IP Update: Irish and Northern Irish Businesses Now Must Be Represented by a U.S.-Licensed Attorney on USPTO Matters

As of early August, all Irish and Northern Irish persons and entities (whose permanent legal residence or principal place of business is outside the U.S.) are required to be represented by a licensed U.S. attorney in good standing in all matters before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. This is a significant change for Irish and Northern Irish companies with IP registrations in the US, especially those protecting their brands.

This new rule applies to (i) new application filings and subsequent filings in pending applications; (ii) maintenance filings in connection with existing registrations; and (iii) ex parte appeals and contested proceedings before the TTAB, including, opposition and cancellation actions.

Irish and Northern Irish applicants, registrants and parties now need to engage a licensed U.S. attorney to file submissions on their behalf.

If you have any questions about the impact of this changed rule, contact me –AGG has a great IP practice that represents a number of Irish and Northern Irish businesses on US IP matters.

@agglaw

Growing Complexity of U.S. Visa Processing for Irish/NI Companies

U.S. visa processing is growing in complexity, with many new U.S. operations of Irish/NI parent struggling to qualify for classification to sponsor qualified professionals for work authorization in the U.S . New U.S affiliates usually do not qualify to sponsor foreign nationals for work authorization until they are fully established, with a lease for offices, investment, and in many cases U.S. personnel on payroll.

If a U.S. affiliate of an Irish/NI parent is not qualified to sponsor key personnel for work authorization, professionals may often qualify for a temporary professional visitor visa to travel to the US . B-1 visas and/ or B-1 in lieu of H-1 visas are alive and well at most European posts (including Dublin and Belfast) when a visitor can show that he or she is traveling to the U.S. for purposes of investing in a U.S. business, or engaging in professional services related to their employment outside the U.S. and their area of their expertise, provided they have earned a Bachelor’s degree equivalency. For example, an employee of an Irish/NI parent company may qualify for a B-1 visa to travel to the U.S. for up to 6 months in one stay to set up corporate operations. An IT professional may qualify for a B-1 in lieu of H-1 visa for purposes of setting up critical IT systems in the US to support operations.

 Documentation reflecting qualification is required, as is a prepared applicant. My partner, Teri Simmons (who wrote most of this post) is an expert in U.S. business immigration law and has advised many Irish/NI businesses on these issues. Reach out to her or me if you have any questions or need guidance.

 

Will China-Specific Tariffs Impact Irish/NI Exports to US?

My last post discussed the potential (but likely very small) impact of the relatively new U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on Irish and Northern Irish exports to the U.S. In this post, I turn to the related question of whether proposed U.S. tariffs against China could impact Irish and Northern Irish exports to the U.S. The answer is ‘maybe.’ In fact, U.S. tariffs on Chinese products could have a larger impact on U.S. imports from Ireland and Northern Ireland than the steel/aluminum tariffs.

U.S. tariffs are applied on certain imports that meet the (i) relevant country of origin test; and (ii) the relevant HTSUS code test. In other words, the tariffs hit certain products (each item imported into the U.S. is given a multi-digit Harmonized Tariff Schedule number) from certain jurisdictions–in this case, China. In general, the jurisdiction of product’s ‘last substantial transformation’ will be the product’s country of origin for U.S. customs purposes. And that could be an issue for some Irish/NI companies that source their product from China.

Let’s assume for a minute that an Irish company sources a widget (I remember my college economics) from China, imports it into Ireland for labeling and packaging, and then exports the packaged widget to the U.S. Let’s assume further that the U.S. has just placed a 50% tariff on all Chinese origin widgets. Are the Irish company’s subject to the tariff? In this scenario, yes. If the product is sourced from China and not substantially transformed elsewhere (and packaging/labeling almost always will not be a substantial transformation for U.S. customs purposes), then the product is determined to be–again, for U.S. customs purposes–of Chinese origin. It doesn’t matter that the exporter/seller is an Irish company–the relevant questions focus on the product(s) at issue.

Of course, the precise scope, and timing, of U.S. tariffs on Chinese products remains a bit foggy. But we have some indications as to scope from U.S. government pronouncements.

Irish and Northern Irish exporters should, sooner rather than later: (i) determine if their products are included within the HTSUS code of products subject to tariffs; and (ii) check their supply chain to determine if their products would be considered to be of Chinese origin under relevant U.S. customs rules. If their products are subject to tariffs, affected companies have few options; (i) continue to sell to the U.S. market at a higher cost; (ii) alter their supply chains to source from a place other than China and/or have the last substantial transformation of the product happen outside of China; or (iii) seek a tariff exemption from the U.S. government. None of these options is particularly attractive, easy or inexpensive.

