Investment Crowdfunding Will Be Legal But Will It Be an Improvement?

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



In the JOBS Act adopted in April 2012, Congress required the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to adopt rules legalizing (i.e., exempting from the requirement to register with the SEC) the offer and sale of securities by small business issuers (which cannot afford registered public offerings) using mass media, to-wit: the Internet, social media, etc. Historically, both state and federal exemptions required “privateness” and forbade “general solicitation.”

On October 30, 2015, the SEC, in a 686 page release, finally adopted rules (see pages 547-686) to allow investment crowdfunding (the use of mass media to make offers and sales to non-accredited investors, i.e., persons with less than $1 million net worth and incomes under $200,000 annually). The rules will become effective in April 2016.

Supporters argue that these rules simply bring the offering and sales of securities into the modern age of mass media and allow persons of limited means to participate in the great boom of entrepreneurship. Critics, on the other hand, point out that those are the very persons who are the least investment sophisticated and the most vulnerable to financial fraud.

What Was Available Before Investment Crowdfunding?

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Regulation Crowdfunding: Is It Right for You?

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



To much ballyhoo, on October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) finally adopted rules to allow investment crowdfunding (which the SEC calls “Regulation Crowdfunding”). That is, it allows the use of mass media (Internet, etc.) (called “general solicitation”) to make offers and sales to non-accredited investors. Those are persons with less than $1 million net worth and annual incomes under $200,000. (Under present rules, general solicitation may be used only to solicit purchases from “accredited” investors.) The new rules will not become effective before April 2016.

“Regulation Crowdfunding”: A Method for True Investment Crowdfunding

Conceptually, allowance of general solicitation to solicit non-accredited investors is a sea change, in direct conflict with the basic investor protection philosophy of the SEC and state regulators since adoption of the Securities Act of 1933. The actual benefit of the new rules, however, is in some doubt. Continue reading »

Protecting Your Intellectual Property in a Wild World

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



Your company is an “A” player and it has done everything right in the U.S. in protecting its intellectual property (“IP”). You have not just relied upon a “smile.” You’ve invented a unique product called Superstar® widget and it is not yet offered by your competitors. Vast amount of resources have been poured into the development of the Superstar widget. Prior to introducing the Superstar widget, you used due diligence and used the IP Awareness Assessment Tool on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to identify what IP you have, if it has value, and if it can be protected under U.S. law.

Upon identifying your IP, the company retained capable attorneys who were successful in obtaining U.S. trademark registrations on the corporate name, non-functional design, and logo so customers could more easily identify the Superstar widget and its association with the company. Superstar widget packaging correctly evidences all registered trademarks.

You made a wise expenditure on patents and the company has received patents on the Superstar widget process. Further, copyright registrations with the U.S. Copyright Office have been obtained on your website, web video, and associated software and you are giving notice to the world of your ownership by using the appropriate symbol of “©2012 Company.” Continue reading »

SEC Finally Proposes Rules to Allow Crowdfunding

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



Not quite ten months late, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on October 23, 2013 proposed rules to allow entrepreneurs and other small businesses to advertise investments in their companies on the Internet and in other general venues, and to allow persons other than wealthy investors to purchase those investments. Congress, in the JOBS Act signed by President Obama on April 5, 2013, had told the SEC to propose such rules by December 31, 2012. (In fairness, the SEC was faced with great pressures from numerous quarters, including the legislators themselves, concerning the content of the rules, which made that deadline impossible to meet.)

This type of investing, called “investment crowdfunding,” was illegal, and will remain illegal until the process of review, amendment and adoption of final rules is complete. The SEC has asked the public for comment on the proposed rules within 90 days. At least a few months of further processing after that 90 day period will be required before the rules are final. Continue reading »

U.S. Supreme Court Backs Resellers in Physical Goods Copyright Case

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



Co-authored by Ruth Binger and Jeffrey L. Michelman

Suppose you plan to buy a large supply of Disney books from an overstocked Barnes & Noble retailer in Taiwan, and then offer your employees the opportunity to purchase the books at a deep discount as gifts for Christmas.  You reason that if the employees don’t buy up all of the books, you can always sell the remainder to a discount book chain or on the Internet.

You are approached by the human resources department manager and advised that Disney is very litigious about protecting its copyrights. Because your company is not an authorized seller for Disney products, the manager fears losing an infringement lawsuit.

Fortunately, your legal counsel is familiar with this issue. Upon learning that you intend to make the initial purchase from an authorized Disney retailer in Taiwan, counsel advises that your company is protected by the “First Sale” Doctrine of the Copyright Act.

And the U.S. Supreme Court agrees. In Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, the Court held that a legally obtained copyrighted work can be imported into the U.S. and resold without permission from the copyright owner even if it was manufactured and sold overseas. The ruling applies to sale of physical, tangible works and not digital works that are licensed and not easily resold because of license agreements. The Court explained that in a complex and interconnected world, buyers, sellers, and retailers should be able to import and sell products without having to search out the copyright owner to determine if the U.S. copyright owner approves of the sale.

