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How to stop your ideas being stolen by your supply chain

October 28, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to stop your ideas being stolen by your supply chain{{}}If you’ve worked hard to build up a brand or come up with a new product or process, you have intellectual property (IP). You probably know that your IP is at risk; others may try to copy your idea or pass off their products under your brand. This is known as infringement and can cause financial and reputational harm.

What you might not know is that members of your supply network can be one of the most common IP infringers. That’s right, incredible though it may seem, people you trust to make or sell your products can be among the most likely to steal your ideas.

Upon further examination, this makes more sense. When you instruct a supplier to manufacture your product, for example, you share secrets with them. They then not only have the required information, but also the means to roll it out quickly.

Meanwhile, the retailers you supply often have their own manufacturers and if a product succeeds, they could create an “own-label” version, enabling them to dramatically increase their margins – by cutting you out. Think this would never happen? Think again.

If you’re a small business or start-up, you’re at risk of being caught in a David v Goliath battle with bigger organisations, which is certainly not where you want to be.

This isn’t just limited to start-ups that sell physical products either. If you’ve commissioned a programmer to create some software for you, what’s to stop them designing a similar product and selling it to one of your competitors? Thankfully, you can protect yourself, but what steps should you take?

Lay the groundwork

There are a number of essential steps that any business ought to take when instructing third parties to create and sell its products, chief among them having agreements in place. Non-disclosure agreements should be signed before any information is disclosed and relationships with all suppliers, distributers and consultants should be governed by agreements that clearly define your IP and confirm your ownership.

Make sure that where you can, you register your IP – especially trademarks, patents and product designs. This isn’t enough to prevent IP theft on its own, but it’ll come in handy should an infringement occur.

Limit access

There’s a good rule of thumb here – don’t tell anyone anything they don’t need to know.

Take legal action if necessary

If the worst happens and your IP is infringed, it’s up to you to enforce it. Many businesses believe that having a registered right is enough to stop IP theft, but it actually falls to you to instruct lawyers (and pay their fees, of course).

The legal costs to take a case to court can easily be £100,000, which is why IP insurance exists. If your IP is infringed and you’ve taken out a policy, the IP insurer will fund the case.

By going into business, you necessarily incur the risk of IP theft. However, taking a few relatively painless steps can provide a good degree of protection.

Copyright © 2014 David Bloom. David Bloom is an IP lawyer and founder of IP insurance broker Safeguard iP.

Further reading

Employee tattoos, employment law and your business

October 08, 2014 by Guest contributor

Employee tattoos, employment law and your business {{}}Body art has become part of everyday life throughout western society. Long gone are the days when tattoos were considered a novelty favoured by specific social groups and subcultures.

However, not all employers welcome tattoos, so, should body art enthusiasts be told to cover up their tattoos at work or would this be discrimination? With one in five people in Britain now having a tattoo, this is a relevant employment law issue for many UK businesses.

Employer defence

Employers insist they have the right to make employees cover up if their appearance compromises the company’s image. But while there's plenty of examples of workers being asked to leave their job for having “excessive” tattoos, there's a growing number of dismissals of employees with minimal body art.

A recent example of “ink prejudice” involves a business consultant in Milton Keynes who reportedly lost her job because she has an image of a butterfly measuring 4cm across her foot. If body art is part of someone’s identity, surely censorship of this kind is not far removed from the stifling of other forms of self-expression, such as sexuality and religious belief?

Considering tattoos to be a form of self-expression also encourages debate over exactly what is an “acceptable” belief. Should a controversial symbol or phrase be permitted just because an individual believes in it?

No clearly defined rules

With no single set of rules in place for having tattoos, organisations are free to put their own in place – and alter them as they see fit. Larger businesses can seemingly get away with this due to their prestige, but smaller businesses relying on a specific image can be damaged if they don't have the right to influence employee conduct.

However, there is room for argument thanks to the Equality Act of 2010, which can be used to claim that censorship of tattoos is an infringement of someone’s human rights if the image relates directly to a religious or cultural belief. This law provides “protection for people discriminated against because they are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has, a protected characteristic”.