US Aluminum/Steel Tariffs and Irish/NI Companies

Several Irish and NI companies have asked me whether the recently-imposed US tariffs on aluminum and steel would impact their products–products that use/incorporate aluminum and steel. Much of the confusion stems from how the tariffs were developed and publicized. The bottom line is that US steel/aluminum tariffs should not impact most Irish or Northern Irish companies.

As for the tariffs, for goods entered, or withdrawn from a warehouse for consumption, on or after March 23, 2018, there will be a (i) 10% ad valorem tariff on defined “aluminum articles” imported from all countries except Canada and Mexico; and (ii) a 25% ad valorem tariff on defined “steel articles” imported from all countries except Canada and Mexico.

Under the tariff proclamation, “aluminum articles” are defined in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) as: (i) unwrought aluminum (HTS 7601); (ii) aluminum bars, rods, and profiles (HTS 7604); (iii) aluminum wire (HTS 7605); (iv) aluminum plate, sheet, strip, and foil (flat rolled products) (HTS 7606 and 7607); (v) aluminum tubes and pipes and tube and pipe fitting (HTS 7608 and 7609); and (vi) aluminum castings and forgings (HTS 7616.99.51.60 and 7616.99.51.70). “Steel articles” are defined at the HTS 6 digit level as: 7206.10 through 7216.50 including ingots, bars, rods and angles), 7216.99 through 7301.10 (including bars, rods, wire, ingots, and sheet piling), 7302.10 (rails), 7302.40 through 7302.90 (including plates and sleepers), and 7304.10 through 7306.90 (including tubes, pipes and hollow profiles).

The tariffs cover unfinished products that would be used an inputs for finished products, and not for products that incorporate or use aluminum or steel. There is a very low volume of imports from Ireland ant the UK under the covered tariff headings. As stated above, the bottom line is that US steel/aluminum tariffs should not impact most Irish or Northern Irish companies.

 

How to Open a U.S. Bank Account

Just back from a two-week swing through Belfast, Antrim (at a wonderful InvestNI program) Londonderry/Derry, Galway, and Dublin, meeting with companies looking to export to the U.S. One question that came up time and again: how can an Irish or NI company open a U.S. bank account?

Opening U.S. bank accounts has become harder because of the ‘know-your-customer’ requirements on U.S. banks by virtue of U.S. anti-money laundering regulations. In general (and keep in mind that some banks may have other specific requirements), in order to open a U.S. bank account, a bank will want to see (i) a certified copy of your U.S. affiliate’s certificate of incorporation/formation; (ii) your entity’s taxpayer ID number from the IRS; and (iii) a signed copy of your U.S. affiliate’s initial consent in lieu of a board meeting, which consent should include banking authorization language (see the sample consent here). The pain-in-the-neck part is this: you’ll need someone to actually go to the U.S. bank (with his/her passport and another form of ID) to open the account. The banks want to be sure that the account holders are who they say they are. Often, Irish/NI parent companies will open the account when one of their executives travels to the U.S. on other business.

Derry/Londonderry Doing Business in the U.S. Event–September 7

Related to yesterday’s post, I’m also thrilled to be speaking at a Doing Business in the U.S. program in Derry/Londonderry on the morning (8:30) of  September 7, at Invest Northern Ireland’s office there. I’ll also be using the Invest NI office for the balance of the 7th as my ‘office’ in case people need to speak about U.S. expansion. Looking forward to it, and thanks to the great help from @investNI, @investNI_USA, @derry_chamber, and @investdcsdc. Contact Invest NI’s Derry/Londonderry office for more information.

Galway Chamber Event: Doing Business in the U.S.

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be giving a talk, at the Galway Chamber of Commerce, on September 12 on doing business in the US. I’ll be presenting with Mary Rogers, Innovation Community Manager, PorterShed (@portershed) & Founder & CEO, Stateside Solutions (@StatesidePortal). The program will discuss the following topics: (i) Starting at the start: why expand to the U.S?; (ii) Can your product be sold in the US and/or are there any pre-sale registration or approval requirements?; (iii) Do you need a U.S. affiliate entity? Considerations on form, jurisdiction and tax impact of U.S. affiliate entity; (iv) IP protections; (v) Controlling the contract(s); (vi) Product liability concerns; (vii) Insulating the Irish parent; (viii) Labour/employment/immigration; and (ix) Conclusion: Moving forward. This event will include time for Q&A.

 

Location: Galway Chamber, Commerce House, Merchant’s Road, Galway Date: Tuesday, 12th September Start Time: 8am Duration: 1 hr 30minutes Price: Free to attend Register here