USPTO Annual Reports

By Debby Winters

In 2015 the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has made great strides in “leading positive change in the rapidly evolving intellectual property system” and reports that it has “reduced the pendency of unexamined patent applications, established new programs and initiatives, and proactively engaged with the public.”

To show its accomplishments, the PTO has released its 2015 Performance and Accountability Report (PAR), along with A Citizen’s Guide to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  From this link, you can download both for  2015 as well as for previous years.

To help you see how 2015 compares to previous years in chart form, Dennis Crouch, in his blog Patently-O from Dec. 15, 2015 entitled “Three Charts from the USPTO 2015 Annual Report, has compared  the numbers for Patents Issued, Patents Pending, and Provisional Applications Filed.  The take away from these charts is that non-US residents continue to outnumber US residents in the number of patents issued, and that the number of provisional patent applications filed over the past few years, as well as the number of applications pending has evened out rather than continuing to climb.

It will be interesting to see how 2016 compares!

Trademark and Wine/Beer end of the year update

By Debby Winters

I reported on a blog post in December 2014 by the folks at “Trademark & Copyright Law” in which they discussed the year in terms of two important things: Trademarks and Adult Beverages. Their 2015 Buyer’s Guide is now out.

Notable among the cases mentioned is the one about NUT SACK DOUBLE BROWN ALE. If you recall, I blogged about this case in my November 15, 2015 blog entitled “What does it mean to be immoral or scandalous? Is that name immoral? or scandalous? Did you weigh in with your opinion?

A quick glance down this extensive list of beverages shows there are cases about name confusion like the case of KNOTTY BRUNETTE & NUTTY BREWNETTE Beer, as well as cases of what’s termed  trademark counterfeiting, such as KAHLUA & KAHFUA. There are also cases where the names are not similar but the logos are, such as GREAT WHITE & MAD BEACH Beer. These few examples don’t even begin to touch the surface of what you’ll find on this list.

Take a look at the list and see if you recognize anything. Let me know if you find these names confusing or infringing! At least, after looking at the list, you will have some talking points for your next holiday party, as I bet most of your friends are not as savvy when it comes to Trademarks and Adult Beverages as you’ll be after going through this list!

Here’s to Trademarks and Adult Beverages!

Happy Holidays!

How The Retirement Estimator Works

By Debby Winters

Good news for baby boomers who think they may never see any Social Security benefits, the IRS now has a Retirement Estimator. Now you can see what you may or may not ever get.  It is just an estimate based on your actual Social Security earnings record, but hey, that’s better than nothing.

You can use the Retirement Estimator if:

  • You have enough Social Security credits at this time to qualify for benefits and
  • You are not:
    • Currently receiving benefits on your own Social Security record;
    • Waiting for a decision about your application for benefits or Medicare;
    • Age 62 or older and receiving benefits on another Social Security record; or
    • Eligible for a Pension Based on Work Not Covered By Social Security.

If you are currently receiving only Medicare benefits, you can still get an estimate and Retirement Information For Medicare Beneficiaries

If you cannot use the Retirement Estimator or you want a survivors or disability benefit estimate, please use one of our other benefit Calculators.

You will need to verify your identity, but go ahead and give it a try!

Health Care Law: Tax Considerations for Employers with Fewer than 50 Employees

Some of the tax provisions of the Affordable Care Act apply only to employers with fewer than 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees should take note of these tax considerations:

  • More than 95 percent of employers have fewer than 50 full-time employees or equivalents and are not subject to the employer shared responsibility provision.
  • Calculating the number of employees is especially important for employers that have close to 50 employees or whose workforce fluctuates throughout the year.
  • If an employer has 50 or fewer employees, it can purchase health insurance coverage for its employees through the Small Business Health Options Program.
  • Employers that have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees with average annual wages of less than $50,000 may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit. These employers are eligible for this credit if they cover at least 50 percent of their full-time employees’ premium costs, and the coverage is purchased through the SHOP.

All employers, regardless of size, that provide self-insured health coverage must annually file information returns for individuals they cover. The first returns are due to be filed in 2016 for the year 2015.

The cost of these health care benefits will be reported in box 12 of the Form W-2, with Code DD to identify the amount. In general, the amount reported should include both the portion paid by the employer and the portion paid by the employee. In the case of a health FSA, the amount reported should not include the amount of any salary reduction contributions.

For more information, see the Affordable Care Act Tax Provisions for Small Employers page on

Top Year-End IRA Reminders from IRS

Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRAs, are important vehicles for you to save for retirement. If you have an IRA or plan to start one soon, there are a few key year-end rules that you should know. Here are the top year-end IRA reminders from the IRS:

  • Know the contribution and deduction limits.  You can contribute up to a maximum of $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older) to a traditional or Roth IRA. If you file a joint return, you and your spouse can each contribute to an IRA even if only one of you has taxable compensation. You have until April 18, 2016, to make an IRA contribution for 2015. In some cases, you may need to reduce your deduction for your traditional IRA contributions. This rule applies if you or your spouse has a retirement plan at work and your income is above a certain level.
  • Avoid excess contributions.  If you contribute more than the IRA limits for 2015, you are subject to a six percent tax on the excess amount. The tax applies each year that the excess amounts remain in your account. You can avoid the tax if you withdraw the excess amounts from your account by the due date of your 2015 tax return (including extensions).
  • Take required distributions.  If you’re at least age 70½, you must take a required minimum distribution, (RMD) from your traditional IRA. You are not required to take a RMD from your Roth IRA. You normally must take your RMD by Dec. 31, 2015. That deadline is April 1, 2016, if you turned 70½ in 2015. If you have more than one traditional IRA, you figure the RMD separately for each IRA. However, you can withdraw the total amount from one or more of them. If you don’t take your RMD on time you face a 50 percent excise tax on the RMD amount you failed to take out.
  • IRA distributions may affect your premium tax credit. If you take a distribution from your IRA at the end of the year and expect to claim the PTC, you should exercise caution regarding the amount of the distribution.  Taxable distributions increase your household income, which can make you ineligible for the PTC.  You will become ineligible if the increase causes your household income for the year to be above 400 percent of the Federal poverty line for your family size. In this circumstance, you must repay the entire amount of any advance payments of the premium tax credit that were made to your health insurance provider on your behalf.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on

Additional IRS Resources: