Archive for the 'IP Licensing' Category

What Happens When a Franchise Agreement Ends, Part Three: Rescission

By Richard Stobbe

In our previous posts (See Part 1 and Part 2), we reviewed restrictive covenants and cancellation rights under franchise laws. In a recent decision out of the Ontario Court of Appeal, the dispute focussed on the right of rescission. As the court put it, the case of Caffé Demetre Franchising Corp. v. 2249027 Ontario Inc., 2015 ONCA 258 (CanLII) “is another case from the franchise world involving whether the franchisor met its disclosure obligations…”

Specifically, the franchisee complained that the franchisor’s disclosure document was deficient – so deficient, in fact, that it entitled the franchisee to rescind the franchise agreement. In the disclosure document, the franchisor failed to disclose ongoing litigation commenced by the franchisor against a competitor. Was this failure a material deficiency giving rise to a right of rescission?

A disclosure document must disclose “all material facts”. A material fact is described in the legislation as any information about the business or operations of the franchisor, or about the franchise system “that would reasonably be expected to have a significant effect on the value or price of the franchise to be granted or the decision to acquire the franchise.”

The court in this Ontario case decided that the failure to disclose the franchisor’s litigation was a deficiency but not “sufficiently significant” that the franchisees were entitled to rescission. To qualify as a deficiency that gives rise to a right of rescission, the disclosure document must suffer from “stark and material deficiencies,” such that a court can conclude that it amounts to no disclosure at all. It is worth noting that the court was clear that litigation must be disclosed if it falls within the description contained in s. 2(5) of the Ontario regulations (the equivalent in Alberta is the Franchises Regulation, Alta Reg 240/1995), which mandates disclosure of any past or pending lawsuit or court order which involves allegations of “misrepresentation, unfair or deceptive business practices” including a failure to provide proper franchise disclosure. If the litigation in question involved any of these issues, then the decision would have been different.

Calgary – 07:00

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Patent Update: Infringement and “Non-Infringing Alternatives”

By Richard Stobbe

If you are a patent owner, you are entitled to damages if someone infringes your patent. The measure of damages is compensatory damages, lost profits or a “reasonable royalty”. Is it fair for the infringer to say that the damages should be reduced because the infringer could have made the same sales using an available alternative that did not infringe the patent?

Marck sued its rival Apotex for patent infringement for sales of the drug lovastatin. The trial judge awarded Merck a total damages award of $119 million. In the decision in Apotex Inc. v. Merck & Co., Inc. 2015 FCA 171, the court considered Apotex’s argument about “non-infringing alternatives”. In a nutshell, Apotex was saying, okay, we infringed when we sold lovastatin using the patent process, but we could have made the same sales of lovastatin using another process that did not infringe. Therefore, the measure of damages should be lower, since the loss of profits could still have been suffered by the patent holder without any patent infringement.

The court describes it this way: “The principal issue raised on this appeal is whether, when calculating damages for patent infringement, it is relevant to consider the availability of non-infringing alternative products available to the infringer. For the reasons that follow I have concluded that, as a matter of law, the availability of a non-infringing alternative is a relevant consideration. The issue arises in the following context: Apotex has been found liable for patent infringement. On the issue of remedy, Apotex submits that the damages it is liable for should be reduced because it had available a non-infringing product that it could and would have used.” (Emphasis added) In other words, the patent holder’s sales could have been reduced simply by legitimate competition as opposed to infringement. In the end, the court agreed that non-infringing alternatives should be considered, but disagreed that there was any non-infringing alternative available in this case.

The damages award (one of the largest damage awards in Canada) remained in place and Apotex’s appeal was dismissed. This kicks open the door to arguments about using “non-infringing alternatives” to reduce damages in future patent infringement lawsuits.

Calgary – 05:00 MT

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Patent Licensee’s Standing to Sue for Infringement

By Richard Stobbe

Although you might not think so, given the proliferation of litigation, courts are actually very particular about who can bring a lawsuit. In order for a plaintiff to file a lawsuit, it must have ‘standing’ or put another way, “A court may exercise jurisdiction only if a plaintiff has standing to sue on the date it files suit.” A recent US case examined when a patent licensee has standing to sue for patent infringement.

According to the US court in Luminara Worldwide, LLC v. Liown Electronics Co.: Even if the patent holder does not transfer formal legal title, the patent holder may effect a transfer of ownership for the purposes of standing in a lawsuit if it conveys “all substantial rights in the patent to the transferee.” One of those “substantial rights” must include an “exclusive license” to practice the patent in question. In the event that a licensee obtains an exclusive license and all substantial rights, then the licensee is effectively treated just like a patent owner, and has standing to sue for infringement in its own name.

When negotiating patent licenses, ensure that you pay attention to the grant of rights. Do you intend to grant rights to permit the licensee to sue in its own name, or should that right be reserved to the patent owner / licensor?

In Canada, compare the finding of the Federal Court in the copyright context in Milliken & Co. v. Interface Flooring Systems (Canada) Inc.(FC): “A non-exclusive licensee does not derive any right, title or interest in the copyright that could give it the standing to sue. It has no right to sue alone in a copyright infringement action.”

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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What Happens When a Franchise Agreement Ends, Part Two: Cancellation

By Richard Stobbe 

In some cases, a franchise relationship ends after many years of business. At the point of termination, the parties must wrestle with a number of issues, including customers, inventory, and (as we reviewed in Part 1) the impact of any post-termination restrictive covenants.

In other cases, however, the franchise relationship barely gets off the ground. Remember, Section 13 of the Alberta Franchises Act states that, if a franchisor fails to give a prospective franchisee a complete “disclosure document,” then the franchisee may rescind (or cancel) the franchise agreement and end the relationship. However, the franchisee must send the cancellation within certain time limits: either 60 days after receiving the disclosure document, or within 2 years after the franchisee is granted the franchise, whichever occurs first.

