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The term “intellectual property,” or “IP,” refers to intangible property that is the creation of a person’s mind. IP is given certain aspects of property rights by law. One way of looking at IP, is that it is the property right one possesses in information. McCarthy’s Encyclopedia of Intellectual Property defines “intellectual property as “an all-encompassing term used to designate as a group all of the following fields of law: patent, trademark, unfair competition, copyright, trade secret, moral rights, and the right of publicity.” For example, moral rights, also called the right of attribution, require that I attribute the quoted language to its source. Otherwise, I would not only be guilty of plagiarism, but also copyright infringement.

 

While intangible, intellectual property can be extremely valuable and in some cases may be a company’s sole asset. Some examples of the types of intellectual property that often has significant value include software code, techniques of manufacture, client lists, artistic works, works of authorship and formulas. For example, the Google search-engine algorithm and the recipe for Coca-Cola are each valuable forms of IP, the former being protected by a patent and the latter as a trade secret.

Intellectual property can be legally protected in several ways, including the use of legal instruments such as patents, copyrights, or trademarks. This area of law can be extremely complicated, so it is important for anyone seeking to protect their IP to discuss their options with an experienced attorney.

What to Consider When Licensing Intellectual Property?

Owners of IP, typically the creators or inventors of IP, have the exclusive right to profit from that IP. IP can be used in commercial products with only the right to use the internal IP components. In other cases, the owner of IP will license the IP for others to reproduce and distribute in third-party products. Some common examples of licensing include technology developers who intend to monetize their IP portfolios (e.g., Adobe, Oracle, Microsoft, Google); individual inventors who lack the resources to produce and commercialize a particular product (e.g., inventor of Spider-Man toy with shooting web);  and artists and authors who seek to monetize their works while retaining ownership rights.

Any licensing of intellectual property should take place through the execution of a written licensing agreement, which is a contract that should ideally define both parties’ rights and responsibilities. In a licensing agreement, the party granting the license is referred to as the “licensor,” and the party obtaining the license is referred to as the “licensee.” Some of the terms that should be included in any IP licensing agreement include the following:

  • The scope of the license – The “scope” of a license contains both the grant of a license to do certain things with the IP, such as use, reproduce, distribute, publicly display and publicly perform. That language typical to license agreements derives from the Copyright Act. The second part of the “scope” of a license contains the limitations on the license. Many licensing agreements limit the way in which a particular piece of IP may be used and limit the licensee’s right to resell or reproduce a product. Other limitations may include geography or the number of users.
  • The term of the license – The licensing agreement should clearly state for how long the license will be granted and whether the license is renewable or non-renewable.
  • Retention of ownership – A property drafted licensing agreement grants only a license right and all other rights, title and interest are reserved.
  • The allocation of revenue – A well-drafted license agreement should also outline the way that any revenue that is generated as a result of the license will be allocated. In some cases, the licensee pays a one-time licensing fee while, in others, recurring payments are included in the agreement.
  • Non-disclosure clauses – In many cases, the grant of a license to use intellectual property requires the licensor to disclose confidential information that, if disclosed, could have an impact on the intellectual property’s value. As a result, many licensing agreements contain non-disclosure clauses limiting the licensee’s ability to disclose information related to the IP.
  • Warranties – Licensing agreements may contain both express and implied warranties as well as warranty disclaimers.
  • Indemnification – The licensing agreement should clearly define the rights of indemnification for both the licensor and the licensee.
  • Choice of law – The law governing the licensing agreement will have a major impact on the interpretation and enforcement the agreement.

There are many other considerations that may arise when drafting a licensing agreement, so anyone who is considering licensing their intellectual property should discuss their circumstances with an experience IP licensing attorney as soon as possible.

The attorneys of the Structure Law Group are qualified to handle a broad range of issues related to business law, including intellectual property licensing, entity formation, employment law, mergers & acquisitions, and others. To schedule a consultation with one of our San Jose corporate attorneys, call our office today at 408-441-7500. Prospective clients who wish to send us an email can do so through our online contact form available here.