But does a self-inflicted body modification truly count as a characteristic?

The future of workplace tattoos

With more people getting tattoos, it seems likely that body art will eventually receive less discrimination, but who gets to decide what is acceptable when it comes to body art? The questions are vast and opinions differ widely.

Copyright © 2014 Nationwide Employment Lawyers.

Further reading

Posted in Employment law | Tagged HR, employment law | 0 comments

Why many patent holders are being ripped off on their renewal fees

September 25, 2014 by Guest contributor

Why many patent holders are being ripped off on their renewal fees{{}}More than eight million patents are held worldwide by thousands of businesses, many of which do not know they are paying far more than necessary to renew their patents.

For each patent a business holds, a fee must be paid to the patent office every year to keep their intellectual property in force. If you hold patents in multiple regions, the costs can quickly spiral out of control.

To manage the process, most of these businesses employ the expensive legal expertise of patent attorneys, believing that the renewal process is complicated. In fact, the process is very simple. So these patent holders are, in turn, often paying four times the patent office fees they are required to pay – unnecessarily.

This is because most patent attorneys outsource the work to other companies without the patent-holder knowing and these organisations mostly quote a single fee for each renewal, but then bury hidden charges into inflated foreign exchange rates. 

For instance, to make a United States Large Entity 3rd renewal with one of the market leading international renewals company, we were quoted a patent office fee of $7,400, which at the time of the quote and exchange rate, equalled £6,585. 

But the actual patent office fee was only £5,094, meaning that the company charged its client £1,490 somewhere in this exchange process. It is expected that the patent holder will not bother to check what the actual patent office fee was and can end up paying up to four times more than they need to. 

Patent holders can cut this wastage by simply administering their own patent renewals using online automated systems.

Copyright © 2014 Katherine Hedley. Katherine is co-founder of Renewals Desk, an online patent renewal service that helps you save on professional fees. Follow Renewals Desk on Twitter.

Further reading

Could pension-led funding enable your business to grow?

September 16, 2014 by Guest contributor

Could pension-led funding enable your business to grow?{{}}A growing number of business owners are using pension-led funding (PLF) to expand their businesses. PLF is one of the newest forms of alternative finance available to companies that either cannot or do not want to access traditional bank funding.

The CBI described PLF as: “A key form of alternative finance for growing businesses.”

PLF allows business owners to make use of liquid funds held within a UK Registered Pension Scheme to finance their business in such a way that there are no undesirable tax charges.

It is a business financing mechanism and not a method of putting pension funds into the hands of individuals. PLF must be used to enhance a business and funds cannot be used to provide abnormal rewards or dividends.

What can PLF help to finance?

PLF is an option available to most businesses, irrespective of size or sector. Any money successfully acquired via PLF can be used within a business to provide:

  • working capital
  • expansion
  • acquisition of a target business
  • plant and machinery for use in the business
  • funding for commercial property purchase.

There are a number of reasons why PLF is providing an attractive form of alternative finance to business owners. They include:

  • the ability to gain funding
  • tax efficient
  • business owner remains in control
  • no restriction on the size of business.

There are very few activities that cannot be funded via PLF, but one of them is residential (ie buy-to-let properties).

Case studies

Andy Eames, managing director of Lancashire engineering firm Trailerteq, turned to pension-led funding to help him acquire a stake in the company. He liked the idea that he could put his own money to better use rather than leaving it in his pension fund. He used the funds in his Small Self-Administered Scheme (SSAS) to secure his stake in the business.

Andy said: “I liked the idea that I could manage my own funds and thereby gain greater rewards. Rather than borrowing the money I needed from the bank, I was happy to back myself and use my own money to invest in the business.

“As long as you have the right pension vehicle in place, I would encourage other business owners and entrepreneurs to explore whether pension-led funding might be suitable for them in achieving their business objectives.”

