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.™

Contract Drafting: Limitations of Liability & Exceptions

One of the most important functions of a contract is to reduce uncertainties and mitigate risks. That is why almost all professional or personal services contracts contain “limitations of liability” provisions. Although they may seem like densely-worded, “boilerplate” provisions, and often overlooked, these provisions broadly affect a party’s ability to bring a claim, show liability, and prove damages that can be recovered.

A limitation of liability clause is a provision in a contract that limits the amount of exposure a company faces in the event a lawsuit is filed or another claim is made. As a preliminary observation, it is important to note that enforcement of limitation of liability provisions vary from state to state. The general rule in contract law is that in the commercial context, many states have found these clauses to be a mere shifting of the risk and enforce them as written.

Limitations of Liability generally address two areas of concern. First, the types of claims that may be barred. Second, the amount or scope of liability for claims that are not barred.

Limiting The Type Of Claim

A typical limitation of liability clause may look something like this:

“IN NO EVENT SHALL A PARTY OR ITS DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, OR AGENTS, BE LIABLE FOR ANY CONSEQUENTIAL, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, PUNITIVE, EXEMPLARY, OR INDIRECT DAMAGES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY DAMAGES FOR LOST PROFITS. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE TOTAL LIABILITY OF A PARTY EXCEED THE AMOUNTS PAID BY CLIENT, IF ANY, FOR THE SERVICES.”

This clause limits the types of damages that may be claimed, prohibiting claims for:

  • Consequential damages (damages resulting naturally, but not necessarily, from the defendant’s wrongful conduct, BUT they must be foreseeable and directly traceable to the breach)
  • Incidental damages (includes costs incurred in a reasonable effort, whether successful or not, to avoid loss, or in arranging or attempting to arrange a substitute transaction)
  • Special damages (often treated the same as “consequential” by courts, “special” damages have been defined as those that arise from special circumstances known by the parties at the time the contract was made)
  • Punitive damages (damages that may be awarded which compensate a party for the exceptional losses suffered due to egregious conduct; a way of punishing the wrongful conduct and/or preventing future, similar conduct)
  • Exemplary damages (See “Punitive damages”)
  • Indirect damages (See “Consequential damages”)
  • Lost Profits (Cases in New York (and elsewhere) have a held that a clause excluding “consequential damages” may no longer be enough to bar “lost profits” claims; therefore, consider including more specific provisions in contracts- if parties want to exclude lost profits for breach of contract, a clause specifically excluding “lost profits” should be included.)

Lost profits that do not directly flow from a breach are consequential damages, and thus typically excluded by a limitation of liability clause like that above. But lost profits can be considered general damages (and thus recoverable) where the non-breaching party bargained for those profits, and where the profits are a direct and probable result of the breach.

Limiting The Amount Of The Claim

If found to be enforceable, a limitation of liability clause can “cap” the amount of potential damages to which a party is exposed. The limit may apply to all claims arising during the course of the contract, or it may apply only to certain types of claims. Limitation of liability clauses typically limit the liability to one of the following amounts: (i) the compensation and fees paid under the contract; (ii) an sum of money agreed in advance; (iii) available insurance coverage; or (iv) a combination of the above.

Parties can and typically do agree in their contract that liability is capped at some dollar amount. If liability exists and if damages can be proved, then the aggrieved party recovers those damages, but only up to the agreed cap. Sometimes these are mutual; other times they are one-sided. Sometimes the cap is a fixed sum (e.g., “the amounts paid for the services” or “$100,000”). Other times, the parties may choose to tie the cap to the type of harm, (e.g. personal injury, property damage, violations of confidentiality obligations).

