Articles Posted in Business Law

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Now, aside from Bitcoin and other digital currencies spawning from video games and consumer-oriented companies, it’s important to be aware that there are other types of digital currencies or so-called “cryptocurrencies.” These operate more similarly to Bitcoin in how they generally lack a centralized system that assigns value (compared to other digital currencies like virtual item trading where the items are managed by a company) and has a similar mining protocol allowing individuals to mine the currency.  Indeed, even Bitcoin had a “split” changing from one cryptocurrency to two. Why are there even alternatives? What features does one cryptocurrency have on the other? How should one evaluate the choice to enter a cryptocurrency market?

Bitcoin’s Split

In order to make Bitcoin more accessible, the system administrators for Bitcoin and other individuals prominent in the community underwent a “split” of the currency, as well as other changes to increase the speed of transaction verification. Due to the limits put in place to make Bitcoins scarce and limit the supply, the effective limit had placed a curb on growth. In response, some users chose to take a split after starting in August of this year to create a new cryptocurrency working mainly on the same system as Bitcoin, but with the ability to convert it to “bitcoin cash” and a faster mining and verification process. This would mean that Bitcoin cash would have a lower face value than Bitcoins, as they would be more plentiful. However, this would also make it potentially less secure as the blocks would grow in maximum size, and it would have a shorter history compared to Bitcoin.

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The legality of certain virtual currencies can be murky.  While some currencies, like Bitcoin, can be readily traded for goods and services, however, other virtual currencies remain where regulation is more questionable. To that point, the curators of digital economies have hired economists to better model the value of these digital commodities, creating a sort of virtual currency by accident.  However, the ecosystem behind these virtual currencies has exploded and led to new questions regarding their use and potentially illicit activities. So, what are these virtual commodities? How did they gain value? What is being done to curtail the murkier aspects?

What are these virtual currencies?

A good example of these virtual currencies comes courtesy of Valve, a company that both creates and distributes video games. For the purpose of creating more income for some of their “free-to-play” games, random prizes are given out, and can be earned in-game, and later resold via its platform. These items generally have no in-game function, and merely provide an aesthetic value. For a select few Valve games, these items can then be exchanged between players, or for currency in Valve’s store. In essence, the items can function much like tickets in an arcade, or more concerning, poker chips in a casino. Other games have similarly created digital currencies that can be shifted easily from a “real” currency to something that can be used (though not necessarily benefit) the person in game.

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Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that has been in the news and in conversations recently for various reasons. While not all retailers will take Bitcoin, and there are fairly good reasons not to, but the cryptocurrency has really taken off.  However, despite how much the word “Bitcoin” is used, the nature of the virtual currency provokes a sort of air of mystery. Unless one researches how to find or buy it, it remains a type of investment that is more exotic than what is commonly available to consumers. Why is Bitcoin so expensive? How does one find and buy a Bitcoin?

Why is Bitcoin expensive?

To properly explain Bitcoin, it’s important to restate one of the fundamentals of economics. The value of a commodity is determined by supply and demand. When it comes to currency specifically, this translates to “the more common and easily- obtainable the currency is in the market, the price will become less in the market.” This is what’s referred to as “inflation.” The purchasing power of a currency goes down because there is more of that currency.

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Due to the rising costs in litigation, there has been a large increase in the use of alternative dispute resolution. By utilizing the methods of alternative dispute resolution, parties are able to often save time and money when resolving their disputes. Arbitration is one method of alternative dispute resolution that is the most frequently used by the litigants.

Is Arbitration Binding?

Arbitration can be binding or nonbinding. A binding arbitration means that the participants to the arbitration must follow the arbitrator’s decision and that the court can enforce the decision. A nonbinding arbitration means that either party may decide not to follow the arbitrator’s decision and instead take the dispute to court. Although, both types of arbitration do exist, binding arbitration is much more common in the judicial system.

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In July 2017’s newsletter, we discussed how you can enforce an international arbitration award in the United States. Although, there are people who may want to enforce a foreign arbitration award, there are others who seek to defend themselves against it.

In general, the domestic courts can decide not to enforce a foreign arbitration award for a number of reasons. For example, these reasons can include: (i) if the arbitrator exceeds his/her power or authority; (ii) if the arbitrator was not neutral; (iii) if there were any instances of fraud; or (iv) if the arbitrator is found to be guilty of misconduct.

The New York Convention has outlined the other reasons for avoiding the enforcement of foreign arbitration awards. Additionally, some types of arbitration awards cannot be enforced under the New York Convention. For example, if someone tried to enforce a custody agreement, then they would be unable. The United States has stated that it only applies to matters that are considered commercial transactions under the federal law. This means that certain awards are excluded from being enforced in the United States, including, but not limited to, labor disputes, custody disputes, matrimonial disputes, succession of property disputes, or boundary disputes.