The facts are simple.  Kirtsaeng, a Thailand citizen, moved to the U.S. to study mathematics at Cornell University, and entered a Ph.D. program in mathematics at the University of Southern California. Continue reading »

10 Best Practices for Protecting Your Company’s Trade Secrets, Internet Access and Good Will

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



The exponential growth of technology has created amazing efficiencies in how businesses operate. Such cost savings come with a cost and companies need to continuously adapt to the ever changing opportunities and vulnerabilities. In 2020, it is predicted that over 5 billion people will be using the Internet, and within the next decade 6 billion people will have a constant connection to the Internet. The growth of your business is inextricably combined with the growth of the Internet.

Below are 10 best practices for your businesses to consider as you move forward:

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Is This by Consent? Changes to Missouri Supreme Court Rule Affect Use of Non-party Subpoenas

David R. Bohm

By David R. Bohm



Part of a series on issues related to Manufacturers, Distributors and International Trade

Co-authored by David R. Bohm and David A. Zobel

A major change involving subpoenas to non-parties has hit the business world in the state of Missouri.

A new amendment to the Missouri Supreme Court Rules now requires non-party record custodians to physically appear at deposition to produce subpoenaed items, unless all parties to the litigation have agreed that the subpoenaed party may produce the items without appearing.

The amendment changes the prevailing practice where parties send out subpoenas to third parties with a letter explaining that they will be excused from appearing at deposition if they produce the requested items along with what is known as a business records affidavit.

Rule 57.09, as amended, now requires parties to first obtain consent from all other parties to the litigation before a subpoenaed witness may produce documents without attending the deposition. This agreement must be communicated to the witness in writing. Absent this agreement, a witness must appear to produce subpoenaed items at deposition.

What does this mean to you? If you receive a subpoena, you may only produce the documents to the party serving the subpoena without appearing at deposition if that party represents to you in writing (e.g., in a letter) that all other parties have consented to production of the docume

nts without need for you to appear at the deposition. Such a letter should protect you from allegations that you improperly produced records by mail, instead of bringing the documents to the deposition. You do not need to see the actual agreement. If you have any questions as to whether you can simply mail the documents, instead of appearing at deposition, you should either call your attorney for advice or simply wait and bring the documents at the time and place designated in the subpoena.

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To Prevail on a Trademark or Unfair Competition Claim There Must Be a Likelihood of Confusion

David R. Bohm

By David R. Bohm



Part of a series on issues related to Manufacturers, Distributors and International Trade

In order to prevail on a claim of trademark infringement under the Lanham Act (the federal trademark law), a common law claim of trademark infringement, or a claim of unfair competition, a plaintiff is required to show that the infringing use be “likely to cause confusion or to cause mistake.” 15 U.S.C. § 1114(a).

In Sensient Technologies Corp. v. Sensory Effects Flavor Co., 636 F.Supp.2d 891, 899 (E.D.Mo. 2009), the Court set out determine whether such a likelihood of confusion existed. To make the determination, the Court

“… [considered] six nonexclusive factors.” Everest Capital Ltd. V. Everest Funds Management, LLC, 39 F.3d 755, 759 (8th Cir. 2005). These factors are:

“(1) the strength of the owner’s mark; (2) the similarity of the owner’s mark and the alleged infringer’s mark; (3) the degree of competition between the products; (4) the alleged infringer’s intent to ‘pass off’ its goods as the trademark owner’s; (5) incidents of actual confusion; and (6) the type of product, its cost, and conditions of purchase.”

Luigino’s Inc. v. Stouffer Corp., 170 F.3d 827, 830 (8th Cir. 1999).

Step One in the determination of a claim of trademark infringement involves the strength of the owner’s mark. If a mark is generic, it is entitled to no protection. If the mark is descriptive (which is the weakest category of protectable marks), it is only entitled to protection where the mark has developed secondary meaning; i.e., where the mark is widely recognized as identifying the source of the goods.

A generic term can never function as a trademark because it refers to the common name or nature of the article. Id. A generic term does not identify the source of a product, but rather indicates the basic nature of the product. See id…. “Because a generic term denotes the thing itself, it cannot be appropriated by one party from the public domain….” Likewise, descriptive terms are generally not protectable because they are needed to describe all goods of a similar nature. Such a term describes the ingredients, characteristics, qualities, or other features of the product…to be afforded protection, then, a descriptive term must be so associated with the product that it becomes a designation of the source rather than a characteristic of the product. Schwan’s IP, LLC v. Kraft Pizza Co., 460 F.3d 971, 974 (8th Cir. 2006).

 

“A strong and distinctive trademark is entitled to greater protection than a weak or commonplace one.” SquirtCo v. Seven-Up Co., 628 F.2d 1086, 1091. (8th Cir. 1980).

Strong marks are those that are suggestive, fanciful or arbitrary, with the last classification (essentially made up words) being the strongest.