A failure to give complete disclosure allows the franchisee to cancel. So what does it mean to give complete disclosure?

Under the Act, a franchisor must make a number of disclosures, including (but not limited to):

  • Basic information about the name and address of the franchisor and the length of time the franchisor has operated the business;
  • The names of the directors, general partners and officers of the franchisor who will have management responsibilities;
  • Details on convictions for the previous 10 years relating to the franchisor and its associates, and any of the directors, general partners and officers of the franchisor;
  • Lawsuits or pending lawsuits involving misrepresentation, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices;
  • Details of any bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings, voluntary or otherwise;
  • The names, mailing addresses and phone numbers of all existing franchisees presently operating an outlet in Alberta under the same trade name as the franchise being offered, and the addresses and phone numbers of those outlets; and
  • Financial statements of the franchisor, among other information.

If proper disclosure is not made, a franchisee may cancel and recover any net losses incurred in acquiring, setting up and operating the franchised business.

In 1448244 Alberta Inc. v. Asian Concepts Franchising Corporation, 2013 ABQB 221 (CanLII), an Alberta court reviewed a franchisee’s claim that it did not receive proper disclosure. Specifically, the franchisee alleged that the disclosure document was deficient and therefore not ‘substantially complete’ within the meaning of the Act because the document was signed by only one director. The Regulations are clear that a disclosure document must include a certificate that is to be signed by at least two officers or directors of the franchisor. The fundamental question: Does the lack of two signatures to the disclosure document provided by the franchisor mean that it is not ‘substantially complete’ within the meaning of the Act?

Described another way: the substance of the disclosure document itself was not challenged in this case. The only complaint was that the certificate, which accompanies the disclosure document, was only signed by one, instead of two, directors.

The Alberta Court of Appeal reviewed this situation in 2008 in the Hi Hotel case. In that case, the certificate accompanying the disclosure document contained no signatures, and was therefore found not to be “substantially complete” within the requirements of the Act. In the Asian Concepts decision, the Court concluded that a disclosure document with only one signature was deficient, since it deprived the franchisee of a potential cause of action against a second signatory to the disclosure document. This finding opened the door for the franchisee to recover losses incurred in acquiring, setting up and operating the franchised business. The Court confirmed: “…the lack of misrepresentation, or the lack of reliance on representations, are irrelevant to the issue at hand. What matters is whether the disclosure document which was provided was substantially complete or not. And when the statute requires two signatories responsible for and liable for the required disclosure, yet only one is provided, the disclosure statement cannot be said to be ‘substantially complete.’ This is plain and obvious.”

What are the lessons? Franchisors in Alberta should take care to ensure that the disclosure document follows the strict requirements of the Act and Regulations, both as to form and substance. Seemingly minor gaps in compliance can result in serious consequences for the franchisor. Franchisees, on the other hand, will be reviewing compliance with a careful eye in situations where the franchisee wishes to extricate itself and end the relationship. Of course, both parties should always seek appropriate legal advice when entering into and concluding franchising relationships in Alberta.

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Open Source Software: The Costs of Non-Compliance

By Richard Stobbe

For software vendors, open source software (OSS) should be treated like a compliance issue – in the same way that corporate, securities or environmental compliance is a concern for many companies. The failure to manage compliance can be costly – just like it would be if a company ignored its environmental or securities compliance obligations. An environmental remediation order or a cease-trade order might result from compliance failures in those other areas.

What does it look like in the case of OSS compliance failures?

We need look no further than the Versata litigation which has spawned no less than 5 cases in the US:

  1. Versata Software Inc. f/k/a Trilogy Software, Inc. and Versata Development Group Inc. f/k/a Trilogy Development Group Inc. v. Ameriprise Financial Inc., Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. and American Enterprise Investment Services, Inc., Case No. D-1-GN-12-003588; 53rd Judicial District Court of Travis County, Texas
  2. Versata Software Inc. v. Infosys, Case No. 1:10cv792, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
  3. Versata Software Inc. v. Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. et al., Case No. 1:14-cv-12, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, Case No. 1:14-cv-12, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
  4. XimpleWare Corp. v. Versata Software Inc., Trilogy Development Group, Inc., Ameriprise Financial, Inc., Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., Aurea Software, Inc., Case No. 3:13cv5160, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California
  5. XimpleWare Corp. v. Versata Software Inc., Aurea Software Inc., Trilogy Development Group, Inc., Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., Ameriprise Financial, Inc., United HealthCare Services, Inc., Waddell & Reed, Inc., Aviva USA Corporation, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Pacific Life Insurance Company, The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Inc., Wellmark, Inc., Case No. 5:13cv5161, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).
  6. In a nutshell, the lawsuits centre around the use of an open source component in Versata’s Distribution Channel Management (DCM) software. Versata originally sued Ameriprise for breach of a software license agreement for the use of the DCM software. In the course of that litigation between Versata and Ameriprise, it became clear that there were significant underlying issues related to an XML-parsing component called VTD-XML, distributed by XimpleWare

    While XimpleWare does offer VTD-XML under a “closed” commercial license, Versata had not obtained a commercial license for the component, and thus the component was governed by GPLv2, an open source license.  This in turn laid bare the gaps in Versata’s OSS compliance and raised questions of whether the DCM was a derivative, making the whole of Versata’s proprietary code subject to the GPLv2. XimpleWare, for its part sued Versata, Ameriprise and all of Versata’s DCM customers based on breach of the GPLv2 and patent infringement.

    We will be watching whether any judicial guidance comes out of this US litigation. In the meantime, it serves as a cautionary tale for software vendors: OSS compliance must be addressed with the same attention and diligence as a regulatory compliance issue.

Our group can assist with compliance and risk mitigation, leaving software vendors to focus on their business.