Last year, California legislators passed the Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act of 2014, which provided the opportunity to accrue paid time off for sick leave to almost every California employee. The law allows qualifying employees who have worked at least 30 days to begin accrual and to use that sick time after 90 days of employment. The law covers temporary, part-time, and full-time employees with very few exceptions. Such exceptions only apply to certain employees with collective bargaining agreements, some air carrier employees, and in-home providers of supportive services.

Because the new law so widely affects California employers, all business owners should thoroughly familiarize themselves with it to avoid legal disputes or sanctions for noncompliance.

Basic requirements for employer compliance

The following are only some of the steps employers should take to comply with the new law that went into effect on July 1, 2015:

  • Provide adequate notice to employees upon hire of their right to paid sick leave, along with having easy to read posters on the subject in the workplace.
  • Allow employees to accrue at least one hour for every 30 hours worked up to an annual minimum of 24 hours or three full days of work, whichever is more based on an employee’s typical work day. Notify employees of any qualified caps on sick time accrual.
  • Approve reasonable requests to use paid sick time.
  • Regularly issue pay stubs or other documents that clearly state how much paid time off the employee has left.
  • Keep careful records regarding accrual and use for three years.
  • Never discriminate or retaliate against an employee for use of sick time. 

The above is a simplified explanation of employer responsibilities under the new law and every business owner should discuss all of the requirements with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. 

New amendments to the law already passed

On July 13th, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 304, which amended certain provisions of the new sick leave law. These changes were effective immediately after signing, so every business owner with employees should be aware of the changes. Here is some brief information regarding some of these amendments:

  • Companies that already had a paid sick leave or PTO policy can be grandfathered in without changing their policies provided the policy meets certain requirements.
  • In order to be eligible for sick time accrual, an employee must work with the same employer for at least 30 days in the past year, while the original version of the law did not specify where the employee had to work.
  • Employers can use different accrual methods as long as the accrual happens at regular intervals and an employee can accrue at least 24 hours of PTO within 120 days.
  • Sick day use can be limited to either one calendar year, year of employment, or 12-month period.
  • Pay rate for sick time will be based on the pay period in which the PTO was used.

Though many employers recently made substantial changes to their sick time policies in preparation for the new law to take effect on July 1st, it is now a good idea to re-examine your policies to ensure compliance with all of the applicable amendments. 

Contact an experienced business and employment attorney for assistance today

When a new law goes into effect that widely affects employers and business owners across the state of California, it is only understandable that you may have questions and need some guidance to ensure that your business complies with the new law and any subsequent amendments. Because employment laws and regulations are constantly changing, it is always a good idea to have the assistance of a skilled business lawyer who can provide valuable advice and help prevent any future legal disputes with employees. If you have questions regarding the new paid sick leave law or any other legal matter, call the San Jose office of the Structure Law Group at 408-441-7500 for help today.

To make your business distinguishable, it’s important to focus on choosing and trademarking a business name early on; this is essential to securing ownership of your new company. Here are 3 steps to choosing the name of your business and protecting it under trademark law.

 

3 Steps for Trademarking a Business Name

 

  1. Pick a Name Category

A name has the power to invoke more than an image; it gives customers a feel for your culture, values and personality and provides for designation from where the goods or services originate. Your company name should fall into one of the following 4 categories:

  • Functional/Descriptive: A functional business name reminds consumers what the brand does. It should include more than just description of your trade. A name including your company’s function like, “Caterpillar Construction” tells customers exactly what your specialty is.
  • Invented: An invented company name can be catchy and draw a loyal following like “Google.” It can be fun and exciting, but make sure it accurately represents your brand or it will cause customer confusion. Avoid selecting a name that misrepresents the goods or services with which it is associated.
  • Evocative: Some of the most well-remembered business names evoke strong feelings or memories just by hearing the word (think Yahoo!) If you’re aiming for this kind of trademark, choose a word that’s strong and short for a memorable impact.
  • Experiential: An experiential name gives customers a full experience of the brand. Companies like these focus on selling a lifestyle in addition to a product or service. An example of this name is Magellan, the GPS and mapping service.
  1. Research Trademark Databases

After you decide what you want to communicate via your business name, you’ll have to trademark it to ensure ownership. It’s important to make sure the desired name isn’t the same or too similar from other existing companies.  A name that is too similar to an existing registered mark will be refused by the examining attorney based on being too “confusing” to consumers.  To research potential mark names, start by researching state and federal trademark databases.  If the name you choose is already selected by another company, you will likely have to select a new name.