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OneLogin recently suffered from a major security breach. This breach has compromised private and confidential information, which is managed by its datacenter. OneLogin provides a service that is used by organizations to secure their data. It is basically a password manager for corporations. It allows employees, customers, and partners to gain secure access to the company’s cloud and applications on any device.  It allows its customers to integrate other websites and services like Microsoft Office 365, Slack, Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Webex, LinkedIn, and Google Analytics. The OneLogin website says that it currently has over 2,000 enterprise customers across 44 different countries. This includes well-known companies like Indeed, Pinterest, Midas, and Yelp.

How did this breach occur?

The breach occurred because the intruders were able gain unauthorized access to the OneLogin datacenter. Alvaro Hoyos, who leads the company’s risk management, security, and compliance efforts posted a blog about the risks. He wrote that a threat actor used one of our AWS keys to gain access to the AWS platform via API from an intermediate host with another, smaller service provider in the United States.  He said his company’s staff was able to detect and stop the intrusion very quickly.

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The United States Supreme Court came out with a new patent law decision in Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc. For those who are not familiar with patents, a patent grants the holder an exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, importing, and selling the patented innovation for a limited time.

Lexmark International is a company that manufactures, designs, and sells toner cartridges. These cartridges are sold both in the United States and outside of the United States. Lexmark International owns patents that cover the components of these cartridges as well as the way that they are used by consumers.  Lexmark gives the purchasers of the toner cartridges two options: One option is to buy a toner cartridge at full price with no restrictions. The other option is to buy the cartridges at a discount through Lexmark’s “Return Program.” In order to get this lower price, the customers are required to sign a contract that they will only use the cartridge once and refrain from transferring it to anyone else except Lexmark.

Other companies that are known as remanufacturers would get the empty Lexmark cartridges, refill the cartridges with toner, and then resell those cartridges. Impression Products is one of those remanufacturers. They go through the same refilling process with cartridges that they acquire overseas and then import into the United States. Lexmark is suing Impression Products for patent infringement for both the “Return Program” cartridges sold in the United States and for the cartridges Lexmark sold abroad that were imported into the country by Impression Products.

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In theory, a moderator is a sound idea for any individual running a website that allows user interaction. Presumably, moderators can filter out comments and content that is disreputable, disrespectful, and patently offensive. The moderator can keep discourse civil and help foster insightful positions. Perhaps the website can even rely on volunteer moderators who are bound by the website’s rules and regulations. However, the moderator’s very existence risks making a website’s owner subject to liability for copyright infringement. These questions were recently addressed in a case involving LiveJournal. What is this case about? Why could a volunteer moderator trigger legal liability? Are there any guidelines to determine risks?

Mavrix Photographers, LLC v. LiveJournal, Inc.

This case is one arising out of the United States Court of Appeals, For The Ninth Circuit, regarding the potential liability of LiveJournal over an alleged infringement of twenty different photographs. LiveJournal is a social media website, which sets up various forums for different communities. The communities can post and comment on a theme and are allowed to create their own rules in addition to LiveJournal’s rules and regulations. The photographs were then published to a sub-forum on the website, focusing on celebrity news. The photographs were watermarked, and subject to copyright by the photographer. However, one issue was how LiveJournal used its moderators.

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Different states have different rules regarding the validity of non-compete agreements. In California, non-compete agreements are heavily disfavored and will usually only be upheld in a limited number of circumstances. When drafting a non-compete agreement, it is important to keep in mind where the employment will be taking place, so that you can know what types of non-compete agreements are allowable in that location.

Background

California, in general, finds that non-compete agreements after the termination of the employment agreement are not valid and will not be upheld by the courts except in specific circumstances. The California Business and Professions Code Section 16600 states: “Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.”  The courts have strictly applied Section 16600 and used this provision to invalidate employment agreements that would have prevented the employee from working for a competitor after the completion of employment.

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Among the rights people have, many are unknown or unsung until there is a dispute and the courts get involved in the process. Rarely recognized is the right to reverse engineer under the Fair Use Doctrine and Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  However, this is not an absolute right.  Rather, it can be waived under certain circumstances. So, how can the right to reverse engineer be used? How might an individual hope to reverse engineer anything? Can you prevent others from reverse engineering your products?

What does the reverse engineering law apply to?

Reverse engineering is a method of taking a device or program and taking it apart to determine how it works, occasionally in attempts to duplicate or improve it. Generally, this would be applied to devices or physical products that are protected by patents. However, in the realm of copyright, reverse engineering is allowed in some situations. Specifically, this applies to computer programs to allow interoperability of devices or systems.  Since computer programs may be designed to only work with a few devices or systems, to allow a consumer to use them on another operating system, reverse engineering would be a necessity.  This would allow individuals to ensure programs operate without interference or to add integration features.