Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus

REWIND: International Business News #101

This week, in the REWIND of international business news, we discuss Google possibly violating antitrust laws and more trouble for Airbnb.

Yet another regulatory body may question whether Google violated antitrust laws.

European authorities began an inquiry into Google’s practice of bundling apps with its Android operating system last year.  It seems that the inquiry has given some ammunition to at least one of Google’s rivals to seek a similar inquiry from another regulator.  Yandex, Russia’s most popular search engine, has asked Russian authorities to investigate Google’s practices after alleging that vendors were unable to pre-install Yandex onto Android devices.

Airbnb may be ready to check out in Singapore.

Singapore is the latest sovereign to scrutinize the legality of Airbnb’s offerings.  Airbnb facilitates the short-term rental of personal residences in lieu of a hotel.  Existing regulations in Singapore prohibit the rental of a personal residence for less than six months.  Many other countries and cities around the world impose similar restrictions, or require hotel taxes to be paid for rentals of the type facilitated through Airbnb.  Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority is soliciting public feedback regarding the existing regulations.  Singaporean regulators acknowledge the benefits provided to homeowners (primarily an opportunity to earn extra cash) as well as the drawbacks of residential neighborhoods becoming hotel districts.

REWIND: International Business News #100

In this week’s REWIND of international business news,

  • The U.S. Copyright Office released a report last week detailing its findings on, and recommendations to improve, what it calls “the aging music licensing framework.”  Acknowledging that many in the music industry consider the licensing system to be broken, the “Copyright and the Music Marketplace” report undertook an exhaustive review of the music  licensing process, including a focus on music steaming services.  The study indicated a finding of consensus on four issues across the industry:  (1) creators should be fairly compensated; (2) the licensing process should be more efficient; (3) market participants should have access to authoritative data to identify and license sound recordings and musical works; and (4) payment and usage information should be transparently available to rightsholders.  The Copyright Office made four recommendations to address issues in the licensing system:  (1) regulate musical works and sound recordings in a consistent manner; (2) extend the public performance right in sound records to terrestrial radio broadcasts; (3) fully federalize pre-1972 sound recordings; and (4) adopt a uniform market-based ratesetting standard for all government rates.  The Office also offers recommendations on changes to the government’s role in the licensing process, detailed at length in the report.  While many in the music industry seemed initially receptive to the report and its findings, there is concern that the recommendations may increase costs to music streaming services, and that the recommendations still do not go far enough to fairly compensate artists.
  • Chipmaker Qualcomm, Inc., is unhappy with new policies set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (“IEEE”), and as a result has indicated it is rethinking its participation in the Institute.  The IEEE sets industry standards for Wi-Fi, including the royalty rate paid by companies such as Apple, Inc., and Microsoft Corp., pay to companies such as Qualcomm to use Wi-Fi on their devices.  Patent owners and their licensees are divided on whether royalty rates should be based on the wholesale price of the smart phone, tablet, or other device that contains the chip, or if the rate should be based on the percentage of the relevant chip at issue—a difference that can have significant consequences for the patent owner given that smart phone and devices typically costs hundreds of dollars, while chips may cost only tens of dollars.  In addition, the newly approved rules would limit patent holders such as Qualcomm from seeking injunctions or court intervention against licensees not properly paying the royalties.  For its part, the Department of Justice has also concluded the rule changes will favorably benefit competition and customers.  Without a doubt, as the demand for Wi-Fi and other means to send and receive data on mobile phones and devices continues to increase, the policies adopted by the IEEE will continue to have significant impact on its members.
  • Australia’s Senate passed the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Act of 2015, which introduces several reforms designed to better protect the rights of intellectual property holders.   Among the changes, the Act permits for a single patent application and examination process for innovators trying to obtain patent protection for the same invention in both Australia and New Zealand.  In addition, the Act implements a protocol of the Word Trade Organization, permitting generic drug manufacturers to manufacture patented drugs—i.e. those that are typically very costly—and export those medicines in instances where a developing country is experiencing a particular health epidemic.

Finally – Quantitative Easing In Europe: Will It Work?

The European Central Bank announced today an economic stimulus program designed to finally get the EU economy off its haunches. Will it work? The major stock markets were buoyed by Mario Draghi’s announcement on Thursday, with the DAX up 136, the FTSE100 up 69, the DOW up 260, NASDAQ up 83 and the S&P 500 up 31. However, the malaise in the EU is more broad-based than may be resolved by the adoption of a QE monetary policy intended to make credit more readily available. Significant unemployment exists in southern EU along with overspending. Of real interest is how long Germany and Greece at opposite ends of the EU economic spectrum, as well as those countries in between will be able to hold the course. How long will the populace in Italy, France, Spain, Greece and even Ireland support spending cuts and tax increases to eliminate their debt?

Draghi’s proposed stimulus program looks to buy bonds at the rate of 60 Billion Euros a month, up to an amount of 1.1 Trillion Euros. The announcement has already affected the value of the Dollar vs. the Euro, which had been in continuing slide for some time. The Dollar hit an eleven-year high against the Euro today. While the cheaper Euro will make European goods cheaper for Americans, it will likely have a continuing negative effect on US exports to the EU. Notwithstanding the impact on US exports, it seems that the markets welcomed Draghi’s action today with the hope that the EU members were finally able to come together to address their stagnating economy. Let’s hope that they can keep it together.