Related Reading: Lawsuit threatens to break new ground on the GPL and software licensing issues 

Calgary – 07:00 MST

 

 

 

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Is “One Dollar” Sufficient for a Patent Assignment?

By Richard Stobbe

You may have read the recitals or introductory clauses in a license or an assignment agreement. In most cases, these clauses are just skimmed, if they are reviewed at all. In a recent decision of the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, the court reviewed the impact of the so-called “consideration” clause in an assignment. In patent law, an assignment is a contract transferring ownership of an invention by the inventors. This permits the assignee (the party getting the invention, such as an employer or a purchaser) to file a patent application as the applicant and owner of the invention. This assignment document is a contract, and so it must meet all the requirements of contract law. One of those requirements is that there must be adequate “consideration” – in other words, something of value that flows to each party. It can be money, or something else of value.

In MemoryLink Corp. v. Motorola Solutions. Inc., (Fed. Cir. Dec. 5, 2014)(No. 2014-1186, N.D. Ill.), the court looked at the consideration clause in the context of a patent infringement lawsuit. Memorylink sued Motorola for infringement of a certain patent. However, both Memorylink and Motorola were joint owners of the underlying inventions by virtue of an assignment which was signed by all the inventors. Memorylink attacked the validity of that assignment, arguing there was a lack of consideration.

In June 1998, all four designated inventors signed the assignment, transferring their rights to both Motorola and Memorylink. The assignment begins with this statement: “For and in consideration of the sum of One Dollar to us in hand paid, and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged..

There are variations of that clause – sometimes the sum of one dollar, sometimes five or ten dollars – but they are all designed for the same purpose: to remove the argument that the contract should fail for lack of consideration. In the context of the assignment and transfer of valuable patent rights, is one dollar truly sufficient to create a legally binding contract? 

Citing decisions that reach back to the 19th century, the US court said, yes, nominal consideration will suffice to support a contract, including an invention assignment. Courts will not inquire into whether or not the consideration listed in the agreement is adequate, unless the amount is “so grossly inadequate as to shock the conscience.” In this case, the amount of $1.00 did not shock the court’s conscience. The original 1998 assignment was valid, and Motorola was a joint owner of the patent. As a joint owner, Motorola could not be liable for infringement of the patent.

 

Calgary – 07:00 MST 

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Intellectual Asset Management Best Practices – Part 2

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By Richard Stobbe

In Part 1, we looked at three important steps in starting an intellectual asset management process within your organization. “Intellectual assets” can include the know-how and intellectual capital within your organization together with registered and unregistered intellectual property (IP), inventions, trade-secrets, patents, copyright-protected works, trademarks, industrial designs, and other forms of IP.

As we reviewed in Part 1, intellectual asset management starts with (i) an internal IP audit, coupled with (ii) internal education about the strategic importance of intellectual property within the organization; and (iii) the organization should establish a screening process, to weigh the various factors that influence how to innovate through “make versus buy” decisions.

In Part 2, we take a deeper dive. An organization can be innovative without being commercially successful. In other words, there is often a gap between the creative process of innovating, and the successful commercialization of those innovations. By implementing the steps in Part 1, an organization becomes more sophisticated in its treatment and analysis of intellectual assets, and an organization will develop a culture in which IP is understood and valued. That helps close that gap. However, this does not necessarily mean that intellectual assets will become an engine of economic value. That requires the development of additional skills and competencies within the organization. Consider the following “next steps”:

  1. Strategic Alignment: Let’s be clear. IP should not drive the organization. Rather, the strategic goals of the organization should inform the intellectual asset management strategy. Ensure that IP policies are aligned with the strategic goals of the organization. Consider the organization in question: is this a university? A government research lab? A medium-sized for-profit business, or maybe it’s a growing business with markets in multiple jurisdictions.
    • How is success measured for this organization?
    • Are there immediate goals of raising capital?
    • Entering a new international market?
    • Attracting investors?
    • Making a strategic alliance or partnership?
    • Should the IP policy reflect a defensive or offensive position?

    All of these organizations will have different strategic goals and must ensure that their intellectual asset management strategy reflects and supports the overarching goals of the organization. IP is only one piece of the puzzle.

  2. Gap Analysis: An IP audit is focussed primarily on taking an inventory of the organization’s intellectual assets. A ‘gap analysis’ is the next step: it’s an assessment of what’s missing from the organization’s IP toolbox. What does the organization need in order to achieve its goals? And how can the gaps in the organization’s IP inventory be filled, considering the strategic goals involved. This internal analysis can lead to an external, “outward looking” review. What is available in the marketplace, either through acquisition, in-licensing or strategic partnership? See also the “make versus buy decisions” discussed in Part 1. In connection with the analysis of “gaps” in the IP portfolio, look at any gaps in the paper: How do employment agreements and consultant agreements deal with IP ownership issues and confidentiality? Do vendor or supplier agreements need to be bolstered to address IP issues? Perhaps standard-form end-user licenses or service agreements need to be reviewed to ensure that the treatment of IP is in alignment with the organization’s overall intellectual asset management policies.
  3. IP Exploitation: As mentioned above, an organization may be adept at innovating, and it may have a sophisticated process of cataloguing internal IP, and even assessing the gaps in that portfolio. IP commercialization and exploitation is the process by which an organization extracts value from its intellectual assets. This can be from product sales, or from out-licensing of IP-protected services and processes, as well as licensing relationships and franchise agreements, joint ventures and cross-licensing. An organization must understand the steps to market, whether through its own sales channels, or through distributorships or resellers. And the process of bringing innovations to market will be supported by a well-designed intellectual asset management system.

Richard Stobbe is an IP lawyer, trademark agent and Certified Licensing Professional. To discuss the importance of intellectual assets within your organization, contact Richard Stobbe in our Intellectual Property and Technology Group.

