#h#Tax Help Available Throughout February#/h#

As tax season slips into second gear assistance grows plentiful. From New Brunswick to Trenton, help is abundant in February, whether you could use basic assistance or need to know the intricacies of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

At Rider University, 15 Rider accounting students begin a monthlong program geared to help individuals who cannot afford professional tax help. The program runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays throughout February at the Bart Luedeke Center.

The schedule for the student teams follows: Tuesdays (February 12, 19 and 26) from 6 to 9 p.m.; Thursdays (February 7, 14, 21, and 28) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Saturdays (February 9, 16, 23 and March 1) from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

To be eligible for the programs, students must have successfully completed an upper-level taxation course and two January training courses before the start of their service. Tax returns will once again be prepared using professional software on laptops.

Individuals seeking assistance should bring pertinent tax documents such as W2 forms, interest statements, copies of last year’s return, as well as any IRS tax item received in the mail.

For more information, call Rider’s Office of University Communications at 609-896-5192.

A similar program takes place in New Brunswick beginning on Friday, February 8, at noon. Students from Middlesex County College’s Democracy House will assist students and residents of moderate income in preparing their tax returns. The assistance, by appointment only, is available on Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m., February 8 through April 12, at the New Brunswick Center, 140 New Street.

"This was a very popular service last year," said Kevin McGowan, coordinator of Democracy House. "And we expect it to be again this year. The returns are submitted online, so it is a very easy and convenient process."

For an appointment, call the New Brunswick Center at 732-745-8866.

In Trenton the Internal Revenue Service Taxpayer Assistance Center at 44 South Clinton Avenue is offering Saturday hours on February 9 and 16 to assist low-income taxpayers file for the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. The extra days and hours are being added to the IRS walk-in office schedule for anyone otherwise unable to seek assistance during the work week.

The Taxpayer Assistance Center will be open on Saturday, February 9, and again on February 16, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Taxpayers not in the area can locate the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center nearest them by visiting IRS.gov. Offices are also located in Cherry Hill, Newark, and Patterson.

If you qualify, the EITC can provide a substantial tax refund. If you have two or more children you may be eligible to collect as much as $4,716, so long as total household income does not exceed $37,783 for single parents, or $39,783 for married couples.

Raising a single child can lead to a refund of $2,853, provided a single parent made no more than $33,241 in 2007. Married couples with one child are eligible for EITC if 2007 household income did not exceed $35,241.

If you made less that $12,590 (married couples: $14,590) in 2007, you may be eligible for up to $428 in EITC.

This year New Jersey has expanded the state EITC benefit to include more working families and for the first time to provide a tax benefit to single working adults. The state estimates these changes will double the number of individual eligible for the credit.

For more information on EITC visit www.earnedincometaxcredit.org.

Friday, February 8

#h#Is Your Intellectual Property Truly Safe?#/h#

In the information age the commodity a company brings to market is often a result of the mind. Ideas, processes, methodologies, and inventions have just as tangible a value as traditional manufactured goods, and the companies and people who develop them are protected under the law.

But what safeguards are available for intellectual property? The first step in protecting it is understanding exactly what it is, says attorney, Fred Wilf.

Wilf, of the firm Morgan Lewis, will be one of a panel of speakers at "A Sieve or a Safe: How Solid is Your IP?" The event, presented by the New Jersey Technology Council, will be held on Friday, February 8, at 8:30 a.m. at the Morgan Lewis offices, 502 Carnegie Center. Cost: $40. Register online at www.njtc.org.

Wilf practices business, technology, and intellectual property law. He focuses on information technology and the Internet, which includes electronic commerce, computer software and hardware, developers and vendors, consultants, and licensees and users of technology. He also advises intellectual property owners regarding traditional and developing channels of commerce.

Wilf became interested in intellectual property law through his own work as a computer programmer. "I put myself through school working in computer programming in the mid-’80s," he explains. He received his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers in 1982 and his J.D. from Case Western Reserve in 1985.