However, sometimes that parties may agree that certain types of harm should not be limited. These “exceptions” put the parties in the same position they would have occupied if there was no limitation of liability provision in effect. For example:

  • exposure for violations of intellectual property (copyright, trademark, trade secret, patent) or proprietary rights (right of publicity, right of privacy, contractually-defined proprietary information)
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnity and defend for 1) breach of intellectual property representations, and/or 2) third party intellectual property or proprietary rights
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnify because a party didn’t have the right to provide data or information
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnify and defend for non-compliance with data security standards
  • exposure for violations of confidentiality obligations
  • personal injury or property damage due to negligent acts or omissions

Best Practices

Businesses that rely upon limitation of liability clauses should periodically reexamine those clauses. Questions that you should be asking include: “what’s my maximum recovery if the other party breaches,” and “what’s my maximum liability if I breach?”

These are only effective if enforceable, that’s why drafting is key. According to many courts, following certain drafting guidelines will help reduce the likelihood that a limitation of liability clause will not be enforced. Such guidelines include:

  • Make the clause conspicuous: set the clause in bold face print or underline or otherwise place the clause apart from the rest of the text on the page on which it appears so that the other party is aware of its existence.
  • Make the language clear and concise: make sure that the clause is concise and unambiguous as it relates to the contract as a whole.
  • Identify specific risks: be specific in identifying the types of damages you think should be excluded.
  • Negotiate the clause: discuss the clause with the party that is signing the agreement and negotiate if there is a discrepancy.
  • Retain drafts of revisions: keep drafts of any revisions made to the limitation of liability clause so that you have proof that the clause was negotiated.
  • Add language stating that these damages are not recoverable even if they were, or should have been, foreseeable or known by the breaching party.
  • Recite that the limitation of liability clause is an agreed benefit of the bargain, and that it remains in effect even if any remedy under the contract fails of its essential purpose.
  • Consider including a liquidated damages clause for specific breaches, which would replace a damages claim.

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Please consult  qualified attorney to discuss your specific situation.

If you are concerned about how to tighten your contracts, we may be able to help. We can review your contracts, your business practices, and advise on whether there is room for improvement.

Please contact us for a no-fee, no-obligation consultation. (866) 734-2568 David [at] adler-law.com

Identifying Intellectual Property Issues in Start-Ups – Live Webcast!

Do you work with start-up companies and need a basic understanding of the various intellectual property issues that can arise?

I will be co-presenting in this online seminar that will help you:

  • understand the trademark and copyright problems your client may encounter with branding;
  • learn how to protect your client’s branding once established;
  • familiarize your practice with patents, including what they protect, timing, and strategies to prevent inadvertent loss of patent rights before filing the application;
  • understand trade secrets and the importance of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements;
  • recognize intellectual property issues relating to technology, including open source code and the cloud;
  • establish a proactive approach toward intellectual property ownership between cofounders, employees, and vendors; understand business names, domain names, promotional issues, and website content concerns.

The program qualifies for 1.5 hours MCLE credit.

I would like to personally invite you to attend the upcoming Law Ed program titled, “Identifying Intellectual Property Issues in Start-Ups,” which I will be co-presenting via live webcast on Tuesday, May 27th.

Presented by the ISBA Business Advice and Financial Planning Section

Co-Sponsored by the ISBA Intellectual Property Section

Latest Illinois Case on Restrictive Covenants Increases Uncertainty, Burden For Employers

English: A customer signing the at A Stone's T...
English: A customer signing the at A Stone’s Throw Jewelers in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff in this declaratory judgment action had been employed by a subsidiary of an insurance company that marketed finance and insurance products to the automotive industry. After a sale of that business, plaintiff’s employment was terminated, but he was offered employment conditioned upon his acceptance of an “Employee Confidentiality and Inventions Agreement” (the agreement) which included non-solicitation and non-compete provisions. The agreement states in pertinent part:

“Employee agrees that for a period of two (2) years from the date Employee’s employment terminates for any reason, Employee will not, directly or indirectly, within any of the 50 states of the United States, for the purposes of providing products or services in competition with the Company (i) solicit any customers, dealers, agents, reinsurers, PARCs, and/or producers to cease their relationship with the Company *** or (ii) interfere with or damage any relationship between the Company and customers, dealers, agents, reinsurers , PARCs, and/or producers *** or (iii) *** accept business of any former customers, dealers, agents, reinsurers, PARCs, and/or producers with whom the Company had a business relationship within the previous twelve (12) months prior to Employee’s termination.”