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CASL 2.0: The Computer Program Provisions (Part 3)

By Richard Stobbe

The CRTC has released guidelines on the implementation of the incoming computer-program provisions of Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL). Software vendors should review the  CASL Requirements for Installing Computer Programs for guidance on installing software on other people’s computer systems. Remember, the start-date of January 15, 2015 is less than 2 months away. Here are a few highlights:

  • CASL prohibits the installation of software to another person’s computing computer – which includes any device, laptop, smartphone, desktop, gaming console, etc.) in the course of commercial activity without express consent;
  • Downloading your own app from iTunes or Google Play? CASL does not apply to software, apps or updates that are downloaded by users themselves; 
  • Maybe you still use a CD to install software? CASL does not apply to “offline” installations by a user;
  • Where implied consent cannot be relied upon, then express consent is required. The guidelines state the following:

“When seeking consent for the installation you must clearly and simply set out:

  1. The reason you are seeking consent;
  2. Who is seeking consent (e.g., name of the company; or if consent is sought on behalf of another person, that person’s name);
  3. If consent is sought on behalf of another person, a statement indicating which person is seeking consent and which person on whose behalf consent is being sought;
  4. The mailing address and one other piece of contact information (i.e., telephone number, email address, or Web address);
  5. A statement indicating that the person whose consent is sought can withdraw their consent; and
  6. A description in general terms of the functions and purpose of the computer program to be installed.”  

 

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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Indirect Patent Infringement in the US

By Richard Stobbe

In a recent decision in the US (Riverbed Technology, Inc. v. Silver Peak Systems, Inc.), a company was found liable for indirect patent infringement even though the infringing features of its product were disabled when the product was sold. In the post-sale period, customers enabled the infringing features.  This was enough for the court to find the company liable for indirect infringement.

This case arose between two rivals in the wide area network market – Riverbed and Silver Peak. Riverbed sued Silver Peak for infringement of a number of US patents. Silver Peak counterclaimed, alleging infringement of three US patents. A jury trial eventually returned a verdict in favour of Silver Peak. Silver Peak asserted indirect infringement against Riverbed with respect to two patents. Specifically, the jury concluded that Riverbed “contributorily infringed” one of the patents and “induced infringement” of the other.

Riverbed challenged these conclusions, arguing that there was insufficient evidence of customer use of the accused features in the United States. Riverbed pointed out that the feature of its product that was allegedly infringing – a feature known as SDR-Adaptive – was disabled before the product was sold to consumers in the US. No-one disputed that fact. However, through user forums on the Riverbed website, as well as product manuals issued by Riverbed, consumers were taught how to enable and use this feature.

The court reviewed this surrounding evidence and concluded: “In sum, Silver Peak has offered evidence of Riverbed’s high sales volume, an instruction manual describing how to activate SDR-A, and several blog entries on Riverbed’s U.S. support forum from people who used their Riverbed devices with SDR-A enabled. Taken together, this circumstantial evidence is sufficient…” Riverbed was found to have indirectly infringed the Silver Peak patents.

Lessons for business? Canadian companies selling into the US should be aware that sales of their products may form the basis for liability in the US if used by customers in the US in infringing ways.

Related Reading: A Company May Be Liable for Indirect Infringement Where Its Customers Enable an Infringing Feature Even Though the Company Sells Its Product with That Feature Disabled

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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The Troubles with Patent Inventorship

By Richard Stobbe

Determining inventorship is answering the question: who contributed enough to an invention to be named as an “inventor” on the patent application? It’s critical, as reviewed by my colleague Shohini Bagchee in her article Whose Invention Is It Anyway? – Some Thoughts on Patent Inventorship and Ownership.

Although the US case Ethicon Inc. v. U.S. Surgical Corp. (135 F.3d 1456) is not a new decision, it’s worth reviewing since it neatly illustrates the troubles that can arise. In Ethicon, a first inventor, Dr. Yoon, obtained a patent covering a certain surgical device. The patent contained 55 claims. Yoon granted a license to Ethicon. On the stregth of this license, Ethicon turned around and sued its competitor U.S. Surgical for infringing two of the claims in the Yoon patent. U.S. Surgical in the course of preparing its defence found that Mr. Choi had contributed to the invention and he should have been named as co-inventor on the Yoon patent.

Mr. Choi contributed to only two of the 55 claims – two claims which were not at issue in the infringement action. In its defence, U.S. Surgical sought – and the court granted – an order that Mr. Choi be added as a co-inventor to the patent. Even though Mr. Choi had contributed to a small percentage of the overall invention (and had contributed to claims that were not at issue in the lawsuit), his status as a co-inventor permitted him under US law to grant a license to the whole patent. Ethicon’s patent infringement lawsuit was dismissed after Choi granted a retroactive patent license to U.S. Surgical.

Lessons for business?

  • Internal IP policies and invention-disclosure protocols should be designed to capture all inventors who contributed to inventorship.
  • In joint research agreements or joint development agreements, don’t ignore co-inventorship issues.
  • Remember that invention-disclosure and inventorship should dovetail with invention assignment agreements, as well as the IP provisions in employment agreements and consultant agreements.
  • Ensure you are getting legal advice regarding inventorship as it relates to the jurisdiction in which you are filing your patent application.
  • Remember that the law in Canada and the US differs on this point: A co-owner’s interest in a co-owned patent can be licensed without the consent of the other owner in the US and there is no need to account to the other owner for licensing revenue; but in Canada the patent cannot be licensed without the consent of the other co-owner.

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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CASL 2.0: The Computer Program Provisions (Part 2)

By Richard Stobbe

In Part 1 we looked at some basic concepts. In Part 2, we look at “enhanced disclosure” requirements.