  1. Register the Trademark

Trademarking a business name can be done in 3 ways. The first is to register the new trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  The USPTO reviews trademark applications and determines whether each application meets the requirements necessary for federal registration.  This is the best way to secure the rights to your business name. You can also register by submitting to the state database or using the trademark in connection with selling goods and services.

As you navigate the process of forming your business, it’s important to comply with all state and federal regulations. For help obtaining licenses and permits, seek advice from an experienced attorney. Picking a category of business name, searching the trademark database and legally registering the trademark are all important steps to make when starting a business. For assistance in trademarking your company’s new name, contact your team at Structure Law Group today at 408-441-7500.

 

About Structure Law Group, LLP

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based law firm that serves its clients’ business, employment and real estate needs, including but not limited to business formations, debt and equity investments, employment agreements, commercial leasing and purchases, commercial contracts and related litigation.

At the end of June 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) published several opinions, including the highly-publicized decision that ruled all bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. While most of America was focused on the equal rights decision, there were two additional decisions regarding the use and protections of patents and copyrights that may be highly important to business owners and entrepreneurs.

Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises

Owners of patents may license their invention to others to use, to sell, to manufacture with, or to advertise for sale. In return for the license, the patent owner collects royalties. Some patent holders have long-lasting royalty agreements with companies that depend upon the technology to operate.

In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled in Brulotte v. Thys Co. that a patent holder should not be allowed to collect royalties after the patent had expired and that doing so would constitute unlawful misuse of a patent. This caused significant issues in existing royalty and licensing agreements that had to be renegotiated, as well as changed the way licensing agreements were set up in the future.

In the recent case of Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, Stephen Kimble wanted to collect disputed royalty payments from Marvel for a Spider-man toy he patented in 1990. However, patents expire after 20 years, so both the district and appeals courts found that, under the Brulotte decision, Kimble was not entitled to any royalties since the patent expired in 2010. Kimble appealed, arguing that SCOTUS should overrule its previous decision and allow patent holders to continue to collect royalties after patent expiration. Ultimately, SCOTUS decided that the precedent from Brulotte would stand as Kimble did not present enough justification to overturn it. In particular, Kimble argued that the Court should use a “rule of reason” standard and analyze the anticompetitive effects of royalties following the expiration of a patent on a case-by-case basis. Kimble also argued that Brulotte stifled technological innovation. The Court disagreed on  both accounts, holding that Kimble failed to provide evidence sufficient to overturn longstanding precedent.

Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc.

The second intellectual property case appealed to the Supreme Court involved software licensing. In 2007, Google introduced the new software development kit for Android phones utilizing its own versions of Java applications programming interfaces (APIs). Google did not have a formal license from the maker of Java, Sun Microsystems, to use the Java technologies. When Oracle subsequently purchased Sun Microsystems in 2010, Google and Oracle were unable to reach an agreement after protracted negotiations. Oracle then filed suit for patent and copyright infringement. The issue under appeal was limited to whether Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights in 37 packages of source code contained in the Java API. At trial, the jury brought back a verdict of copyright infringement against Google with respect to the 37 packages, but also determined that Google did not infringe on Oracle’s copyright with respect to eight decompiled security files. The jury deadlocked on the issue of fair use.

The district court set aside the jury’s verdict and determined that the Java API’s were not copyrightable. The district court argued that Google had written its own code under the Java API and that an API method or function itself was not original enough to warrant copyright protection, holding specifically that the expression of the code, which is copyrightable, and the function of the code, which is not copyrightable, had merged.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, ruling that a “structure, sequence and organization” of an API could be protected by a copyright. Because the code could have been written in multiple ways at the time of its creation, the code is original and unique. The Ninth Circuit’s analysis differentiated between the copyright in the APIs and the infringing uses. Google argued that the code was not unique and it copied the code only because there was no other way to write it. The Ninth Circuit determined that whether the code could have been written in multiple ways is determined from the position of the creator at the time of creation, not the infringer at the time of infringement. Oracle presented sufficient evidence that at its inception the creators of Java had multiple ways to write the code. Second, whether the infringement is defensible, namely because the expression and function of the code had merged, is an affirmative defense and a separate question from whether the code is copyrightable.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision and remanded the case for determination of the fair use issue. Google appealed to the Supreme Court on the central issue of copyright.

