Types of Confidentiality Agreements for Business

Confidentiality Agreements

Should Your Business Use Confidentiality Agreements?  

Should your company use confidentiality agreements?  If your business has information it needs (or wants) to keep out of the public domain, then yes. Information of this type may include:

  • Certain types of intellectual properties
  • Company information disclosed to potential investors and investors identities
  • Customer lists
  • Employee salaries
  • Independent contractor identities
  • Research and development assets
  • Suppliers identities
  • Tax returns
  • Trade secrets, etc.

As a general rule, once information enters the public domain, you can’t make it private. You have to be proactive.

Three Types of Confidentiality Agreements 

1)        Confidentiality Agreement

This agreement can be used when the involved Parties agree to hold the information disclosed in “strict confidence.” When the Parties become adverse or one of the Parties is seeking to avoid the terms of the Confidentiality Agreement, the Parties may argue over:

  • What was the information disclosed in “strict confidence?” (It is helpful to specifically identify the information covered in the Confidentiality Agreement itself)
  • What the Party receiving the disclosed information must do with the information
  • Which State’s law controls the provisions of the Agreement
  • Where the venue and personal jurisdiction will be, should litigation become necessary

2)        Confidentiality and Evaluation (CE) Agreement

Potential Patent rights (or Patent rights) can be the subject of a CE Agreement. A CE Agreement specifies that the subject matter disclosed is to be held in “strict confidence” and that the information is provided solely for the purpose of evaluation.  In the event one Party is dissatisfied with the CE Agreement, the same issues as identified in the above (Confidentiality Agreement) section will apply here. Additionally, this type of agreement will need to specify:

  • Is audible disclosure a disclosure to be held in “strict confidence?”
  • Is visual disclosure a disclosure to be held in “strict confidence?”
  • What happens when the Party receiving the disclosure evaluates the audible or verbal disclosure outside the jurisdiction where the Parties are domiciled?

This matters because any public disclosure related to potential Patent rights (prior to the filing of the Patent Application) can bar any future Patent related to the disclosed information

3)        Confidentiality, Evaluation and Noncompetition (CEN) Agreement

As with the two agreement types above, almost anything that one Party wants to be kept in “strict confidence” can be the subject matter of a CEN Agreement. Along with Confidentiality and Evaluation, a CEN Agreement also includes a Noncompetition (anywhere in the world) provision for the Party receiving the information. Whenever possible, Business Patent Law, PLLC recommends its clients use a CEN Agreement.

In the event one Party is dissatisfied with the CE Agreement, the same issues as identified in Sections 1) and 2) above, may also be grounds for argument between the Parties.

An example of when a CEN Agreement might be used: Private/nonpublic companies often have corporate bylaws that require shareholders to execute CEN Agreements before shareholders can be issued stock.

If a Business Fails to Use Confidentiality-Type Agreements 

Unless some type of Agreement between the Parties is executed, the disclosing Party has minimal legal recourse against the receiving Party repeating publically the disclosed information or using the disclosed information for another reason.

Here are a few ways such disclosures could become a problem:

  • Public disclosure of the company’s private information will likely temporarily disrupt the company’s operations
  • What would happen if all the company’s employees were aware of each employee’s salary?
  • What would happen if the company’s competitors were aware of the company’s research and development information?
  • A trade secret disclosed publicly is no longer secret and the secret is lost forever

What You Need To Know About Confidentiality Agreements

  • Confidentiality Agreements between trustworthy Parties can improve profits for both companies
  • The bargaining power of the Parties tends to influence the type of Confidentiality Agreement executed  (A publicly traded company will likely have a Confidentiality-type Agreement that is more favorable to the publicly traded company when contracting with a business having annual sales of $2M)
  • Bad actors tend to exploit the other Party to a contract (Character of the Parties matters)
  • Agreements executed between Parties who were not represented by legal counsel may be unenforceable
  • Confidentiality Agreements that were drafted for a first purpose may not be acceptable for a second (but similar) purpose
  • Without the advice of legal counsel, parties my draft contracts for almost anything they feel is important at the time the contract was allegedly executed (Some of these contracts may be enforceable, some may not)
  • If the alleged contract is only partially in writing, there may be issues when memories fade ten years later  (Get it in writing)
  • Perspective matters (Three different eyewitnesses can witness the same event and three distinct testimonies may be offered into evidence)
  • Written, properly executed agreements can minimize business disruptions

If you have questions about intellectual properties or agreements, please contact Business Patent Law, PLLC. We are here to help you grow your business and protect your intellectual properties.

