practice principally involves the protection of intellectual property, licensing of IP, infringement avoidance and dispute resolution.
What does an intellectual property attorney do for clients?
At its core, my practice involves protecting IP owned by the client and working with clients to maximize the value of their IP. Regarding entrepreneurs and startup businesses, I typically assist in determining the availability of their business name, product name(s) and logos and then strategize for protecting such trademarks usually by filing for registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For clients with other valuable IPs such as an invention, proprietary software and trade secrets, we develop a plan to protect intellectual property through registrations and non-disclosure agreements. I also spend considerable time advising clients on strategies for avoiding intellectual property disputes and navigating disputes when they arise. In addition, I regularly draft and negotiate commercial contracts such as licensing agreements, terms and conditions of sale and master agreements.
How long have you been working in this industry and what has your professional journey been like?
My favorite classes in law school were trademarks and copyrights. However, I did not have a grand plan to become an intellectual property specialist. Shortly after starting at a law firm 25 years ago, the attorney handling trademarks left the firm, creating a vacuum I was able to fill. I attended seminars, researched, and engaged in a lot of self-teaching. I had to feel my way through the first few years. But over the last 25 years, I have gained vast experience and expertise. Now I get to support entrepreneurs for free through Ask an Expert!
What is the first thing a business owner should do from an IP perspective?
Before protecting their intellectual property, commissioning drawings, recruiting assistance, and pitching their ideas to others, entrepreneurs should form a legal entity. It is not expensive, but it is critical to protect individual assets such as homes, cars, and bank accounts.
What do you enjoy most about working with small business owners?
I love the energy and enthusiasm of entrepreneurs who are passionate about their businesses. It is gratifying to successfully guide a new business toward IP protection, steer them out of potential trouble, and be a small part of their story. Nothing is more rewarding than watching a new client’s idea grow into a thriving business.
What is one piece of advice you would give to entrepreneurs to protect their brand?
I’m contacted by people seeking to protect their business ideas from being stolen. This is important, but it is just as important for entrepreneurs to be sure they are not infringing on others’ IP. It can be devastating for a startup to spend significant resources on branding, website development, signage, packaging, and brand awareness only to find out too late that their chosen name is unavailable. It is critical to perform a clearance search for trademarks early. Similarly, small businesses with limited resources commonly fall into the trap of using photographs, images, forms, and text found on the internet. Unless such materials are expressly in the public domain, they are likely copyright-protected works, the unauthorized use of which can lead to significant liabilities.
How does a business owner register for their trademark/copyright?
Application for registration of copyrights such as original works of authorship, including music, art, literature, film, and software code can be submitted electronically via the United States Copyright office. Application for registration for a trademark such as a company name, product name or logo can be submitted electronically through the United States Patent and Trademark office. There is no requirement that the application is completed by an attorney, but the process can be challenging for an inexperienced filer.
What are the first steps a business owner should take if they suspect their intellectual property has been stolen?
If a business suspects its intellectual property has been infringed, it must conduct a thorough analysis to confirm that the IP has been stolen. This may require the expertise of an intellectual property attorney. We have had many clients inquire about infringement, only for us to determine that the third-party use is permissible as a fair use or because the other use was sufficiently dissimilar. In the event of a true infringement, a well-written cease-and-desist letter may get results. But if there is significant money at stake and the infringer is not easily dissuaded, litigation may be necessary.
Schedule an Ask and Expert appointment with Max
Learn more about Ask an Expert and schedule an appointment with Max by visiting our Ask an Expert page and clicking on the “legal” tab. He is eager and ready to support your business’s intellectual property needs!