SCOTUS denied certiorari and, therefore, the decision of the Ninth Circuit stands. This is a curious result, because the Ninth Circuit’s opinion explained in detail that the circuit courts are split in their analysis of copyright under 17 USC 102(a) and infringement under 17 USC 102(b). Why the Supreme Court did not take the opportunity to interpret the Copyright Act and put an end to the circuit-split is unclear. Denials of writs of certiorari rarely come with explanations. It is unclear where the denial of review upholds the Ninth Circuit analysis, which clearly spelled out how the courts in the Ninth Circuit will analyze copyright and infringement, or leaves it for the circuit courts to figure out. In short, had this case been held in another circuit court it could have easily resulted in a different opinion, leaving makers of computer code with unclear results depending in which circuit the code is created.

The case will now return to the District Court for a determination of Google’s “fair use” defense. We are sure to see this case again as neither side appears ready to back down.

This is an important decision for any companies or individuals who are in the business of developing software or using third-party development tools embedded in proprietary programs. Prior to development, you should discuss any possible copyright, infringement and licensing issues with an experienced intellectual property attorney. At the Structure Law Group, our skilled IP attorneys regularly assist business these and other types of intellectual property matters. If you need any type of legal assistance with your business, call today at 408-441-7500 for help.

The robust expansion of the Internet and increased accessibility of Internet-enabled devices has provided entrepreneurs and existing businesses an easy and relatively inexpensive way to reach millions of people. One only needs to look the meteoric rise of companies like Amazon and Netflix to see the growth potential of an Internet-based business.  In fact, many types of businesses which once were required to have a bricks-and-mortar presence can now operate solely online, significantly cutting their overhead costs. One only needs to look at the rise of companies like Amazon and Netflix to see the growth potential of an Internet-based business.

Because of this potential, more and more people are choosing to start their own online business selling goods or services to people around the country and even the world. While the Internet has removed many of the barriers of entry that have traditionally kept many people from starting a business, it has also created significant and new legal issues that business owners must consider before building a website and selling their product. It is for this reason that anyone considering starting an online business should discuss their situation with an experienced lawyer. Some of the more important issues related to starting an online business are discussed below.

Type of business entity

The type of business entity you choose for your business can have a significant impact on your personal liability for business debts as well as the amount you will pay in taxes. There are a number of entities to choose from, including partnerships, limited liability companies, or corporations. The one best for your business will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of operation you are running as well as your plans for growth.

Choosing a unique business name

Prior to the Internet, small business owners did not need to be concerned about whether there was another business with the same or a similar name operating halfway across the country.  This is because local or regional businesses were unlikely to be confused with one another and were practically incapable of competing with one another. With the reach that the Internet can provide, choosing a business name that is too similar to another business’s name risks a costly and time-consuming trademark infringement suit.

Compliance with federal and state regulations

Many types of businesses are subject to federal or state regulations. Importantly, while you may be in compliance with the regulations of your state, if you do business with an out of state customer or client, your business may be subject to the regulations of the state in which your customer resides. Consequently, it is important to research the laws in any state in which you may do business to ensure that you are in violation of the applicable regulations.

Contact a San Jose business law lawyer today to discuss the legal issues related to your internet based business

An online presence has become a near-necessity for a business in virtually every industry. In addition, the Internet allows businesses to reach an unprecedented number of potential clients and customers than ever before. While the internet can be an excellent tool for growing a business, it can also expose a company to additional legal liability and regulatory oversight. As a result, anyone who has started doing business online or is planning on implementing an online presence for an existing business should discuss their circumstances with an experienced lawyer. To schedule a consultation with one of our experienced San Jose business lawyers, please call Structure Law Group today at 408-441-7500.