At the time there was not a lot of attention being paid to intellectual property law as it relates to technology, Wilf says. His interest in technology made specializing in this area of the law the ideal choice for his career. He continues to blend his two interests by teaching seminars on Internet law, as well as teaching a course on cyber law as an adjunct professor at Rutgers Law School.

The first step in protecting your intellectual property is to understand what it is and the various types of protection available, says Wilf. "IP is actually a broad category that encompasses several areas, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets." Not only does each category protect a different type of property, each offers a different type of protection, he says.

Patents. Patents are legal protection for a number of types of intellectual property. While we most often think of patents as being used to protect inventions, they are also used to protect processes and methodologies. Even new plants may be protected by a patent, says Wilf.

Patents offer a great deal of protection for the owner. Once the patent is accepted, the process cannot legally be used by another party, even if it has been discovered completely independently by the second party, Wilf explains. In other words, the first person to file the patent receives the protection, even if another person also invents the same process. However, a second party can obtain a patent for a new and different process that creates the same result.

Copyrights. "Copyrights don’t protect ideas," says Wilf. "They protect the expression of the idea." While we most often think of copyrights in relation to artistic endeavors, such as books or music, copyrights are also an important protection for software developers.

"The copyright protects the company from someone using the first company’s exact code to duplicate the process," says Wilf. But if a person takes a look at the code, thinks, "I can do that myself," and develops his own, unique software code to create the same effect or end product, it is not a violation of the copyright.

Trade Secrets. This is an area of intellectual property law that is less familiar to many people. It can include customer lists, inventions, or formulas. "Trade secret laws affect the way in which a person can legally discover something," he explains.

For example, Company A develops an innovative tire longevity process. Company B hears about Company A’s new, longer-lasting tires and decides to independently develop its own process. This is perfectly legal, says Wilf. However, it is not legal for Company B to break into Company A’s offices and steal the formula. It is also illegal for Company B to hire Company A’s workers and ask them to reveal Company A’s secrets, or to bribe someone to reveal those secrets.

The most important protection for trade secrets is to keep them secret, says Wilf. While this might seem obvious, it is often necessary to allow representatives of another company in on those secrets. A marketing firm might need a customer list to help develop an advertising campaign. Or a third-party manufacturer might need to know all or part of a formula if they are assisting in the production of the product.

Non-disclosure agreements are the surest way to protect trade secrets, says Wilf. Non-disclosure agreements may be used both in licensing or agreements with other companies as well as employee contracts.

Trademarks. Trademarks protect the identity of a company, or "the way in which a consumer finds the product and distinguishes it from its competitors’ product," explains Wilf. "Just by using a trademark the user gains some protection under the law, but the best protection is to register the trademark."

Trademarks can be regional, national, or international. However, Internet commerce has blurred those lines in recent years. "With the Internet, almost every company can now expand into the known universe," says Wilf. Trademarks are also product-specific. For example, Delta Faucets and Delta Airline use the same name, but they are not infringing on a trademark because they are in very different businesses.

Those lines can also become blurred as a corporation expands into new product markets. Apple Records and Apple Computers are another excellent example, says Wilf.

The issue of intellectual property, what it is, and how it is protected, may seem complex to the uninitiated, but it is important for every business owner to understand the basics. Not just to protect your own company’s rights, but to insure that you have not infringed on someone else’s rights.

– Karen Hodges Miller

Wednesday, February 13

#h#E-data’s New Rules#/h#

Until the rules changed in 2006, companies tangled up in legal proceedings mainly were required to present only paper evidence of their dealings with the entity suing them. While electronically stored files were tantalizing, they were not considered documents in the same way paper historically has been.

But then federal courts – and some state courts, including New Jersey’s – broadened the definition of what a document is, and what a litigant is required to produce. These days computer files, from E-mails to receipts to tiffs and jpegs, carry exactly the same legal weight as any document, file, or photo you can hold in your hand. And the implications for business and industry are clear – as more and more information is created and stored electronically, businesses need to rethink an act as simple as dumping desktop trash bins.