Plaintiff successfully negotiated with Premier a provision that the restrictive covenants would NOT apply if he was terminated without cause during the first year of his employment (the first-year provision). Three months later, plaintiff resigned, began working for a competitor and sued to have the restrictive covenants held unenforceable stating that plaintiff had no access to confidential and proprietary information. The trial court held that the restrictive Covenants were unenforceable for lack of “consideration” – a legal term of art that generally means a bargained-for exchange of value. The appeals court affirmed.

ANALYSIS

Defendant argued that the non-solicitation and non-compete provisions were enforceable because the offer of employment was adequate consideration, there was a mutual exchange of promises (employment in exchange for restrictions), and the covenants were pre-employment, not post- employment. Defendant further argued that “the purpose of Illinois law regarding restrictive covenants is to protect against the illusory benefit of at-will employment” which was “nullified by the inclusion of the first-year [non-enforcement] provision in the agreement.”

Plaintiff countered with the argument that the provisions in the agreement are unenforceable because Illinois law requires employment to continue for a substantial period of time and that “Illinois courts have repeatedly held that two years of continued employment is adequate consideration to support a restrictive covenant…regardless of whether an employee is terminated or decides to resign on his own.”

The appellate court agreed with plaintiff citing Brown & Brown, Inc. v. Mudron, 379 Ill. App. 3d 724, 728 (2008) which held that the promise of continued employment in the context of post-employment restrictive covenants may be an illusory benefit where the employment is at-will. “Illinois courts have held that continued employment for two years or more constitutes adequate consideration. Id. at 728-29.”

TAKE AWAYS

The Fifield decisions has already generated a great deal of discussion from corporate board rooms to legal blogs. Unfortunately for businesses and their lawyers, the case leaves many unanswered questions.

For example, the court does not discuss whether the outcome would have been different if the employee were a high-level executive with immediate access to a wide range of highly sensitive confidential and proprietary information. At best,mother court simply mentions the plaintiff’s allegations that he had no access to such information.

Another area of uncertainty impacts start-up and early stage businesses. Very young businesses are often highly dynamic and early employees have access to a broad swath of the company’s Intangible assets such as business and revenue models, marketing plans, computer software and hardware and prospective customers, regardless of whether they serve a customer service function or “C-suite” executive function. The requirement that an employee have two years continued employment before a restrictive covenant becomes enforceable ignores the very real dynamic of start-up companies.

Lastly, an important question that went unanswered is whether the employer can offer some other “consideration” besides two years continued employment. For example, is there a pure monetary consideration that would support enforcement of the covenant? What if the covenant only lasted as long as the period of the departing employee’s employment?

NEXT STEPS

If you have restrictive covenants in your agreements with employees, it is strongly recommended that you meet with your lawyer to discuss the impact of this case on these agreements and your business. At the very least, you should carefully review your non-compete and non-solicitation agreements to see if they are supported by adequate consideration. If you have questions or concerns, or just don’t know how to begin, feel free to contact the lawyers at Leavens, Strand, Glover & Adler for a free, in-person or over-the-phone consultation. You can also email the author here: dadler@lsglegal.com.

Proposed Amedments To Computer Fraud & Abuse Act

Enacted by Congress in 1986, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) builds upon existing computer fraud law (18 U.S.C. § 1030). Initially, the CFAA was intended to limit federal jurisdiction to cases “with a compelling federal interest-i.e., where computers of the federal government or certain financial institutions are involved or where the crime itself is interstate in nature.” Notably, the CFAA criminalized certain computer-related acts such as distribution of malicious software code, propagating denial of service attacks as well as trafficking in passwords and similar items. Recently, the CFAA has gained prominence as a bludgeon used to prosecute a wide-range of activities, some broadly labelled “hacking” and other stretching the boundaries of “unauthorized” computer access.