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Protecting Against the Overseas Theft of Trade Secrets

Marcia Swihart Orgill

By Marcia Swihart Orgill



Part of a series on issues related to Manufacturers, Distributors and International Trade

The overseas theft of trade secrets is a major concern of companies with business operations outside of the United States. A recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit provides U.S. companies with a new weapon to protect against trade secret misappropriation that occurs completely outside the United States. While welcome news for U.S. businesses, it is important that they remain vigilant in developing and implementing preventive measures for the international protection of their trade secrets.

In TianRui Group Co., et al. v. ITC et al., 661 F.3d 1322 (Fed Cir. Oct 11, 2011), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has the authority to exclude imports of products into the United States that are manufactured outside the United States using a misappropriated trade secret process, even when the misappropriation occurs outside the United States and there are no goods being manufactured in the U.S. using the protected process.

The Court held that in determining whether a trade secret has been misappropriated, the ITC should apply U.S. federal common law of trade secret misappropriation rather than the law of any particular U.S. state or of the country where the misappropriation occurred. The application of federal common law in actions brought before the ITC involving the overseas theft of trade secrets will make it easier in many cases for U.S. companies to prove the theft of their trade secrets, because proving trade secret misappropriation is generally more difficult under the laws of many other countries.

The holding in TianRui has no bearing on the sale or importation of goods outside the United States that were manufactured using misappropriated trade secrets of a U.S. manufacturer. Consequently, U.S. companies will still need to think globally when adopting trade secret protection measures.

The definition of what constitutes a trade secret and the elements for proving trade secret misappropriation vary from country to country. Additionally, there are regional competition laws that affect trade secret protection. Taking into account these laws when drafting confidentiality and non-compete provision is necessary to ensure trade secret protection and the enforceability of the provisions or agreements. Post-employment restrictive covenants need to be drafted to take into account the relevant statutory and judicial law, because if they are drafted too broadly they will be unenforceable.

In many countries a post-employment non-compete clause is not valid unless there is separate compensation for the restrictive covenant (e.g., China and Germany). In other countries, non-compete agreements are prima facie void on public policy grounds, and therefore, particular care is required when drafting a non-competition agreement in order to ensure that it will be considered reasonable under the applicable country’s laws.

To prove access to confidential information, it is advisable for a company to require written acknowledgement of the receipt of company information from employees, consultants, subcontractors and any other third parties at the time of disclosure, as well as having these individuals sign confidentiality agreements. In some countries, having a signed confidentiality agreement is not sufficient to prove access to a trade secret.

As a result of the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in TianRui, U.S. companies have a powerful enforcement mechanism to protect against the imports of competitor products into the United States if the foreign manufacturer engaged in conduct that constitutes an unfair trade practice under U.S. law.

However, when drafting confidentiality agreements, trade secret preventive measures and post-employment restrictive covenants, U.S. companies still need to consider carefully the statutory and judicial laws of the relevant foreign country and region.

Posted by Attorney Marcia S. Orgill. Orgill concentrates her practice in the area of business and personal taxation—especially complex domestic and international tax strategies.

Beware the Trojan Horse that is Social Media

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



While establishing and maintaining an organizational presence on popular media websites and blogs (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), businesses need to be aware of the legend of Troy and its supposed downfall due to a Trojan Horse. Greek mythology states that Greek warriors concocted a scheme whereby they built a wooden horse and offered it as a gift to the Trojans. The Trojans, in their greed and arrogance, accepted the gift and brought it within their gates. Then, at night as the Trojans slept, the Greek warriors emerged from the belly of the Trojan horse and defeated the Trojans changing the course of a ten-year siege.

Today, a Trojan Horse is more often thought of as a destructive software program that disguises itself as a helpful application. Similarly, although social media may be helpful for your business, be aware what could be lying in the belly of that Trojan Horse.

Line Between Private vs. Public Blurred

According to the Socialnomics web site, Generation Y will outnumber baby boomers sometime this year and 90% of them have already joined an online social network. For many young people, and even 50 year-olds, the line between private and public has disappeared as they tweet, blog, text and share the minutiae of both their personal lives and everyone around them – including their employer. Social media users are under the mistaken assumption that they own the web content they are generating and can retrieve it and delete it if needed.

They are also under the mistaken impression that what they say is protected by some cocoon and that the content they generate is private. This is not true, as evidenced by a Detroit hospital worker who was terminated after she posted a comment on Facebook about a man she treated who was accused of killing a police officer. She was fired for violating strict patient privacy rules under the federal HIPAA law. A Massachusetts 54 year old high school teacher also learned this lesson when posting negative comments about her school community, students, and parents even though she had set the privacy setting on her Facebook account. Moreover, cases are clear that locking a profile from public access does not prevent discovery in litigation either.

Disclosure of Company Information at Risk

Given the fact that technology is moving so fast and disclosure is instantaneous, worldwide and permanent, companies need to train their employees on the dangers of purposeful or inadvertent disclosure of company information. What is at stake for the employer is the loss of confidential information and trade secrets, disclosure of protectable third party information or medical information, suits from other companies for disclosure of secrets, and discrimination suits. For instance, companies recruiting and hiring managers often use social media in order to obtain more information on a candidate than they otherwise could. Continue reading »