Illinois law and enforceability of postemployment restrictive covenants

Every business in this, the Information Age, is highly dependent on confidential and proprietary information.  As many design and creative professionals know, a design business is often based on intimate, personal relationships with clients. As a result,  relationships are built upon a high degree of trust and the professional reputation of the designer.  In addition, the designer brings a host of regular vendors and proprietary skills, knowledge, experience, including private and confidential information about clients, used for operating the Business.  It is not surprising that businesses will seek to prevent disclosure of business, technical and financial information (including information relating to clients, employees and vendors, as well information an employee learns during her employment.

Do I need a Non-solicitation agreement for my Design Business?

Increasingly, I am being asked by clients to prevent departing employees from using proprietary and confidential information and form poaching clients and employees.  These non-disclosure or non-solicitation provisions seek to prevent an employee from encouraging or soliciting any client, employee, vendor, or contractor to leave. Unfortunately,

Restrictive Covenants Are Hard to Enforce!

Post-employment restrictive covenants are carefully scrutinized by Illinois courts because they operate as partial restrictions on trade. Fifieldv. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 993 N.E.2d 938 (citing Cambridge Engineering, Inc. v. Mercury Partners90 BI, Inc., 378 Ill.App.3d 437, 447 (2007) ). In order for a restrictive covenant to be valid and enforceable, the terms of the covenant must be reasonable. It is established in Illinois that a restrictive covenant is reasonable only if the covenant (1) is no greater than is required for the protection of a legitimate business interest of the employer, (2) does not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) is not injurious to the public. Reliable Fire Equipment Co. v. Arredondo, 965 N.E.2d 393 (2011). The courts consider the unique factors and circumstances of the case when determining the reasonableness of a restrictive covenant. Millard Maintenance Service Co. v. Bernero, 566 N.E.2d 379 (1990). However, before even considering whether a restrictive covenant is reasonable, the court must make two determinations: (1) whether the restrictive covenant is ancillary to a valid contract; and (2) whether the restrictive covenant is supported by adequate consideration. Fifield, 993 N.E.2d 938. Absent adequate consideration, a covenant, though otherwise reasonable, is not enforceable. Id. ¶ 14 (citing Brown & Brown, Inc. v. Mudron, 887 N.E.2d 437 (2008) ); see also Millard, 566 N.E.2d 379.

For most businesses, enforceability of such covenants turns on the concept of “consideration.” The current Illinois authority on “consideration” is Fifieldv. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 120327. In Fifield, the Illinois appellate court noted that Illinois courts have repeatedly held that there must be at least two years or more of continued employment to constitute “adequate consideration” in support of a restrictive covenant.  The court also clarified the process by adding that “Fifield [did not overrule or modify] Brown, which engaged in a fact-specific approach in determining consideration.

As a general rule, courts do not inquire into the adequacy of consideration. However, postemployment restrictive covenants are excepted from this general rule because “a promise of continued employment may be an illusory benefit where the employment is at-will.”  Most design businesses have at-will employees.

Fifield is equally important for both what it says and for what it does not. Clearly employment alone – any less than two years duration – is  NOT adequate consideration. However, the Fifieldcourt also stated that there could be other or additional factors such as an “added bonus in exchange for this restrictive covenant, more sick days, some incentives, [or] some kind of newfangled compensation,” that could be considered additional compensation that could support enforcement of the covenant.

Despite the recognition that the bar is set high for the amount of consideration necessary to enforce restrictive covenants, it makes sense to include them in your agreements with those who work for you.

In addition to the non-solicitation language, one should create a strong and broad definition of protectable proprietary and confidential information.  While it may not always be possible to stop a former employee from directly competing against you, it is possible to prevent said employee from using your own proprietary and confidential information against you.

 

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Recent Court Decisions Provide Some Clarity in Ever-changing Techlaw Landscape

As every CIO knows, today all business is digital business.  From the corner mom and pop bodega using Square to process credit cards up to Cisco Systems global network of devices supporting Zetabytes of data over an increasing number of devices.

What began as largely static website e-commerce at the turn of the millennium is now every day operations across multiple devices and the many different brands of platform and content delivery network.  In case you missed it, two recent cases will have a wide impact regardless of industry period

Law Enforcement Access To Cell Phone Location Data Requires Warrant

In the case of Carpenter v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to have access to location and other data contained on a suspect’s cell phone.  In case you’re not familiar with the case, the facts in the Carpenter case are worth mentioning. In 2011, the government, conducting a criminal investigation in Detroit, obtained months’ worth of time-stamped records known as cell-site location information (CSLI) for suspects.  Wireless carriers produced CSLI for petitioner Timothy Carpenter’s phone, and the Government was able to obtain 12,898 location points cataloging Carpenter’s movements over 127 days—an average of 101 data points per day.  Carpenter moved to suppress the data, arguing that the Government’s seizure of the records without obtaining a warrant supported by probable cause violated the Fourth Amendment.  The District Court denied the motion, and prosecutors used the records at trial.  Carpenter was convicted, based in part on the cell-site records, and he appealed. holding that the government’s acquisition of historic cell-site location information (HCSLI) – at least to the extent it includes 7 days or more of cell-site records – was a search and thereby required a warrant.