Other examples of pension-led funding have included businesses that wanted to increase their workforces and acquire new machinery to take advantage of the improving economy.

In one such instance, a Lancashire textile business sought out finance to provide working capital and improve its workforce by recruiting three specialist members of staff. The banks refused to provide the support the company was seeking to fund its growth, with one of the principal reasons being that the required sum (£55,000) was too small.

Instead, the owner transferred three under-performing funds (totalling £110,000) to a newly created SSAS. Once the funds were received, the SSAS advanced a loan of £55,000 (50% is the maximum amount allowed) to the business. The loan was secured on the value of the company over a five-year term and with five equal annual repayments.

Copyright © Andy Wood 2014. Andy is director of Enterprise Tax Centre.

Further reading

Get ready for auto-enrolment pensions

September 08, 2014 by Fanny Marshall

Auto-enrolment pensions – get ahead of the game{{}}Are you an employer in the UK? If yes, you need to be prepared for the new law surrounding workplace pensions. Maybe you’ve already heard of auto-enrolment but think it won’t affect you as you only have a couple of employees. Or, as it’s being phased in gradually, you don’t need to worry about it for ages. If you do nothing, though, you may be caught out. The Pensions Regulator will always try and work with businesses to help them become compliant but it will issue enforcement notices that can lead to financial penalties for employers that don’t comply with their duties.

Staging dates (the date auto-enrolment starts) have already started for larger businesses (from 1 April 2014 – 1 April 2015 for businesses with 50 or more employees). Smaller businesses with fewer than 49 employees will need to start auto-enrolment between 1 August 2015 and 1 April 2017. This sounds like a long way off but The Pensions Regulator is advising that it can take at least a year to prepare properly for auto-enrolment. The first step is to check your staging date so you know when you need to start enrolling your staff. You can then use a planner on The Pensions Regulator website to help guide you through the process.

There is lots of information available to businesses about auto-enrolment pensions. You may view it as another unwelcome administrative burden on your business but the best way to lessen the impact is to get ahead of the game and find out what you need to do now.

More information on auto-enrolment:

Recent changes to flexible working rules: what do they mean for your business?

September 01, 2014 by Guest contributor

Recent changes to flexible working rules: what do they mean for your business?{{}}Until recently, requests for flexible working patterns were only available for parents of children up to the age of 17 (or 18 if the child has a disability) and for carers. But recently, the laws affecting the right to request flexible working hours have changed.

Since 30 June 2014, any employee who has a minimum of 26 weeks of service with the employer now has the statutory right to request flexible working conditions. So what is the impact of this change and who does it affect?

What is flexible working?

There are various types of flexible working, including working compressed hours (eg working five days’ worth of hours in four days), flexitime, job-sharing, shift work, remote working (eg working from home) and part-time working.

Who is entitled to request flexible working?

Before the change in legislation on 30 June 2014, this right was only available to parents and certain carers. Now, anyone who has worked for a company for a minimum of 26 weeks is entitled to submit a request for flexible working conditions.

A recent survey conducted by Powwownow found that 70% of respondents are aware of this change in the law. Surprisingly, 46% of those taking part in the survey were not aware of the previous law regarding flexible working hours.

When can I apply?

Anyone can make a request for flexible working from their employer, as long as the nature of the business allows for it. Employees are only allowed to make one request within a 12-month period.

The survey found that within the first week following the change in legislation, 8% of respondents taking part in the Powwownow survey had already submitted a request. A further 35% of those taking part in the survey said that they were considering submitting a flexible working request in the future.

How do I make a request?

Requests for flexible working hours must be made in writing to your employer. Within your request, you should include:

  • The date of your request.
  • The change in conditions you require (eg flexitime).
  • The date you would like the change to take effect.
  • If you have previously made a request for flexible working hours, and the date of that request.
  • What effect your change in working conditions will have on the business (eg will it be cost effective?)
  • State if you are making a request that relates to the Equality Act 2010.

Copyright © 2014 Jacqui Keep of Powwownow, providers of contract-free conference calling services

Further reading

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