(Video) Streamlined Filing Program for Non-Residents with Offshore Assets

Melinda Fellner Bramwit’s video series wraps up this week as she discusses the details behind the streamlined filing program for non-residents with offshore assets.

(Video) Streamlined Filing Program for Residents with Offshore Assets

In part 5 of Melinda Fellner Bramwit’s video series, she discusses the details behind the streamlined filing program for residents with offshore assets. Make sure you check back next week as we close out the series!

REWIND: International Business News #99

In this week’s REWIND of international business news,

  • Trademark owners and applicants will be happy to learn that the cost of filing or renewing a trademark application will be a little lower in 2015.  Scheduled to take effect on January 17, 2015, the USPTO has reduced the cost of applications by $50, meaning that the fee for an application will go from $325 per class to $275 per class. To take advantage of the reduced rate, an applicant must agree to file all documents electronically and permit email communications with the Trademark Office.  In addition the Trademark Office will reduce the fee for a TEAS application to renew a registration by $100, with the fee going from $400 to $300 per class.  The reduced charges are an effect of the American Invents Act, which seeks to stress efficiency in the USPTO and increase the usage of electronic filing and processing of trademark applications.
  • In what may become a more common occurrence, Coca-Cola has filed trademark applications to register two Twitter hashtags.  The applications, which are for the hashtags “#smilewithacoke” and “#cokecanpics,” were filed with the Trademark Office in December. Though Coke is not the first entity to seek registration of a hashtag, this appears to be it’s first foray into seeking protection for parts of its social media campaigns, and may signal a growing trend in intellectual property protection.
  • According to a notice issued by its Central Government, China is seeking to triple the number of filed patents by 2020.  To further  its goal, the country indicated it will strengthen its laws and policies to better protect intellectual property.  In addition, China will try to reduce the amount of time to review and process patent and trademark applications; the country hopes to reduce the time to review patent applications from 22.3 months to 20.2, and the time to review trademark applications from 10 months to 9 months by 2020.
  • The names of iconic hotels, such as the Ahwahnee Hotel, and other concession properties in Yosemite National Park face the possibility of being changed.  The contract between the National Park Service and Delaware North, the entity that has run the concession properties in Yosemite for over 20 years, is scheduled to expire this year.  The Park Service is currently soliciting bids from companies to act as the park’s concession operator; this may result in someone other than Delaware North acting in this capacity.  Delaware North has asserted that if that is the case,  any such new entity would have to pay them $51 million to acquire its “intangible assets,” which include the trademark registrations for all of the concession properties in Yosemite.  While it is not clear if Delaware North will truly be able to assert and enforce its ownership claims over the registered marks, there is a possibility the Park Service may change the names to avoid becoming embroiled in a legal dispute.

(Video) Opting-out of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program

This week, Melinda Fellner Bramwit discusses opting-out of the offshore voluntary disclosure program and how and why one would go about doing this. Check in next week to learn about the streamlined filing program.

(VIDEO) Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program – Why Should You Disclose Your Offshore Assets?

In part 3 of her video series, Melinda Fellner Bramwit answers the difficult question of why one should come forward to the IRS about any offshore assets they may have.

Stay tuned next week to learn about opting out of the offshore voluntary disclosure program.

Increased Federal Scrutiny Warrants Another Look at I-9 Compliance

Last month, we talked about 1-9 requirements here.

This month, I was interviewed by The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel regarding I-9 Compliance.

Below is a more detailed description of I-9 requirements and steps a company can take to avoid inadvertent errors:

The I-9 form is required for every employee of the company, including its officers, executives or partners. It is important to remember that the review and certification of an employee’s documents must be done in person with the original documents. The I-9 must be filled out prior to the start of employment, and the employee must be given the option to choose the documents required to prove employment eligibility. The company cannot dictate which documents should be used. In addition, where employees have authorization for only a limited period of time, the company should be certain they have a calendaring system that allows them to be reminded to re-verify in a timely manner. It is also important to remember that in the case of former employees, companies are required to retain I-9 forms for a period of at least three years from the date of hire or for one year after the employee is no longer employed, whichever is longer. Once outside that period, it is a good idea to dispose of those I-9s as you are not required to keep them on file. I-9s kept on file after the mandatory retention period can still be found violative if they are not compliant. I always recommend that a company undergo internal audits on a periodic basis to make sure that their paperwork is in order. It is important that the company have only a limited group of people who are trained specifically in preparing the I-9 and maintaining the files. This helps to prevent errors. If the internal staff is not well trained in I-9 compliance, then it is further recommended that the company hire an attorney to supervise an audit. When I prepare an audit for a company, in addition to looking for errors to correct, I also keep an eye out for particular trends or tendencies that may lead to repeat errors. Tendencies I often see include paperwork that is not properly signed, missing documentation, reliance on the wrong type of documentation – e.g. a passport or visa instead of an approval notice that lists the document’s expiration – and not tracking expirations, or tracking expirations but not re-verifying the initial document. Once my review is complete, I not only correct the errors, but also prepare a report that companies can use to show good faith compliance efforts should they receive an audit. Finally, I will meet with the HR staff to train and educate them on what they are doing incorrectly so that they can be more efficient and accurate in the future.

Check out the full interview here.

Happy Holidays from BWOB!

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous and Peaceful New Year!