In reversing the conviction, a majority of the Court has recognized that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements and a warrant is required only in the rare case where the suspect has a legitimate privacy interest in records held by a third party.  The Court downplayed the significance of its ruling, calling its decision “a narrow one” that “does not express views on “real-time CSLI” or question the application to … a range of other information-gathering tools, such as security cameras.”

What this means for business.  While pundits are wisely praising the decision as a victory for privacy, I for one, do not believe it applies that broadly. Even so, there is a tangible benefit for corporate counsel at technology companies, especially those that maintain location information about their customers. Lawyers and compliance pros will feel some relief knowing that they do not have to scramble, prevaricate or litigate with law enforcement when a company receives a subpoena or other demand for location data without a warrant attached.

For additional views on this decision, please see an article from the International Association of Privacy Professionals here, and another from the Electronic Frontier Foundation here.

States Can Now Require That Internet Retailers Collect Sales Tax

The other notable decision to come down from the Supreme Court involves the long-simmering issue of state taxation on internet sales.

The decision, in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., was a victory for brick-and-mortar businesses that have long complained they are put at a disadvantage by having to charge sales taxes while many online competitors do not. And it was also a victory for states that have said that they are missing out on tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue.

The South Dakota Legislature enacted a law requiring out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax “as if the seller had a physical presence in the State” to address the erosion of its sales tax base causing a corresponding loss of critical funding for state and local services (“Act”).  The Act covers only sellers that, on an annual basis, deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the State or engage in 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the State.  Top online retailers with no employees or real estate in South Dakota who met the Act’s minimum sales or transactions requirement, but do not collect the State’s sales tax opposed the Act. South Dakota filed suit in state court, seeking a declaration that the Act’s requirements are valid and applicable to respondents and an injunction requiring respondents to register for licenses to collect and remit the sales tax. At trial and on appeal, courts held that the Act is unconstitutional.

The ruling effectively overturned a system that it created.  In 1992, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution bars states from requiring businesses to collect sales tax unless they have a substantial connection to the state. That case was Quill Corporation v. North Dakota.  The Quill decision helped pave the way for the growth of online retail by letting companies sell nationwide without navigating the complex patchwork of state and local tax codes.

South Dakota’s attorney general, called the ruling “a big win for South Dakota and Main Streets across America.”  The case should benefit both rural businesses where local businesses have been hit hard by competition from online retailers and municipal coffers as well, because in some states local sales taxes are collected at the state level.  Owners of brick-and-mortar stores like the decision as a means of leveling the playing field because they feel they often missed out on sales of big-ticket items since sales tax could have had an amplified effect on the price.  For consumers, this could mean paying more for products bought online.  Although most have a “use tax” that works like a state sales tax for online purchases, few if any consumers actually pay it.

Since the beginning of my practice in 1999, I suggested businesses take a state-by-state approach when it comes to issues like sales tax, since it can vary widely by jurisdiction.  No business is entirely virtual. All businesses will need to examine their ecommerce strategy to see whether and to what extent this case affects the business model.

Advanced Issues in Contracts for Interior Designers

Every business transaction is governed by contract law, even if the parties don’t realize it. Despite the overwhelming role it plays in our lives, contract law can be incredibly difficult to understand.

Successful Interior Designers know how to manage the legal needs of the business while bringing a creative vision to life for a client or project. Confusion about rights, obligations, and remedies when things go wrong can strain and even ruin an otherwise promising professional relationship.

This program teaches new designers and entrepreneurs answers to some basic questions, such as:

  • What to do when clients / vendors / contractors don’t pay?
  • How can one use Indemnifications, Disclaimers and Limitations of Liability clauses to balance business risk when the parties may not be economically balanced?
  • What types of remedies are available and what are the limitations in scope for certain types of monetary and “equitable” remedies?

Take a deeper dive into advanced issues for interior design professionals. Learn how contracts can protect your design business and how to safeguard your rights.

Qualifies for .1 CEU credit.