For many new and existing businesses, their intellectual property (IP) may be by far their most valuable asset. Intellectual property can include literary works, software code, processes, formulas, manufacturing specifications, marketing plans, or designs.  In some cases, a company’s ideas may literally be their only asset – consider, for example, an individual with the idea for the next smartphone app that will be downloaded by hundreds of millions of people. She, and any company that she forms to develop that app, have the asset of that idea before even a single line of code is written. Of course, it is only natural to want to protect that asset from misappropriation by other parties. In many cases, the best way to achieve this goal is to use a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with any other parties with whom the idea may be discussed.

What is a Non-Disclosure Agreement?

Fundamentally, NDA agreements are contracts between two or more parties that outline information that they wish to share with each other but not with other parties. There are two main types of NDA agreements, which are:

  • One-Way NDAs – Also known as a “unilateral non-disclosure agreement,” this type of NDA restricts one party from disclosing information to another third party.
  • Mutual NDAs – This type of non-disclosure agreement, which may also be called a “bilateral non-disclosure agreement,” is often used when two parties need to disclose confidential information to each other in order to be able to work together. They restrict both parties from disclosing certain information to others.

Sticking with our app-developing entrepreneur, let us further imagine that she has a degree in marketing and does not know the first thing about developing a smartphone app. In order to bring this app to market, then, she must hire a company or partner up with someone else who has that expertise. In order to do so, however, she needs to disclose certain information about the app that would potentially allow another party to take the idea and develop it themselves. In these cases, a NDA agreement can operate to prohibit any party with whom she discusses her idea from disclosing its details to others. NDAs can be used to protect a variety of information that may be valuable to your business. Among the most common include:

·         Manufacturing processes

·         Business strategies

·         Software

·         Machines and devices

·         Designs

·         Formula

·         Business models

·         Sales contacts

·         Recipes

·         Artistic or literary works

 

Contact a Silicon Valley business lawyer today to discuss your legal matter

Businesses that are seeking to protect their intellectual property from misappropriation should discuss their circumstances with an lawyer as soon as possible. Call the Structure Law Group today at (408) 441-7500 to schedule a consultation with one of our San Jose business lawyers.

There are pros and cons to including an arbitration clause as part of your contractual agreements. Arbitration is a popular and can be effective forum for settling disputes between individuals, businesses, in real estate contracts and in employment settings under the right circumstances. There are two types or arbitration clauses:  non-binding and binding.

 

Non-Binding Arbitration

In non-binding arbitration, the arbitrator makes a decision to determine which party is liable and then suggests possible compensation for damages. Neither party is obligated to follow through with these guidelines.

Binding Arbitration

Binding arbitration is the opposite. The decision-maker hands down a ruling of liability and also assigns penalties. An arbitration clause can be binding in most contracts but California allows for the clause to be ignored if all parties agree to the change. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of having an arbitration clause.

3 Pros of Having an Arbitration Clause

  1. Saves Money

Arbitration is usually much cheaper than going to court and may be a viable option to save money. If the dispute continues to litigation, costly fees associated with depositions, uncovering evidence and pre-trial meetings follow.

  1. Speed of Decision

A case in litigation can take many months or years to conclude while having an arbitration clause may resolve the dispute much faster, usually averaging 475 days.  Arbitration has more relaxed rules of pleading and evidence in comparison to litigation rules.

  1. Confidentiality

Arbitrations can be held in private are subject to rules concerning confidentiality, so the parties that especially prize privacy are not exposed to public scrutiny.  Despite the fact that proceedings may be transcribed, arbitrations have no “public record.”

3 Cons of Having an Arbitration Clause

  1. Only One Decision-Maker

While litigation usually leaves the final decision to a panel of jurors, arbitration has only one arbitrator (who can be hand-picked) who passes down a decision of liability. Without an impartial jury vote, your case may be treated unfairly or receive a fraction of the required attention.  There is rarely a right to appeal if a mistake is made.  Further, arbitrators can make decisions on what they perceive to be fair, rather than what the law directs.