If the computer program that is to be installed performs one or more of the functions listed below, the person who seeks express consent must disclose additional information. This disclosure must be made “clearly and prominently, and separately and apart from the licence agreement”. In this additional or enhanced disclosure, the software vendor must describe the program’s “material elements” including the nature and purpose of the program, and the impact on the user’s computer system. A software vendor must bring this info to the attention of the user. This applies if you, as the software vendor, want to install a program that does any of the following things, and causes the computer system to operate in a manner that “is contrary to the reasonable expectations of the owner”. (You have to guess at the reasonable expectations of the user.) These are the functions that the legislation is aimed at:

  • collecting personal information stored on the computer system;
  • interfering with the owner’s or an authorized user’s control of the computer system;
  • changing or interfering with settings, preferences or commands already installed or stored on the computer system without the knowledge of the owner or an authorized user of the computer system;
  • changing or interfering with data that is stored on the computer system in a manner that obstructs, interrupts or interferes with lawful access to or use of that data by the owner or an authorized user of the computer system;
  • causing the computer system to communicate with another computer system, or other device, without the authorization of the owner or an authorized user of the computer system;
  • installing a computer program that may be activated by a third party without the knowledge of the owner or an authorized user of the computer system.

If the computer program or app that you, as the software vendor, want to install does any of these things, then you need to comply with the enhanced disclosure obligations, as well as get express consent.

There are some exceptions: A user is considered to have given express consent if the program is

  • a cookie,

  • HTML code,

  • Java Scripts,

  • an operating system,

  • any other program that is executable only through the use of another computer program whose installation or use the person has previously expressly consented to, or

  • a program that is necessary to correct a failure in the operation of the computer system or a program installed on it and is installed solely for that purpose; AND

  • the person’s conduct is such that it is reasonable to believe that they consent to the program’s installation.

Remember: These additional provisions in CASL which deal with the installation of software come into effect on January 15, 2015, in less than 3 months. An offence under CASL can result in monetary penalties as high as $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses.

If you are a software vendor selling in Canada, get advice on the implications for automatic installs and updates, and how to structure consents, whether this is for business-to-business, business-to-consumer, or mobile apps. There are already more than 1,000 complaints under the anti-spam provisions of the law. You don’t want to be the test case for the computer program provisions.

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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CASL 2.0: The Computer Program Provisions (Part 1)

By Richard Stobbe

It’s mid-October. Like many businesses in Canada, you may be weary of hearing about CASL compliance. Hopefully that weariness is due to all the hard work you did 3 months ago to bring your organization into compliance for the July 1st start-date.

If you’re a software vendor, then you should gird yourself for round two: Yes, there are additional provisions in CASL which deal with the installation of software, and those rules come on stream in 3 months on January 15, 2015.

Section 8 of CASL ostensibly deals with spyware and malware. Hackers are not the only problem; think of the Sony Rootkit case (See our earlier post here) as another example of the kind of thing that this law was designed to address.

This is the essence of Section 8: “A person must not, in the course of a commercial activity, install …a computer program on any other person’s computer system… unless the person has obtained the express consent of the owner …” This applies only if the computer system is located in Canada, or if the person either is in Canada at the relevant time or is acting under the direction of a person who is in Canada at the time when they give the directions.

This relatively simple idea – get consent if you want to install an application on someone else’s system in Canada – has far-reaching implications due to the way the legislation draws the definitions of “computer program” and “computer system” from the Criminal Code. As you can guess, the Criminal Code definitions are extremely broad. So, what does this mean in real life?

  • Certain types of specified programs require “enhanced disclosure” by the software vendor. (I am saying ‘software vendors’ as those are the entities most likely to bring themselves into compliance. Of course, hackers and organized crime syndicates should also take note of the enhanced disclosure requirements);
  • Express consent, under this law, means that the consent must be requested clearly and simply, and the purpose of the consent must be described;
  • The software vendor requesting consent must describe the function and purpose of the computer program that is to be installed;
  • The software vendor requesting consent must provide an electronic address so that the user can request, within a period of one year, that the program be removed or disabled;
  • Note that if a computer program is installed before January 15, 2015, then the person’s consent is implied. This implied consent lasts until the user gives notice that they don’t want the installation anymore. Or until January 15, 2018, whichever comes first. I’m not making this stuff up, that’s what the Act says.
  • One more thing: Enhanced disclosure does not apply if the computer program only collects, uses or communicates “transmission data”. Transmission data is what you might call envelope information. The Act defines it as data that deals with “dialling, routing, addressing or signalling” and although it might show info like “type, direction, date, time, duration, size, origin, destination or termination of the communication”, it does not reveal “the substance, meaning or purpose of the communication”. So there is effectively a carve-out for the tracking of this category info.

Don’t worry, Canadian anti-spam laws are kind of like Lord of the Rings: Sequels will keep coming whether you like it or not. Once we’re past January 15, 2015, you can look forward to July 1, 2017, which is the day on which sections 47 to 51, 55 of CASL come into force. These provisions institute a private right of action for any breach of the Act.

If you are a software vendor selling in Canada, get advice on the implications for automatic installs and updates, whether this is for business-to-business, business-to-consumer, or mobile apps. There are already more than 1,000 complaints under the anti-spam provisions of the law. You don’t want to be the test case for the computer program provisions.

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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Drafting IT Agreements: Oct. 14-15

By Richard Stobbe

I will be speaking next week at the 10th Essentials of Commercial Contracts Course in Calgary, Alberta (Download PDF) on the subject of IT contracting. This session will discuss key considerations in IT licensing and service agreements including:

  • Key clauses in IT agreements and common mistakes
  • Various models for licensing software
  • Overlap between licenses and service agreements
  • Service level metrics and remedies for non-compliance
  • Statements of work in IT consulting and the lawyer’s role
  • Other issues: privacy, vendor lock-in, third party and open source software.

If you want additional information, please contact me.

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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What, exactly, is a browsewrap?

By Richard Stobbe

Browsewrap, clickwrap, clickthrough, terms of use, terms of service, EULA. Just what are we talking about and how did we get here?