"Needless to say, this has thrown some people off," says Fernando Pinguelo, an attorney with Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus in Bridgewater. Pinguelo will try to clear up some of the concepts (and misconceptions) surrounding the legal ramifications of electronically stored information in "E-Discovery – What You `Technically’ Should Know and More," a presentation to the Mercer County Bar Association, on Wednesday, February 13, at 5 p.m. at the Trenton Marriott Hotel. Cost: $85. Call 609-585-6200 for more information.

The revamped definition of what is required in lawsuits has created a broad rethinking of how to handle, preserve, and protect computer files, Pinguelo says. Far beyond the courts and opposing attorneys demanding undeleted E-mails, the new laws mean that all pertinent electronic files – even text messages on cell phones and files in home computers – are subject to subpoena, even if they have been erased.

Surprised? You have company. "delete doesn’t mean it’s deleted," Pinguelo says. In fact, the belief that dumping the trash means getting rid of data for good is one of seven misconceptions Pinguelo says he tries so hard to educate the business world about.

All digital data leaves a fingerprint. This is where digital forensics, or the hunting and reconstruction of electronic information buried deep in a computer’s hard drive, comes into play. Largely known as the method by which traffickers of child pornography are traced, computer forensics involves analysts who search through hidden files and directories for broken, damaged, or incomplete pieces of data. They can also trace the routes and sources through which information travels, and if relevant information travels through your home computer – say you check your work E-mail from home – and can be recovered, that information could be subpoenaed.

The sheer mass of information and the complexity of electronic storage generates much confusion, says Pinguelo. It does not necessarily mean that police or legal teams will raid every employee’s personal computer whenever there is a lawsuit, but the provisions are there now to allow access to any electronic files deemed relevant to a case.

This not only holds true for active cases, says Pinguelo, but for situations that stand a good chance of becoming cases. Take, for instance, the classic example of a fired employee who vows to get even. Under the new rules, companies are obligated to preserve electronic data that could possibly be construed as relevant should a lawsuit be filed. Companies are protected, Pinguelo says, from unforeseeable or highly unlikely circumstances, but they need to be prepared for a suit in order to avoid what is called adverse influence.

Adverse influence refers to the court’s interpretation of destroyed or missing files. Courts can assume that a relevant document that has been destroyed was so because it is damaging to a litigant’s case. Pinguelo admits that the anticipation of litigation is the most troublesome aspect of the new rules, as companies are now required to deal with more than just what they know, but also with what they suspect.

The penalties for guessing incorrectly can be stiff. Beyond adverse inference, there could be fines or sanctions – like the $8.5 million sanctions levied against Qualcomm in January – or there could be dismissed testimony and barred evidence that can cost a company a case.

By erring on the side of caution and saving what previously was considered electronic junk, companies add not just vast amounts of data to storage banks, says Pinguelo, they add dollars to the cost of a lawsuit. "I’d estimate this increases the cost of litigation by 25 percent," he says. "Businesses are now having to account for information that was rarely accounted for."

Daunting is one way to describe the new responsibilities companies face – even many lawyers are not attuned to the new sensibilities, Pinguelo says – but the big problem is the lingering glut of misconceptions surrounding what companies need to know, such as:

No lawsuit, no worries. A company is obligated to preserve electronically stored information regardless of whether there is an active lawsuit against it. When computers are replaced, junked, altered or cleaned, data stored is still data the courts may consider important. Pinguelo says companies should preserve and protect data as soon as there is a reasonable chance for a lawsuit.

Saving everything could cripple the company. Despite the looming specter of the subpoena, courts understand that saving every shred of data would be an immense undertaking. Courts require saving information that could reasonably be considered relevant. The types of information that would normally be requested in a case are the same for digital documents as they are for paper.

