Tuesday, 27 May 2014

How Can You Protect Your Intellectual Property?

Guest PostIP GraphicAre you designing a new product? Have you written a book or produced a musical album? Without protection, your intellectual property could be used by others and exploited for commercial gain. The experts at Vannin Capital spoke to us recently to share the following advice;

In the UK, intellectual property – whether it’s the plans for a new technology, a film script or a computer game – is protected against unauthorised use, modification or theft by trademarks, design rights, patents and copyright.

While these four categories of intellectual property protection may seem similar to each other, they each serve a different purpose. Copyright protects creative works like music, literature or visual art from piracy and imitation.

Patents, on the other hand, protect new technologies and inventions from copycats to protect their original inventors. Images and phrases that represent brands can be  protected through trademarks, while unique designs are protected by design rights.

If you understand the differences between these categories and forms of protection, you may have noticed a question: What happens to intellectual property that’s both creative and technological, or a unique design that’s also a trademark?

Not all ideas and inventions fall into multiple categories, but some do. Whether you wish to protect a unique creative work or a new technology, the first step towards a form of intellectual property protection should be a conversation with a lawyer.

The most popular form of intellectual property protection is copyright. This form of protection covers creative works like visual art, literature and music. Although you may have heard that copyright needs to be ‘registered’, most art gains copyright as soon as it’s created and identified as the unique work of the original artist.

In order for an artist to identify themselves as the creator of their work – whether it’s a novel or a painting – they need to visually identify it using their name and its creation date. In the UK, this provides 70 years of protection against unauthorised use or imitation for the original artist or rights holder.

When the period of copyright protection ends, works enter the public domain. You may have seen famous compositions or films on public domain websites. For music, it’s often just the score that enters the public domain – new performances of a piece of classical music, for example, are still protected by copyright.

Inventions and designs are protected against unauthorized use or imitation through a different process. Inventions, for example, are protected by patents. In order for an invention to be protected by a patent, it needs to be completely original and able to be created and implemented in a viable form.

This means that modifications of an existing technology can’t be protected using a patent. Likewise, patents are only issues for usable technologies. A mathematical formula, for example, can’t be patented because it’s a concept that can be used but not created.

Not all inventions are physical. Numerous patents have been awarded for unique ideas for software or computer security, neither of which are physical objects. For any invention to be patented, it needs to be able to be created and used by people and/or machines.

Visual identifiers like the Nike logo or Mickey Mouse graphic aren’t protected by copyright, but by trademark law. Any visual design that’s used to identify a brand, product or business is protected from imitation or unauthorised use a trademark.

Finally, designs for specific products such as the form factor of a device generally aren’t able to be patented. Visual designs and schematics are protected by design rights, which allow designers to control the use of their creative designs.

The average consumer product may be protected by several forms of intellectual property protection. An iPhone, for example, may be protected by all four: it uses patented technology, contains copyrighted software, uses a protected design and comes in packaging adorned with trademarked graphics.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Law Society Practice Note: Consumer Contracts Regulations

consumer contracts regulationsThe Law Society have published a practice note relating to the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (the “Regulations”) which come into force on 13 June 2014.

As the practice note succinctly puts it:

[The Regulations] regulate most contracts made between a "trader" and a "consumer".

The regulations are likely to apply to a wide range of contracts made between solicitors (as traders) and their clients (as consumers). Whether they apply will depend on the nature of the client and the circumstances in which the contract was made.

This practice note explains when the regulations will apply to contracts between solicitors and their clients, and explains the consequences.

Commercial lawyers have doubtless been busy during the last few months, prepping and advising clients on the impact that the forthcoming Regulations will bring. However, some of those who specialise in other areas might not have spotted the fact the Regulations can apply to the solicitor–client relationship -- meaning they need to sit up and pay attention to this stuff, too.

It just goes to show: the Law Society can be useful sometimes.   Be right back

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Hyper-sensitivities and sensibilities: the real damage done by the Beeb’s handling of the Clarkson and Lowe incidents

BBC camera

From the London Evening Standard 12/05/14 | Sam Leith | "Hang the DJ? It’s panic time at the BBC"

[Would you expect to be sacked] if you thoughtlessly played an old record that contained th[e] [n] word on local radio? You’d think not. But that’s what happened to BBC Radio Devon DJ David Lowe, 68, after he broadcast a 1932 recording of The Sun Has Got His Hat On.