In Nguyen v. Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2014 WL 4056549 (9th Cir. Aug. 18, 2014) the US Ninth Circuit wades into the subject of online contracting. Law professor Eric Goldman (ericgoldman.org) argues that these terms we’re accustomed to using, to describe ecommerce agreements, only contribute to the confusion. The term “browsewrap” derives from “clickwrap”, which is itself a portmanteau derived from the concept of a shrinkwrap license. As one court described it in 1996: “The ‘shrinkwrap license’ gets its name from the fact that retail software packages are covered in plastic or cellophane shrink wrap, and some vendors… have written licenses that become effective as soon as the customer tears the wrapping from the package.”

The enforceability of a browsewrap – it is argued – is based not on clicking, but on merely browsing the webpage in question. However, the term browsewrap is often used in the context of an online retailer hoping to enforce its terms, in a situation where they should have used a proper click-through agreement.

In Nguyen, the court dealt with a claim by a customer who ordered HP TouchPad tablets from the Barnes & Noble site. Although the customer entered an order through the shopping cart system, Barnes & Noble later cancelled that order. The customer sued. The resulting litigation turned on the enforceability of the online terms of service (TOS). The court reviewed the placement of the TOS link and found a species of unenforceable browsewrap – the TOS link was somewhere near the checkout button, but completion of the sale was not conditional upon acceptance of the TOS.

There is a whole spectrum upon which online terms can be placed. At one end, a click-the-box agreement (in which completion of the transaction is conditional upon acceptance of the TOS) is generally considered to be valid and enforceable. At the other end, we see passive terms that are linked somewhere on the website, usually from the footer, sometimes hovering near the checkout or download button.  In Nguyen, the terms were passive and required no active step of acceptance. The court concluded that: “Where a website makes its terms of use available via a conspicuous hyperlink on every page of the website but otherwise provides no notice to users nor prompts them to take any affirmative action to demonstrate assent, even close proximity of the hyperlink to relevant buttons users must click on —without more — is insufficient…”

This leaves open the possibility that browsewrap terms (where no active step is required) could be enforceable if the user has notice (actual or constructive) of those terms.

In Canada, the concept was most recently addressed by the court in Century 21 Canada Limited Partnership v. Rogers Communications Inc., 2011 BCSC 1196 (CanLII). In that case, there was no active click-the-box terms of use, but the “browsewrap” terms were nevertheless upheld as enforceable, in light of the circumstances. Three particular factors convinced the court that it should uphold the terms: 1. the dispute did not involve a business-to-consumer dispute (as it did in Nguyen). Rather the parties were “sophisticated commercial entities”. 2. The defendants had actual notice of the terms. 3. The defendants employed similar terms on their own site.

The lessons for business?

The “browsewrap” is a passive attempt to impose terms on a site visitor or customer. Such passive terms should not be employed where the party seeking to enforce those terms requires certainty of enforceability. Even where there is a “conspicuous hyperlink” or “notice to users” or “close proximity of the hyperlink”, none of these factors should be relied upon, even if they might create an enforceable contract in special cases. Maybe it is time to retire the term “browsewrap” and replace it with “probably unenforceable”.

Now, do you still want to rely on a browsewrap agreement?

Related Reading: Online Terms – What Works, What Doesn’t

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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Confidentiality & Sealing Orders in Software Disputes

By Richard Stobbe

Two software companies wanted to integrate their software products. The relationship soured and one of the parties – McHenry – purported to terminate the Software Licensing and Development Agreement and then launched a lawsuit in the Federal Court in the US, claiming copyright infringement and breach of contract. The other party – ARAS – countered by invoking the mandatory arbitration clause in the software agreement. The US court compelled the parties to resolve their dispute through arbitration in Vancouver. After the arbitration, the arbitrator’s decision was appealed in the BC Supreme Court. In that appeal, McHenry sought a “sealing order” asking the BC court, in effect, to order confidentiality over the March 26, 2014 Arbitration Award itself. This is because ARAS, who prevailed at arbitration, circulated the arbitration award to others.

In the recent decision (McHenry Software Inc. v. ARAS 360 Incorporated, 2014 BCSC 1485 (CanLII)) the BC Supreme Court considered the law of “sealing orders” and confidentiality in the context of a dispute between two software companies.

The essence of McHenry’s complaint was that the arbitrator’s award should be treated confidentially, since it contained confidential and sensitive information about the dispute, which could harm or disadvantage McHenry in its negotiations with future software development partners.

The court reviewed the legal principles governing sealing orders. A “sealing order” is simply court-ordered confidentiality over court records or evidence. While there is a presumption in favour of public access in the Canadian justice system, there are times when it is appropriate to deny access to certain records to prevent a “serious risk to an important interest” as long as “the public interest in confidentiality outweighs the public interest in openness”. (To dig deeper on this, see: Sierra Club of Canada v. Canada (Minister of Finance), 2002 SCC 41 (CanLII), 2002 SCC 41.)

If you were hoping for a handy three-part test, you’re in luck:

  1. First, the risk in question must be real and substantial, and must pose a “serious threat” to the commercial interest in question.
  2. The interest must be tied to a public interest in confidentiality. The SCC said: “a private company could not argue simply that the existence of a particular contract should not be made public because to do so would cause the company to lose business, thus harming its commercial interests.” Courts must remember that a confidentiality order involves an infringement on freedom of expression, so it should not be undertaken to satisfy purely commercial interests.
  3. Third, the court must consider whether there are any reasonable alternatives to a confidentiality order, or look for ways to restrict the scope of the order as much as possible in the context.

Ultimately, the BC Court was not sympathetic to McHenry’s arguments for a sealing order. If McHenry was so concerned about the confidentiality of these proceedings, the court argued, then McHenry would not have launched a lawsuit against ARAS in the US Federal Court, where there is no confidentiality. In pursuing litigation, McHenry filed numerous documents in the public record, including its Arbitration Notice, its Statement of Claim in the Arbitration and its petition in the BC Court proceedings, some of which contained potentially sensitive information.

