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Intellectual Property


How do I get a license to operate my business?
There are several types of Massachusetts business licenses and permits that are required at the state and local levels, and some are required by federal agencies. An operating license is the basic type of business license, and often comes with an application fee. Municipal governments generally have licensing departments that can guide business owners seeking basic licenses, such as operating licenses, food, beverage and restaurant licenses, and business-specific permits. When applying for such licenses, business owners should be prepared to pay application fees and provide details about the business.

The Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation oversees numerous agencies that issue professional licenses and regulate the conduct of their licensees. Businesses that want to operate in these regulated professions must apply for and obtain the necessary licenses (often including passing an exam), among them: real estate brokers, barbers, plumbers, aestheticians and certified public accountants. The Massachusetts Permit Regulatory Office works with new and existing businesses to assist with permitting, licensing and regulatory processes.

Does a small company need a tax ID number?
Maybe. A tax ID number (TIN) refers to the identification number used by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to administer the tax laws. Depending on your circumstances, the TIN will be your social security number (SSN), your employer identification number (EIN), your individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) or your preparer taxpayer identification number (PTIN). If you are operating a small business, your TIN will be either your SSN or an EIN. 

You must obtain an EIN for your small business if:

  • You pay wages to employees;
  • Have a self-employed retirement plan;
  • Operate your business as a corporation or partnership; or
  • You file an employment, excise, fiduciary, or alcohol, tobacco and firearms tax return.

If your small business is organized as a sole-proprietorship, with no employees and you don't meet the above-listed requirements, then you are not required to obtain an EIN. You can report your income/loss from this business on your individual tax return using your SSN.

Even if you are not required to obtain an EIN, many banks require businesses to have an EIN to open an account. You can apply for an EIN on line from the IRS.  

When do you need an employer identification number?
An EIN is required if you:

1. Have employees;
2. Operate your business as a corporation, LLC, or partnership;
3. Withhold taxes on income, other than wages, paid to a non-resident alien;
4. Have a Keogh plan; or
5. Are involved with any of the following types of organizations:

  • Trusts, except certain grantor-owned revocable trusts;
  • IRAs;
  • Exempt organization business income tax returns;
  • Estates;
  • Real estate mortgage investment conduits;
  • Non-profit organizations;
  • Farmers cooperatives; and
  • Plan administrators.

When do I need a sales tax number?
If you run any type of business that sells a product, you are required by Massachusetts law to have a Massachusetts Sales Tax Resale Number. The three general reasons for obtaining a State Sales Tax Certificate are listed below.

  1. It's the law. Massachusetts law requires virtually every type of business to obtain a Massachusetts Sales Tax Certificate Number. If you sell goods and ship them to someone in the state you reside, you must collect sales tax and pay the tax to your state on a monthly or quarterly basis. If you have less than $4 million in annual sales, you do not have to collect or pay sales tax on out-of-state sales.
  2. Qualification for wholesale exemption. You are able to purchase items without paying Massachusetts sales tax if you plan to resell them or they are for a qualified business use.
  3. Requirement to conduct business. Virtually all legitimate wholesale companies will ask for a copy of your resale certificate before they will sell to you at wholesale prices, and require the certificate number to open a commercial account.

Does a partnership or corporation have to file a tax form if it has no income?
In Massachusetts, partners in a partnership and shareholders in an S Corporation are individually subject to income taxes when they have received income, even if the corporation itself has no income. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue requires that each partner is taxed on the partner's share of the partnership income and that the partnership must annually report its income to the Department of Revenue if it has a usual place of business in Massachusetts or receives federal gross income of more than $100 during the taxable year. The partnership will be subject to penalties for failure to file or for late filing.

In general, a qualified S Corporation in Massachusetts will be subject to the same income tax regulations as a partnership.

Intellectual Property

If I develop a new idea, must I apply for a patent before I begin selling my product?
No. A U.S. patent does not actually constitute permission for you to sell your product, but instead gives you, as the patent holder, a right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the product in the U.S., or importing the product into the country, for a specific period of time. Additionally, a patent is not automatic, and not every idea or invention is patentable. The application process can sometimes be lengthy, expensive, and technical. If you think you might need a patent, it may be worthwhile to consult with a business or intellectual property attorney to evaluate your particular circumstances, needs, and goals.

How do I obtain a copyright for work I have created?
Copyrights generally protect original works of authorship, (i.e., literary, musical, artistic and pictorial works). Copyright protection is generally not available for titles, names, slogans and familiar symbols and designs. 

The owner's interest in that copyright is automatically established upon the first use of the copyrighted work. The ownership may be protected through federal registration or the use of the following copyright notice (with the year of first use and the owner's name following "Copyright", "Copr." or the copyright symbol ©).

While there is no registration requirement, there are benefits to registering the copyright with the Library of Congress. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim and may be required for court actions to prevent infringement on the owner's rights to the copyright. To register a copyright, submit a completed application, with the nonrefundable filing fee and copy or copies of the work to be registered to the U.S. Copyright Office.

Can I obtain trademark protection without registering the trademark?
Yes. A trademark is a name or symbol that is used to identify the source of products and distinguish them from others' products. A service mark identifies and distinguishes the source of services. Rights in trademarks and service marks arise in the United States through use. These rights may be enforced at common law, whether or not the mark is registered. However, there are advantages to obtaining an appropriate Federal registration of a mark. These advantages relate to the priority and presumed validity of a mark, which make it easier to enforce trademark rights. 

If I reserve a corporate name with the Secretary of State, does that give me trademark rights to that name?
No. While it may be possible to use the same name for your business as well as a product or service, corporate names and trademarks are separate things entirely. A corporate name is simply the legal name of the business entity. A trademark (for products) or a service mark (for services) is the name, word, phrase, symbol, or design by which a certain product or service is known. Trademarks can be filed within a state, with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and in international jurisdictions. While the Secretary of the Commonwealth happens to be the same office for reserving a corporate name as well as filing a trademark application in Massachusetts, one has nothing to do with the other. In fact, the exact same trademark can be used simultaneously by different companies, provided there is little likelihood of confusion (i.e., used in distinct geographic areas, or for unrelated products).

*These answers do not constitute legal advice and are written for general information purposes only. Individuals should consult with a lawyer for specific legal advice.

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