This program was originally delivered on Aug. 17, 2017 at the Design Center at theMART 14th Floor Conference Center, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654

Privacy & Security Issues In Smart Home and IoT Devices

Comprised of connected devices such as thermostats, automobiles, electricity, televisions, fitness trackers, security/baby-monitoring cameras, medical devices, cell phones and tablets, IoT adoption is penetrating some of the world’s most regulated industries such as healthcare, energy, government, financial services, and retail. The potential size of the IoT market is staggering. Commercial-device-focused GE estimates the “Industrial Internet” market will reach $10-$15 trillion over the next 20 years. Consumer-focused Cisco estimates the “Internet of Everything” will be $19 trillion by 2020.

Several recent examples from researchers and manufacturers have shown just how easily privacy and security can be comprised by these devices. In April of 2014, research on Nest Smart Thermostats by Matthew Burrough and Jonathan Gill at U. of I. at Urbana-Champaign revealed two observations impacting privacy and security.

First, Nest appears to be “offline,” yet responds immediately to cloud-based (online) temperature control changes. Second, by interacting with the thermostat or triggering the motion sensors, persistent connections can be made. Taken together, the potential exists to exploit seemingly reasonable functional expectations (e.g., monitoring temp changes).

These technology and privacy legal issues are only likely to proliferate. Regardless of the outcome, the case highlights lessons for IT departments and others charged with safeguarding data on devices. As a precaution, it is useful to consult with the outside technology counsel to better understand you’re rates, obligations, and any limitations to your responsibilities for disclosure.

Top 5 questions asked by entrepreneurs

Over the last 20 years I have worked with many technology companies and entrepreneurs in the Chicagoland area. For a time, I also ran the start up and entrepreneurial ventures subcommittee of the Chicago Bar Association.

The entrepreneur panels are always the best attended and also seem to have the liveliest discussions.

Drawing on those experience is it, here are five of the most common questions asked by entrepreneurs.
  1. What is the best legal structure for my business?
  2. How do I protect my idea?
  3. What kind of contracts do I need?
  4. Should I use employees or independent contractors?
  5. Who else should be on my professional team?

Ordinarily one would tackle these in order. However, because the answer to #2 will inform the discussion around #1, it makes sense to address this first.

Tracking Tech Case Provides Guidance on Customer Opt Outs

From healthcare apps, to mobile devices, to utilities, services are collecting and aggregating customer data across many different types of connected devices. Many mobile apps and services rely on a consumer’s location information. As more mobile apps connect to the Internet to send and receive location data, the FTC, legislators, privacy advocates, and others have identified location information as a particularly sensitive category of data. A recent study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University contained shocking revelations about the frequency with which location information is gathered and transmitted to companies through their mobile apps. At the same time, the recent settlement with in-store retail customer tracking provider Nomi highlights the FTC’s increased scrutiny of data gathering practices and disclosures of mobile application developers.

It is no secret that retailers could derive significant business intelligence from the real-time moments through stores. This is one of the areas around which companies innovate around customers’ private information. For example, Nomi Technologies, a company whose technology allows retailers to track consumers’ movements through their stores, made headlines when it agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it misled consumers about opting out of their tracking services. This is not why you want to have your company’s innovations in the news.

Business counsel both inside and outside of companies developing applications that leverage mobile geolocation data of consumers and employees should be aware of the many issues that are developing around this area such as: How is geolocation information gathered and how does data flow from device, to app to, third party? How is it shared and used in mobile advertising? When is consent required and how should stakeholders obtain such consent?

 

HealthCare & IT: mHealth, Telehealth and Telemedicine Developments

Global and China mHealth App Market Size and Forecast up to 2014: Acute Market Reports

The report introduced MHealth App basic information about international market analysis, China domestic market analysis, Macroeconomic environment and economic situation analysis, MHealth App industry policy and plan, MHealth App product specification, manufacturing process, cost structure and statistics in China.

‘meHealth’ for HIV in Africa

Combination of mHealth and e-health technologies and services to give personalized health support to anyone in the health system.
M-health: Set to Grow Its Clout

On the back of growing awareness about information and communications technology (ICT)-led healthcare services among users, m-health saw healthcare become a buzzing and interesting space in India.
Diabetes tools progressing from monitoring to proactive disease management

Developing diabetes care management strategies that extend beyond the clinic environment, reports mHealth Intelligence.

App, portal help spina bifida patients with self-care tasks

“The objective of this research is to develop an innovative mHealth system to support self-skincare tasks, skin condition monitoring, adherence to self-care regimens, etc…

Digital healthcare services in 2016 (and beyond)

Solving the complex problem of medication adherence could have a huge impact on lowering cost of care; It’s no surprise that millions of dollars have already been invested in digital health software to guide the process. In 2016, expect the basics of digital adherence — self-reporting, tracking refills and chronic disease outcomes, etc. — will receive a boost from the use of sensors to collect confirming data, whether it’s via breath analysis, urine sampling, or another non-invasive method.