“Moreover,” the court continued, “there is no general principle that the confidentiality of arbitration proceedings carries over to court proceedings when the arbitration is appealed. On the contrary, such court proceedings are generally public.”

This case serves as a reminder of the confidentiality issues that can arise in the conext of a dispute between software companies, both in arbitration proceedings and in the litigation context. Make sure you seek experienced counsel when handling the complex issues of confidentiality, sealing orders and licensing disputes.

Calgary – 07:00

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Online Terms – What Works, What Doesn’t

By Richard Stobbe

The online fine print – those terms and conditions that you agree to when you buy something online – it really does matter where those terms are placed in the checkout process. A recent US case illustrates this point. In Tompkins v. 23andMe, Inc., 2014 WL 2903752 (N.D. Cal. June 25, 2014), the court dealt with an online checkout process for DNA testing kits sold by 23andMe. When completing a purchase, customers were not presented with any mandatory click-through screen for the transaction to complete. There was a passive link at the footer of the transaction page, something the court dismissed as a “browsewrap”, which was ineffective to bind the customers. In other words, the Terms of Service were not effective at that point in the transaction.

In order to obtain test results, however, customers were obliged to register and create an account with 23andMe. In this (post-sale) registration process, a mandatory click-through screen was presented to customers, not once but twice. The court decided that this second step was valid to bind the customers who purchased the DNA testing kits.

While this shows that courts can take a position that is sympathetic to online retailers, this should not be taken as an endorsement of this contracting process. In my view, the better approach would be to push customers through a mandatory click-through screen at both stages. This is particularly so in a case like 23andMe, where the first transaction is for sale of a product (the kit) and the second step relates to a service (processing test results). The two, of course, are intertwined, but the double click-through reduces risk and plugs the holes left by the single click-through. For example, a customer may buy a kit and never create an account, or use a kit without have purchased it. As the court notes: “it is possible for a customer to buy a DNA kit, for example, as a gift for someone else, so that the purchasing customer never needs to create an account or register the kit, and thus is never asked to acknowledge the TOS.”

We can speculate on why the click-through appeared at the second account-creation step, and not the first kit-purchasing step. Sometimes, the purchasing process is modified over time due to changes in marketing or sales strategies. Perhaps the company broke a unified transaction process, which ended with account-creation, into two separate steps after market research or customer feedback. When something like this happens, it is important to repeat the legal review, to ensure compliance with e-commerce best practices.

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Copyright Litigation and the Risk of Double Costs

By Richard Stobbe

An American photojournalist, Ms. Leuthold, was on the scene in New York City on September 11, 2001. She licensed a number of still photographs to the CBC for use in a documentary about the 9/11 attacks. The photos were included in 2 versions of the documentary, and the documentary was aired a number of times betwen 2002 and 2004. We originally wrote about this in an earlier post: Copyright Infringement & Licensing Pitfalls. The court found that the CBC had infringed copyright in the photographs in six broadcasts which were not covered by the licenses. Though Leuthold claimed damages of over $20 million, only $20,000 was awarded as damages by the court.

In Leuthold v. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2014 FCA 174, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld an award of double costs against Leuthold. Early in the litigation process, the CBC had formally offered to settle for $37,500 plus costs. Ms. Leuthold did not accept the CBC’s offer and went to trial where she was awarded $20,000. Ms. Leuthold’s total recovery was substantially less that the amount of the CBC’s offer. When this happens, a plaintiff can be liable under Rule 420 for double costs, which was awarded in this case. Double costs amounted to approximately $80,000 in these circumstances, which means Ms. Leuthold is liable for about 4 times the amount of the damage award. Although Ms. Leuthold objected that such a disproportionate costs award was “punitive”, the court concluded:

“The sad fact of the matter is that litigation produces winners and losers; that is why it is such a blunt tool in the administration of justice. But justice is not served by allowing persons who have imposed costs on others by pursuing or defending a claim which lacks merit to avoid the consequences of their behaviour. Such a policy would be more likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute than the result in this case.”

For copyright litigation and licensing advice, contact the Field Law Intellectual Property & Technology Group.

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IT Contracts – Conference in Calgary

By Richard Stobbe

On October 14 and 15, 2014, I will be presenting on “Drafting IT Agreements” at the Essentials of Commercial Contracts (Calgary) Conference. This conference will discuss the legal and business framework of commercial contracts, negotiations and practical drafting tips.

The session on information technology (IT) contracting will review key considerations in IT licensing and service agreements, various models for licensing software, the overlap between licenses and service agreements, service level metrics and remedies for non-compliance, the use of  Statements of Work in IT agreements, as well as related issues: privacy, vendor lock-in, third party and open source software.

For more information, contact me or click on the link above.

Calgary – 05:00 MST

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Intellectual Asset Management Best Practices – Part 1

By Richard Stobbe

Does your organization have “intellectual assets”? Regardless of what your organization does – whether it is a service-based business, or in the manufacturing sector, whether it is driven by cloud-based software or bricks-and-mortar locations, whether it is a multinational or a local start-up – chances are good that you can start to list the intellectual capital that has value in your organization. What do we mean by “intellectual assets”? There are many definitions, but one broad definition is simply “knowledge that has value in your organization”, and it can encompass:

  1. Human know-how and intellectual capital – the unwritten expertise, experience, concepts and technical knowledge that employees have in their heads; and
  2. Intellectual assets, including registered and unregistered intellectual property (IP) – this includes the codified or “captured” knowledge that adds to your organization’s value, such as trade secrets that might be captured in internal processes, manuals, design specifications, software source-code and other unpublished know-how, as well as the value represented by:
    • Patents (including Canadian and international applications and issued patents);
    • Copyright-protected works (including published and unpublished written works);
    • Trademarks (including logo designs, registered and common law marks);
    • Industrial designs, and other forms of registered intellectual property.