Two recently introduced bills, one by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) in the House and one by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the Senate aim to amend the CFAA in hopes of ameliorating application of the CFAA to claims of breach of terms of service, employment agreements. Additionally, with the nickname “Aaron’s Law,” they also seek to limit what some see as the CFAA’s tendency to allow for overzealous prosecution that they claim characterized Aaron Swartz’s case.

In short the bills would amend the meaning of “exceeds authorized access,” changing it to “access without authorization,” which is defined to mean:

“to obtain information on a protected computer”;
“that the accesser lacks authorization to obtain”; and
“by knowingly circumventing one or more technological or physical measures that are designed to exclude or prevent unauthorized individuals from obtaining that information.”

For a well-documented discussion of the application and boundaries of the CFAA, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundations Legal Treatise on civil and criminal cases involving the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act here.

As businesses become ever more dependent on digital assets and systems, a working knowledge of the legal and regulatory framework that defines and protects those assets is paramount.

If you or your executive teams has questions about securing and protecting digital assets, please feel free to contact David M. Adler for a free consultation. LSGA advises a wide range of businesses on creating, protecting and leveraging digital assets as well as computer, data and information security and privacy.

Please tweet, comment on, and forward is article!

David M. Adler | Adler Law Group
300 Saunders Road, Suite 100
Riverwoods, Illinois 60015
Toll free Phone: (866) 734-2568
http://www.ecommerceattorney.com

*2015 Illinois Super Lawyer http://bit.ly/gFfpAt

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#Bank Information #Security: The Evolving Threat From Insiders

VIDEO: The Evolving Insider Threat– Dawn Cappelli, Randy Trzeciak of CMU’s Insider Threat Center

This video from RSA Conference 2013 discusses:

  • Who typically commits insider crimes – and how;
  • How employees are being victimized from outside;
  • Why our critical infrastructure is at heightened risk.

Even if you are an employer using standard commercial verification measures, you should be cautious about misuse of any information by employees, managers and contractors. Accordingly, you should be careful with training and education and not on only newly-hired employees. Further, plan on how login credential and access to sensitive information will be handled and/or turned over when training or when terminating, suspending, withholding pay, lowering pay, or taking any other adverse action against an employee.

Whose Social Media Account Is It Anyway?

As a result of the rapid shift in marketing from unilateral one-to-many communications, to the multilateral, many-to-many or many-to-one conversations enabled by Social Media, employees and employers are struggling to manage accounts that are used for both work and personal purposes.

This new phenomenon has benefits, but it also creates a number of legal challenges. For employees, it may result in greater efficiency, more opportunities for authentic customers engagement and the ability to stay on top of the most current grands and business issues. For employers, it presents opportunity to reap substantial benefits from lower communications and customer support costs. For in-house counsel, it raises a host of legal and practical issues with few easy solutions and significant liability and regulatory risks.

First, there are hardware issues. Smartphones, tablets and other personal electronics often have social networking capabilities built in. in addition, they contain contain both personal and business data. Because these devices are always on and always connected, they are more than just personal property. They have become essential business tools. For both sides of the workplace equation, employers and employees must understand where the privacy lines fall between personal versus work-related information.

Second, there are data issues. Employers must balance their needs to monitor employee usage, employees’ privacy concerns, and the risk of liability for theft or exposure of data if a device is lost or stolen, or from lack of proper safeguards on account usage. For in-house counsel tasked with drafting policies to address these risks, , Prior to implementation of any policy, the legal team needs to educate front line employees and management on reasonable expectations of privacy and security and the harms that the organization seeks to prevent.

Lastly, recent cases such as the Cristou v. Beatport litigation, highlight the struggle to define and control the beginning and end of employee social media accounts, ownership and protection of intellectual property and the post termination risks that arise from the absence of appropriate policies.

As we prepare to start a new year, the time is ripe to establish security and privacy policies governing creation, maintenance and use of employees’ social media accounts for work functions. In-house counsel must lead the charge to educate, inform and train employees about privacy, security and evidence-recovery implications associated with use of social media.