Mr Lowe says he didn’t know verse two contained the jaunty couplet: “He’s been tanning n****** out in Timbuktu./ Now he’s coming back to do the same to you.” But it did, and it was broadcast, someone complained and Lowe was dished for a word sung by someone else a decade and a half before he was born.

What we’re seeing is the news entering a weird sort of Clarkson n-word postmodern death-spiral. It seems pretty clear it’s not the PC-gone-mad brigade who claimed Lowe’s scalp. Rather, it was BBC managers panicking, precisely because of the Clarkson coverage, about the terrifying power of the PC-gone-mad brigade.

The BBC’s response to the Clarkson and Lowe incidents is as fine a piece of ill-judgement as you’re ever likely to see.

But an important point that I haven’t seen made particularly strongly so far is the real damage that the Beeb’s response is having. By panicking and falling over themselves to show that they’re ‘doing something’, they risk doing real damage to what really matters here – equality and race relations.

Surely responsible journalism, which should be one of the BBC’s overriding objectives, dictates that a calm and correct approach is called for on a topic as important as this. This is not a time for snap judgements and careless overreactions.

The BBC have a habit of slipping into ‘headless chicken’ mode, largely driven by an insatiable mania of being seen to do the ‘right thing’ and an innate desire to hush up any sniff of controversy. What the BBC should have done is tackle the issues head-on and encourage liberal debate so that the monumental shift in attitudes towards race, tolerance and equality that the world has been fortunate enough to see over the last few decades can be explored and properly celebrated.

Panic helps no one. And us licence payers deserve better, quite frankly.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Remote working versus office hell

Working from homeFrom the Guardian 30/04/14 | Donna Ferguson | "Whatever happened to remote working?":

Squashed, squeezed and stressed: if you've struggled into work today and are reading this in a crowded office, surrounded by distracting noises, machines, smells and colleagues, and are dreading your commute home, then you are certainly, literally, not alone. Despite the many advances in remote working technology, latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 87% of us still work primarily at the office.

Of course, as a commuter, you don't need to be told that – especially if you work in London. Of the 3 million people who commute daily on the London Underground, it is estimated as many as 75% had to battle into the office today, despite the strike action that has ground most of the public transport network to a halt.

A 30 minute stomp from Paddington during the tube strike last week allowed me to get a head-start on my exercise quota for the week some exercise for a change. Despite having to weave my way around the more aimless pedestrians that frequent London's pavements, I've quite enjoyed it.

Why are so many of us continuing to trudge into work? Research by Stanford University has found that remote workers are 13% more productive, take fewer sick days and enjoy a quieter working environment than their commuting colleagues.

But is that 13% more productive when they're actually working, compared to surfing the web, answering the door, clearing up baby vomit or stroking the cat? I wonder.

A survey by Office Angels found a third of employees think commuting will be unheard of by 2036.

Oh, do me a favour! I'm sure another third of those surveyed predicted that they'll have a flying car by 2036.

So what, according to the Guardian, are the possible reasons behind the fact that remote working hasn't caught on?

Lack of trust
"The fear factor for many managers is: 'If I can't see you how do I know you are working?'

Promotion paranoia
"Office workers worry that if they're not in the political arena, it might affect their ability to get a promotion. They feel they need to be visible and that their employer may question their commitment if they work from home."

Office working isn't all bad
"People want social contact. When you work remotely, there's a risk you'll feel isolated socially. People also worry that the infrastructure they need to work at home – their internet connection or their computer – will let them down.

I'm not really sure that "infrastructure" is the right word there. Besides that, I'd have far more confidence in my own computer and phone than placing any degree of reliance on the incompetent morons that typically work in IT departments.

"Some would miss the camaraderie of their colleagues".

Ah yes - I'm sure homeworkers frequently reminisce about the back-stabbing conniving antics of their former colleagues.

Not all jobs can be done from home
Imagine if you turned up at a hospital or a police station and found everyone had chosen to work from home. Clearly, some jobs require your physical presence – whether it's working on an assembly line, driving a vehicle, guarding a prison, fixing a toilet or saving someone's life.

