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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Technology, Innovation and the Law

In today’s world, business is no longer about simply having an online presence. Digital business is transactional and social across platforms and networks across thew globe. The previous model of one-to-one transactional business relationships has evolved to one that is reciprocal, collaborative and highly interactive.

This new level of engagement is not without risks. As businesses expand into new online areas for marketing and commerce, businesses should be aware of a myriad of laws and risk areas implicated when one conducts business online. Business lawyers must be familiar with Technology Law.

There are a wide variety of services around the most common types of content and businesses need legal disclaimers, protection of intellectual property rights and other ways to limit liability.

Generally, the key areas and issues are:

Trade & Commerce Issues

  • Advertising & Promotions Laws (these vary by state)
  • Affiliate Marketing Agreements/Relationships
  • Federal Regulatory Guidelines
  • Industry Regulations & Guidelines
  • CAN-SPAM Act
  • Online Contracts/Terms of Use (Click-Wrap/Browse-Wrap Agreements)
  • Disclaimers
  • Limits of Liability
  • Sales & Taxation/Clarifying Nexus Confusion
  • Choice of Law/Forum
  • Insurance Law
  • Website Representations and Warranties

Intellectual Property Issues

  • Copyright & Digital Millennium Copyright Act
  • Defamation/Free Speech
  • Trademark Law
  • Unfair Internet Business Practices Such as Domain Name Hijacking & Cybersquatting
  • Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act
  • Linking/Scraping/Crawling
  • Patent Law
  • Licensing
  • Trade Secrets

Privacy & Security Issues

  • Credit Cards / Transaction Processing
  • E-Payment and Credit Card Security/Privacy
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
  • Data Breach Notification Laws
  • Data Privacy Laws

Human Resources & Employment Issues

  • BYOD & Computer Usage Guidelines for Employees
  • Employment and Labor Laws
  • Social Media Guidelines for Employees

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss any questions you may have regarding the range of business, technology and intellectual property services we offer. Our law office is based in Chicago, Illinois. Please feel free to call us at (866) 734-2568 should you have any questions.

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

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.

Five Best Ways to Protect Your Ideas

Idea

When I first meet a client, I am often asked “How can I protect my ideas?” While it may seem like a simple question, getting the answer right is often tricky. That’s because one can’t actually own an idea, in and of itself. Sounds confusing, I know. The five best ways to protect your ideas are 1) Identify, 2) Organize, 3) Register (or restrict), 4) Monitor, and 5) Enforce. This articles focuses on how to identify the best ways to protect your ideas.

Regardless of industry, Ideas are the keys to any successful business. While one cannot “own” an idea, one can protect one’s Intellectual Property rights that relate to the embodiment or manifestation of that idea. For example, Copyright, Patent, Trademark, Trade Secret and Publicity Rights are all forms of Intellectual Property rights that grant exclusive rights to the owner, both artistic and commercial.

Copyright protects works of creative artistic expression such as books, movies, audio-visual music, paintings, photographs, and importantly, software. Copyright protection requires that a work be “fixed” in tangible format (this includes electronic format) and gives the owner (called the “author”) of such works the exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, and modify a work for a certain period of time.

Patents (utility and design), Trademarks and Trade Secrets protect creative commercial expression sometimes known as “industrial properties,” as they are typically created and used for industrial or commercial purposes.

A Patent protects the invention or discovery of “any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” A Patent gives the inventor “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States for a period of time.

A Trademark is any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name or logo that is a distinctive sign which is used to prevent confusion among products in the marketplace. A Trademark enjoys protection indefinitely, as long as it is being used.

An industrial design right protects the form of appearance, style or design of an industrial object from infringement.

A Trade Secret is an item of non-public information concerning the commercial practices or proprietary knowledge of a business. Public disclosure of trade secrets may sometimes be illegal. A Trade secret enjoys protection indefinitely, as long as it is being kept secret.

Some rights are “statutory” in that they exist because they are granted by the Constitution of the United States, e.g. Copyright and Patent. Other rights arise from “use,” e.g. Trademark and Trade Secret rights. Some arise under State law, e.g., Rights of Publicity. Not all types of intellectual property require registration in order to obtain, maintain or enforce one’s rights. However, registration is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED if available, is required in certain circumstances and, even when not required, registration often confers several benefits that enable enforcement, reduce the risk and costs of enforcement, and provide additional incentives and remedies for enforcement.