Some organizations are better at managing and obtaining value from their intellectual assets. What are the best practices for the management of these assets? In this series, we’ll review current best practices for management of intellectual assets as a competitive tool. Experts in the area of intellectual asset management have identified several layers or tiers of sophistication in the handling of such assets. Therefore, while a start-up inventor may certainly learn from the approach of Apple, Inc., each organization must look at best practices from the perspective of their organization, their resources and their stage of development. As a starting point, the following three steps lay the groundwork for future steps of IP management and value creation:

1: Conduct an Audit

The first step in any organization that is new to intellectual asset management is to conduct a review of existing assets. This is also a great exercise for organizations whose IP portfolio may be evolving – perhaps through recent growth, acquisitions, internal research and development (R&D) or divestiture. This step seeks answers to issues such as:

  • What does the organization own, and what is merely licensed? What are the gaps in intellectual assets?
  • Review unpatented inventions, patent applications, issued patents.
  • Review software developed by or for the organization.
  • Identify trade-secrets, focusing on non-public information that adds specific value to the organization, including intangibles such as customer lists, processes, early-stage prototypes, and strategic plans.
  • What non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality obligations has the organization agreed to?
  • Is the organization party to any IP licenses (in- or out-licenses)? Are there any co-development or joint venture agreements that involve IP creation?
  • Identify the organization’s trademarks, logos and brands. Note registered and unregistered marks in use by the organization in different jurisdictions.

This audit or portfolio review process may start as a simple list, and may evolve into a more detailed table or spreadsheet. It may involve more sophisticated tracking systems which are maintained with IP counsel, to track patent maintenance fees and deadlines.

2: IP Education

An organization must also educate its personnel on the strategic importance of intellectual property within the organization.

This is a process of raising awareness and providing education about the different types of intellectual property and the organization’s policies related to these assets. This must involve the leadership of the organization and it may even trickle down to “front line” personnel. It should involve the integration of intellectual property strategy into overall business strategy, or if that IP strategy is already in place, it may involve internal education sessions and policies, such as confidentiality and invention disclosure policies. In some cases, it involves a process of educating professional advisors about the strategic role of IP in the organization.

IP counsel can play an important role to provide education, and to be a resource for developing internal policies, reviewing agreements, and drafting contractual provisions.

3: Implementing “Make versus Buy” Decisions

The next step can certainly happen in tandem with the other steps of IP portfolio analysis, and IP education. Many organizations are continuously innovating in their industry as they seek to gain and maintain their competitive advantage. However, not all organizations have the capacity to innovate internally. A medium-sized company may not have the R&D strength of its competitor, but it may still use strategic decisions to leverage the value of intellectual assets and gain an edge over competitors. Ultimately, the decisions on how to innovate involve a “make versus buy” decision. Through a screening process, an organization can weigh the various factors that influence its decision to pursue an innovation opportunity. At this stage, the organization is looking at factors such as:

  • Are ideas and inventions emanating from within the organization? This is certainly enhanced when the IP education and awareness is part of the organization’s culture.
  • What is the value of these ideas and inventions, as against the cost of developing the idea to a commercial product?
  • Is this a core or non-core function for this organization?
  • Is it more cost-effective for the organization to internally develop this as a product or innovation, to pay someone else to develop it, or to license it in from another company?
  • If it is internally developed, is IP protection available, and what type of protection will it be? Is it eligible for patent protection?

Here is one example of how these different pieces may fit together:

Let’s say an organization has reviewed and listed its trade secrets during an intellectual asset audit. In the course of this process, it learned that trade secrets formed an important part of the organization’s competitive advantage, but there was a lack of any internal confidentiality policies, nor was there any invention or idea disclosure process. With the help of counsel, it developed an internal confidentiality policy, as well as a modest reward system for idea disclosures. The CEO directed IP counsel to provide a lunch-and-learn session for employees, including those in the sales team. Employees were educated about their role in the organization’s value-chain, and the importance of maintaining secrecy over confidential information and innovative ideas. After the education sessions, someone in sales came forward to describe an idea for product improvement based on recent feedback from customers. This idea was filtered through the company’s “make versus buy” decision process, leading to a product improvement which was determined to be patentable. This patentable improvement blocked competitors from adopting this product change. The company’s confidentiality policy emphasized the importance of maintaining secrecy over the improvement until the patent application was filed and the product improvement was released for sale.

To discuss the importance of intellectual assets within your organization, contact Richard Stobbe in our Intellectual Property and Technology Group.

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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Update on Anti-Patent-Troll Laws

By Richard Stobbe

Yesterday draft “anti-patent-troll” legislation was put forward in Washington. This is part of a ground swell of opposition to illegitimate patent demand letters from so-called patent assertion entities (PAEs), or “patent trolls”. This draft legislation, according to the sponsor of the proposed bill, “increases transparency and accountability to help expose and prevent fraudulent infringement claims. It would require patent demand letters to include certain basic information to help companies determine whether a letter is legitimate.”

See more at: this link

This proposed law approaches the issue from a consumer protection angle, using Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority and state Attorney General authority for enforcement.

Another anti-patent-troll bill passed by the US House in 2013 is now stalled in the Senate. Congress may be stalled but the fact that patents are within federal jurisdiction has not prevented state legislatures from passing consumer-protection laws which target PAEs. I attended a lunch yesterday at which the Attorney General of Vermont spoke about his state’s efforts to deploy state-level consumer protection laws against PAEs. A case involving a well-known PAE by the name of MPHJ Technology is currently before the Vermont courts. The debates and the legislative responses are far from over.

Do we need anti-patent troll laws in Canada?

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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