On the flip side of this, courts do not want to sift through piles of irrelevant data. Companies, Pinguelo says, have an obligation to sort the relevant from the irrelevant and keep relevant data safely stored.

The lawyers will handle it. You can’t save what’s already been destroyed and waiting too long to focus on your obligations will prove far more costly in the long run, Pinguelo says. Companies should understand technology and their obligations now, including putting together an ESI (electronically stored information) team consisting of an attorney, an IT manager, and a human resources or risk management manager. Companies should also educate their employees on what can and cannot be discarded.

The courts will know we didn’t mean to destroy it. Betting a judge will understand that missing documents are missing simply because of an innocent mistake is a dangerous gamble, Pinguelo says. If it is reasonable to believe data could have been salvaged, a court can levy fines in the millions.

There is hope – courts can overlook missing documents if it can be shown that data was lost out of routine operations. But companies must prove that it was routine operation of the computer system that cost it the data.

Employees’ home computers are off limits. The home office of the telecommuting employee is no longer sacrosanct. Computers, cell phones, fax machines, copy machines, instant messengers, flash drives, and PDAs used for company business all are within the court’s reach. Likewise, do not think that the definition of "document" ends with pictures and E-mails – charts, graphs, sound recordings, voice mails, and spreadsheets all count.

Small companies need not be concerned. Simply put, if your business has a single electronic storage device, you have to follow the new rules.

Pinguelo is the son of Portuguese immigrants and credits his father’s work ethic as an inspiration. Starting out in doing "menial tasks" and some construction work, Pinguelo’s father worked his way up the American Dream until he owned supermarkets and a liquor store. His own fluency in Portuguese, he says, helps him greatly in dealings with Brazilian companies.

Pinguelo graduated from Boston College in 1994 and earned his law degree there in 1997. Before he joined Norris McLaughlin & Marcus in 1999 he was a law clerk for Superior Court Judge Edwin Stern. He then practiced corporate law at Bressler, Amery & Ross in Florham Park. He also is an adjunct professor of law at Seton Hall University and a frequent writer on the subject of electronic data and the law.

Born and raised in the "computer generation," Pinguelo says he always had an appreciation for computers and their capabilities – and for the unexpected issues they can create. With the new regulations written broadly to cover unforeseen advances in technology, he says the laws governing ESI are now a matter of learning.

– Scott Morgan

Wednesday, February 13

In celebration of its centennial anniversary Fox Rothschild is performing 100 charitable acts in its 14 offices across the country. Earlier this month the company’s Lenox Drive office took more than 30 children from HomeFront to see Disney’s "Finding Nemo," at Trenton’s Sovereign Bank Arena.

Intergra LifeSciences, on Morgan Lane in Plainsboro, recently lent a hand to veterinary surgeons in Seattle, where doctors worked to remove a growth on the spine of a 2 1/2-month-old, female western lowland gorilla. Integra donated a state-of-the-art neuro spinal instrument set to a team of two neurosurgeons and a neonatologist from Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center. The surgeons performed the surgery on the nine-pound gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo.

"This operation was an amazing `Star Trek’-type of experience," said Richard Ellenbogen, neurosurgeon from Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

Following the one-hour procedure and recovery from anesthesia, the baby gorilla was returned to her mother at the gorilla exhibit.

Lawrence Township and the Lawrence Hopewell Trail have been awarded a $200,000 grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb to help complete the 20-mile multi-purpose bicycle and pedestrian path linking Hopewell and Lawrence Townships.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is a founding partner and major supporter of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail. It initiated the project in 2001.

Lawrence mayor Mark Holmes says the township will extend the trail through the Dyson Tract, a 184-acre parcel of land adjacent to Princeton Pike and the historic Brearley House, with fields that access the D&R Canal.

The Zonta Club of Trenton/Mercer recently presented a $1,400 check to LifeTies, a private, non-profit organization established in 1982 to serve New Jersey children in crisis. The donation will help fund activities designed to expose Trenton kids to new environments, including visits to culturally significant sites such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Facebook Comments