  1. Can Become Costly

The process of discovery is becoming more prevalent in arbitration, which not only lengthens the time of arbitration, but also the cost.   Unlike traditional court proceedings, wherein judges are compensated by the state, parties to an arbitration must pay the arbitrators out of their own pockets.  Many arbitrators charge hundreds of dollars per hour.

  1. Possibility of Unnecessary Claims

Arbitration may be taken less seriously than a lawsuit in court so some parties may treat it more like mediation. Necessary or frivolous disputes may not be weeded out through procedural processes normally applicable in court.

Having an arbitration clause can save time and money, but it may also be biased or lack the necessary procedural filters of litigation. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the legal system and determine if this is the right choice for you.

About Structure Law Group, LLP

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based law firm that serves its clients’ business, employment and real estate needs, including but not limited to business formations, debt and equity investments, employment agreements, commercial leasing and purchases, commercial contracts and related litigation.

The possibility of a hostile takeover is a very real concern for many publicly traded companies. A hostile takeover can occur in a number of ways, but one of the most common is purchasing enough stock on the open market to obtain a controlling majority. The main characteristic that defines a corporate takeover as “hostile” is the fact that the transaction is opposed by the target companies’ management.

Corporation Corkboard Word Concept with great terms such as business, public, articles and more.

In many cases, a shareholder rights plan, often referred to as a “poison pill,” is an extremely effective tool to prevent hostile takeovers of publicly traded corporations. Basically, these plans trigger rights for existing shareholders that, when exercised, make the potential transaction much less attractive for a potential buyer. As a result, potentially hostile acquiring parties are then economically incentivized to negotiate with the target company’s board of directors, strengthening the target’s bargaining position.

While there are many potential types of shareholders rights plans, two of the most common are “flip in” and “flip-over” plans, which are detailed below.

“Flip-in” shareholder rights plans

In this type of plan, existing shareholders of a company are able to purchase addition shares of stock at a discount but does not offer the acquiring party the same opportunity. As a result, the value of the shares that were purchased are by the acquiring party are diluted due to the market being flooded by new shares, as well as providing the existing shareholder with immediate profit due to the difference in the discounted and market value of the shares purchased.

“Flip-over” shareholder rights plans

On the other hand, a flip-over plan allows existing shareholders to purchase the shares purchased by the acquiring party at a discount. When exercised, this type of right causes dilution and devaluation of the acquiring party’s shares.

In order to be effective and legally enforceable, a shareholder rights plan must be properly drafted, structured, adopted, and exercised. For this reason, any company considering protecting itself from hostile takeovers by using a shareholder rights plan should consult with an attorney familiar with them.

Contact a San Jose business lawyer today to schedule a consultation

In many cases, an effective and enforceable shareholder rights plan can help ensure that a company is able to strengthen its position when approached by a potential buyer as well as defend itself from hostile takeover attempts. As a result, any business that is considering going public should discuss the implementation of any plan with an experienced San Jose business attorney. To discuss your options with one of our lawyers, please call the Structure Law Group today at 408-441-7500.

Historically, only general or limited partnerships were used for investing in real estate, but over the past decade, forming a Limited Liability Company (an “LLC”) has become a more popular choice for real estate investors. An LLC formed for real estate investment purposes is not very different from a regular limited liability company, and the steps for formation are very similar. Here are 4 benefits of using an LLC instead of a partnership or a corporation for real estate.

LLC - Purchaseing REal Estate

 

 

 

 

 

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Many business owners rely on ideas, formulas, inventions, and other types of intellectual property (IP) in order to make a profit. In fact, IP can be one of the most valuable assets of a company. Your specific product, brand, and other identifiers are often the components that define you and set your business apart from others. Therefore, protecting your IP is extremely important to the success of your venture. In order to prevent others from misappropriating your valued intellectual property, you always want to obtain formal legal protections.

trade secret

There are many options for protecting your IP, and choosing the right one may be confusing for business owners who are not familiar with the relevant laws. Many business owners receive denials for their applications for patents, trademarks, and copyrights and do not know what their options are from there. Fortunately, an experienced business attorney can help you achieve trade secret status for your IP, which may actually be more beneficial than other protections in several ways. Continue Reading