LegalZoom plan attorneys provide customers with solid legal advice and, in addition to offering their expertise, our plan attorneys are also genuinely committed to helping people. Mary Beaghler Penn, a senior associate with Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig (DBL) in Virginia, is one such attorney. For the past five years, Mary has been helping LegalZoom customers protect and defend their brands, and register and maintain their trademarks and copyrights.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Mary about some of the major influences in her life, her focus on intellectual property issues, and why she feels business owners need to take steps to protect their brands.
Did you have one special mentor or person who has had a big influence on you?
My grandmother had a huge impact on me. She was a go-getter and never complained. One thing that stands out about her, and something which I admired so much, was that no matter what she had going on, she always had a home-cooked meal on the table every night. She was a working mom, a breast cancer survivor, and very active in my life.
She sounds amazing. What life lessons did you learn from her?
She taught me to seek out what I want in life and that no one would just hand me what I wanted: I had to work for it. She also taught me that no matter how busy you are, you can still eat well. Both of these lessons have stuck with me and helped shape me into the person I am today.
You attended a semester at the University of Oxford, where you studied philosophy. What was that experience like?
It was such an amazing experience! First of all, Oxford is mind-blowingly beautiful, so being able to wake up and walk to class in such a gorgeous environment was just incredible. The teaching style was also interesting. At Oxford, they use the Socratic method and, after writing our essays, we would meet one-on-one with the professor, who would grill us on each of our points, present us with counterarguments, and ask us to defend our positions. This really prepared me for the practice of law, which is based on this same premise: defending your position.
You focus mainly on intellectual property (IP) law in your practice. What motivated you to choose this particular field of law?
I started at DBL doing copyright law, and I liked how it translated well into the corporate field (as IP is a business asset) but at the same time was a niche area of law on its own. After my initial experience with copyrights, I began working with trademark issues, and noticed that I really enjoyed the work I was doing. I have since worked toward mastering this area of law and am now the head of DBL's trademark department.
Do you find that smaller businesses may not necessarily look toward protecting their IP assets the way they should?
Absolutely. Most smaller businesses are more concerned with getting the business up and running, so brand protection is not seen as a priority. But it's important for small business owners to consider IP issues because, in the US, while trademark rights are created through what's known as “first use in the market," priority is given to the first to file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Failing to file an application with the USPTO can create major issues down the road and, in worst-case scenarios, business owners may even need to rebrand.
At what stage of the process should business owners contact an IP attorney?
As soon as they have selected the name and know how they will use the trademark. We can file on an intent-to-use basis, which basically says this is the name/mark/logo/brand we will use for XYZ goods and services, but we have not yet started marketing our goods or services.
So it's a good idea to protect your brand even before you feel you have a brand. What kinds of issues can come up if a business owner isn't prompt in seeking legal advice about brand protection?
What I often see happening is people coming up with a great and catchy name, spending all their time and effort developing their brand, and then calling me when they realize that someone else is doing what they are doing, using the same or a similar name. The worst thing to happen is for someone to beat the business owner to registration by filing a USPTO trademark application before the owner has a chance to.
Could you describe the role an IP lawyer might play in a typical trademarks or copyright case?
The lawyer's role is to educate business owners about the valuable IP assets they have and how to best protect them. Sometimes this means filing a federal application; other times it means using nondisclosure documents or internal practices to keep proprietary information in-house. And, of course, IP attorneys can also be more involved. For example, we often work with cease and desist letters, whether it's responding to ones received by a customer or using a cease and desist letter to initiate a dispute.
What's been the most gratifying thing for you in working with IP legal issues?
Trademarks can last forever, so knowing that I am assisting the customer in protecting what can be a lifelong asset is gratifying.
What does being part of the LegalZoom legal plan attorney network mean for you?
To me it means that I am a part of a novel approach to the practice of law that is revolutionizing the industry. LegalZoom definitely works to fill the gap between the need for an attorney and access to an attorney, and it is really powerful. I am going on my fifth year as a plan attorney and still love it! I love working with everyone at LegalZoom and I love the invaluable service it is providing the U.S. and, hopefully, to international parties soon as well. My favorite part of being a plan attorney is knowing that I am helping to provide a solution to the disconnect between access to attorneys and the need for legal counsel.
To speak with Mary or an independent attorney in your state, sign up for a LegalZoom legal plan and get guidance on business or personal matters for a low monthly fee. To learn more about the attorneys from across the country who are part of our network, visit our Legal Plan Attorney Directory.
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Find out more about Intellectual Property Basics