What's this - 'state the bleedin' obvious hour'?

In legal practice, sometimes clients like to see you in the flesh, as it were. Teleconferencing hasn't really caught on.

The law
At the moment, only parents have the legal right to request flexible working, but from June, every employer will have to consider requests from all employees after 26 weeks' service. Requests can be still be refused on 'business grounds' but reasons will have to be given and could be challenged by an employee.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Fracking and the Legal Challenges: what the UK can learn from US precedents and practices

Guest PostFracking lawFracking ventures in the UK are several years behind such developments in the USA. As every country of the world struggles to produce energy resources that are both ethical and at the same time efficient, today is a salutary moment to consider what the UK can learn from the US example.

Fracking is controversial. Its supporters cite its cheapness and contribution to economic expansion. Its critics emphasise its environmental negatives, especially the threat to local water contamination and increased heavy traffic disruption. Economists celebrate its contribution to economic growth and savings in US fuel costs. At this moment, the UK is years behind the USA in exploiting its potential shale gas/fracking resources. However, it seems likely that the same environmental and legal debate will follow the US precedent. This article will consider what lessons the UK might learn from the US precedent.

So why today to ask this question? Only because today it was announced that the latest fracking venture in the UK would be off-shore. Cuadrillo has been granted licences to start fracking off the coast of Lancashire. This might please environmentalists in that it would avoid potential pollution of local water supplies. Equally it might bypass the problems of acrimonious negotiations with concerned local councils, communities and landholders. Controversial cases running through the US courts have pivoted around these issues.

Where fracking ventures in the UK have been on land rather than off-shore, they have met with venomous opposition from local environmental pressure groups. Foremost of these was the example of Balcombe in Surrey in 2013. So strong was the opposition that the venture was abandoned. Also in Sussex is the site of Fernhurst in Sussex. Local residents worry about the pollution effects of increased freight transport on their local network. Residents fear the unknown. Water contamination concerns are cited. These environmental challenges conflict with capitalist and economic objectives. New and cheap energy resources are vital to all economies, be they developing or established. Western economies are searching new and innovative ones. It might be alright for eastern producers such as China to flout environmental concerns. The more sophisticated, established and mature economies of countries such as the USA and the UK cannot be so cavalier.

A survey of litigation and US legal cases about fracking is a large one. The plethora of such cases includes ones from Pennsylvania, Texas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Colorado, West Virginia.. Even an urban area like New York has faced the challenge. The challenge has not only been between environmentalists and growth economists, In the USA most cases have been tried by state courts. However, there have been conflicts between town and county laws, before cases have reached the Court of Appeal.

So what does the UK need to learn from the US precedent.. Certainly it will be political, especially with a general election pending in 2015 and energy bills looking to be a top manifesto issue. On the whole the Obama administration has supported the environmentalists in this dichotomy. Fundamentally the debate is between environmental and economic issues but politics will play its part. In the final instance the debate will be decided in the courts. UK litigators will do well to learn from the plethora of US examples that have already explored these issues. However, they must not forget that for them in the UK the precedent and rules for much environmental litigatuin are embedded in European law.

This article was provided on behalf of Vannin Capital, one of the UK’s leading specialist litigation funding providers.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Using Trusts To Protect Your Estate: An Easy Guide

Guest Post

Unfortunately, many people consider trusts a rich person’s domain. It’s actually easy for anyone to benefit from a tax-saving trust (and avoid probate).

How Trusts Work
An owner of an estate can protect their assets in a trust by handing over the legal title to a trustee. This is to benefit one or more people detailed in the trust (the beneficiaries). There are two types of trusts: revocable/irrevocable.

Revocable Trusts
A revocable trust can be…you guessed it…revoked. The government then considers this fair game for taxation. You may have to pay estate taxes on any assets that are left behind upon your death. During your lifetime, you might have to shell out for income taxes on any revenue you make inside your revocable trust.

Irrevocable Trust
All assets are permanently removed from an estate and transferred into a trust. Usually, these assets are exempt from estate taxes, as they aren’t considered part of the grantor’s estate, upon their death. Many revocable trusts become irrevocable upon the grantor’s death or mental disability.