The term “Intellectual Property” denotes the specific legal rights described above, and not the intellectual work, concept or idea itself. Oftentimes, the largest value of a businesses can be traced to its intangible assets. Knowing how to identify intangible assets and understanding which Intellectual Property rights apply to these assets is critical to the ability to protect and commercialize one’s ideas. Therefore, great care should be given to maintaining and enhancing their power and value. Value can be increased through a carefully planned and executed strategy. Innovative companies that successfully leverage their Intellectual Property rights will stand to benefit most from the opportunities presented by the current economic marketplace and demand for innovation.

 

Focus | Vision | Perspective | Passion

Executives face a confusing and dynamic set of challenges ensuring their business remains legally compliant. Yet few can afford the highly-qualified and versatile legal staff needed to deal with today’s complex legal & regulatory environment.

Adler Law Group was created to provide clients with a competitive advantage by enabling them to leverage their intangible assets and creative content in a way that drives innovation and increases the overall value of the business.

For a FREE, no-obligation 1 hour consultation to learn the best ways to identify, protect and leverage your ideas, please call: (866) 734-2568, click: http://www.adler-law.com, or write: David @ adler-law.com.

Adler Law Group – Providing innovative legal counsel that elevates aspirations to achievements.™

DATA PRIVACY DAY 

Do You Understand Your Data Privacy Rights?

Data Privacy Day was started in 2007 in response to widespread lack of understanding about how personal data was being protected. Today, 91% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies, according to a recent Pew Research Center Survey.

Data is one of the natural resources of the 21st century. It should be treated like all other precious resources. Understanding, responsibility, and accountability are key. Ubiquitous Internet connections, unprecedented processing power and speed combined with staggeringly large databases have the ability to help both the private and public sectors. However, there is a growing split between the benefits of data-driven activities and perceptions of decreased privacy rights needs to be addressed. There is a balance that needs to be found between the responsibility of governments and that of businesses in ensuring an adequate level of protection to citizens and consumers, while supporting technological innovation.

The purpose of Data Privacy Day is raise awareness among digital citizens and empower them with understanding how their data is being collected, stored and consumed. Often, that starts with being educated about the privacy policies of online companies and web properties.

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) officially kicked off today’s Data Privacy Day events with a broadcast from George Washington University Law School featuring Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen and privacy and security experts from industry and government.

Whether you are a consumer, an application developer, a technology platform provider, consultant, or enterprise that relies on the collection, analysis and commercialization of data (who doesn’t these days) Adler Law Group can help you navigate this emerging area by 1) assessing and prioritizing privacy risks, 2) creating a baseline understanding of data assets, data flows and contractual commitments, 3) developing internal Privacy Polciies and processes, and 4) creating and delivering training programs for executives and employees that increases awareness and mitigate risk.

Three Things To Improve Your Law Firm’s Social Media Marketing in 2015

When I committed myself to social media marketing a few years ago, like most lawyers, I wasn’t quit sure what I was getting myself into. One thing I knew for sure: I had to just start.

I’m sure my early posts were fairly mundane and added little value, let alone acted as a catalyst for a conversation. As most social media experts will posit, social media is about identifying and engaging with customers, employees and prospects. Over time, I increased my engagement, learned to participate and learned what worked and what didn’t. What follows are a couple of things that I try to keep in mind as part of my legal social media marketing efforts.

1. Have a voice. As lawyers we have instant credibility. Use this to your advantage. Whether you are a personal injury lawyer or in house counsel to a pharmaceutical company, you probably follow certain topics or have expertise in a particular area. You can use your area of expertise to talk about events, trends or interesting developments. Even if all you do is post a link to something that interests you, you are developing your online persona.

2. Cultivate your followers. One of the most powerful aspects of social media marketing is the network effect. As followers like, share or favorite your content, your message gets spread exponentially. Don’t be afraid to engage with those followers to cultivate and strengthen those relationships.

3. Always evaluate. Sometimes I am shocked that a post gets shared or favorited. For whatever reason, the subject matter resonates with my followers and my followers’ followers. When I see that, I try to note the subject area or topic, how it was shared an by whom. Focusing on content that others find useful enhances the value of my voice and my content.

As we look forward to 2015, now is an opportune time to take a look at what work last year, what didn’t and how we can improve our focus going forward.

If you find my posts uself, I encourage you to share, comment, follow or just get in touch.

Best of luck for your legal marketing efforts in 2015!