The Trustee’s Role
The grantor names a trustee that handles most things, as well as manages the portfolio. Often, the grantor can make all of the big decisions alongside the trustee, or the trustee can have full power over the assets. The trustee is often a friend, relative or accountant, but there are plenty of specialists that can manage your trust.

Different Trusts
It’s really worth picking out your trust carefully, as different trusts cater for different needs. There are plenty to choose from, so do some research.

The Living Trust
You are both the trustee and the beneficiary of the trust, while you’re alive. This means that you have control of all your assets until you die. When you pass away, your designated successor will share your assets by following the terms of the trust. This avoids will-related probate. Speak to a solicitor about will-related probate. In the event that you become incapacitated during your lifetime, your successor or co-trustee will take the reins.

Qualified Personal Residence Trust
You can remove a residence from your estate and into a trust with conditions applied. For example, a holiday home can be visited according to your terms, but still belongs to the trust and its beneficiaries. Gift tax is reduced because you still have rights to the property.

Generation-Skipping Trust
This trust is used to give money to your grandchildren. There is a generation-skipping tax exemption (of up to $5.12 million). It’s similar to the federal estate tax exclusion.

Charitable Lead Trust
You might want to be a force for good after you die and leave your assets to a charitable association. A trustee can sell anything donated and set-up an annuity that will be paid to you and your heirs until the end of your life expectancy. Any remaining assets go to charity.

Above The Law: How The Rich Can Buy Themselves Out Of Trouble

Guest Post

16 year old Ethan Crouch attained notoriety when he killed four people and seriously injured two in a devastating drunk driving incident. Instead of receiving jail time, Crouch was sentenced to spending an undefined amount of time in a luxury rehabilitation facility. His probation is limited to 10 years, during which he has to refrain from consuming drugs or alcohol and cannot drive.

Psychologists blamed the wealthy, privileged parents for overly coddling and letting the kid run wild without restrictions. The judge maintains that this assessment didn’t play a part in her ruling.

 The rehabilitation centre, which costs a massive $450,000 a year, will be paid for by Crouch’s parents. If Crouch breaks the terms of his probation, he could face up to ten years in jail, but otherwise, he won’t have to spend any time in a juvenile prison.

 Crouch obviously had some top motoring lawyers, working on his case.

 Irreparable Damage
Prosecutors called for the maximum 20 year sentence and were shocked when Crouch received no jail time at all. Sergio Molina and Soliman Mohmand were knocked around in Crouch’s car on impact – Mohmand received internal injuries and broken bones, whereas Molina is likely to be paralysed for life. Molina’s family have already amassed one million dollars in medical costs and will have to constantly care for Sergio from now onwards.

Even though Crouch’s blood-alcohol levels were three times over the legal limit, Crouch has shown no remorse for what he’s done and didn’t apologise for the incident. A little remorse on his part would have at least marginally comforted the victims.

It’s hoped that Crouch will get the therapy he needs at the centre, rather than none behind bars. But for Eric Boyles (who lost his wife and daughter in the incident), and Sergio Molina’s family (who now have to look after their paralysed son), this doesn’t go far enough. They believe that Crouch was given a forgiving sentence because he could afford the expensive defence team, experts to comment on the case, and the rehabilitation fees.

Mr Loophole
Rich members of society have always gotten off lightly, when it comes to driving offences. Mr Loophole, Nick Freeman, is famous for getting celebrities off the hook (if they can afford him). Most recently, Coronation Street actress Barbara Knox. Some other famous clients include Alex Ferguson (who avoided a traffic jam by driving down the hard shoulder of a motorway), Andrew Flintoff (accused of driving 87mph in a 50mph zone), David Beckham (again, speeding), and Jimmy Carr (spotted on his mobile phone).

Celebrities are often caught committing crimes, but rarely go to jail. Is this because they have the money for expensive lawyers? Wealth undoubtedly plays a part in the justice system, but this can’t be fair. When it comes to legal sentencing, the poor and the rich should receive equal treatment, otherwise justice isn’t justice. If Crouch had been from deprived circumstances, would he receive the same punishment? Are the rich really above the law?