If you would like to stay up-to-date with news that impacts your intellectual property, sign up for Business Patent Law’s Monthly Mailer™ newsletter.

Representing Yourself for Trademarks and Patents

Representing Yourself for Patents & Trademarks: Going “Pro Se”

Pro Se USPTO Representation

Pro se” is a Latin phrase meaning “for himself.” Under United States law, an Applicant can represent himself/herself/itself before the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).

Can a pro se Applicant achieve favorable results from a USPTO Examiner? Maybe. Maybe not. Success may depend on the legal skill of the Applicant.

What is a “Favorable Result” for a Pro Se Applicant?

Favorable results include attributes such as:

  • Defensibility against an allegation of unpatentability
  • The durability of the patent or trademark
  • Enforceability
  • The scope of rights granted by the USPTO to the Applicant

Three Primary Types of USPTO Representations 

An Applicant can be a large company, a small company, a partnership, a trust, an individual, or another entity.

Large Businesses

Many large companies have “in-house” intellectual property attorneys who represent the large companies before the USPTO. If an “in-house” attorney fails to meet management’s objectives, the large company usually will hire another attorney who will meet the large company’s objectives.

For legal matters before the courts or other tribunals, large companies usually hire one or more “outside counsels” to represent the company. Sometimes, these intellectual property cases can have more than a billion dollars in potential damages.

Small Businesses with Resources

Small companies with sufficient revenues usually retain smaller intellectual property law firms to represent their company before the USPTO and the courts or other tribunals. The USPTO defines a small business as a legal entity with 500 or fewer employees.

Small Businesses, Start-ups or Individuals on a Tight Budget

Sometimes, small companies, start-ups or individuals opt for pro se representation before the USPTO, based solely on their budget limitations. Pro se representation by a non-lawyer may achieve favorable results for the Applicant. According to the USPTO database, it appears that favorable results tend to be more closely associated with Trademark Applications than with Patent Applications.

Be aware: if the pro se Applicant’s results are not favorable, the expense of hiring an intellectual property attorney in an attempt to achieve better results will likely be much more costly than it would have been to retain an attorney at the beginning of the process. Unfortunately for the Applicant, sometimes the facts associated with the Application are so unfavorable that issues with the Application cannot be corrected.

What if the USPTO Says No?

What can a pro se Applicant do when an Examiner refuses to approve the Applicant’s Mark for registration? What does the pro se Applicant (and now owner of a federal Registration) do when a USPTO Opposition or Cancellation Proceeding is initiated against the owner’s Federal Registration?

Business Patent Law’s Recommendation:  seek the advice of an intellectual property attorney who has experience practicing before the US Trademark Office. The experienced professional may be able to correct or resolve the Trademark Application issues and preserve the Applicant’s procedural and substantive rights.

What if an Examiner makes your Patent Application Rejection Final? 

The Patent Applicant’s options can include filing one of the following:

  • An Appeal
  • A Request for Continued Examination
  • A Continuation Application
  • A Divisional Application

An Applicant may also allow the Application to go abandoned.

Business Patent Law’s Recommendation: seek the advice of a patent attorney who has experience practicing before the US Patent Office. There is no substitute for a seasoned patent attorney representing the Applicant before the US Patent Office.

Meeting USPTO deadlines       

When seeking an intellectual property attorney to commence representation of a previous pro se Applicant, it is essential that an attorney be contacted with adequate time remaining before the USPTO deadline.  A well-seasoned intellectual property attorney will likely refuse to take on a previous pro se matter when notified only days before the deadline.

If you have questions about intellectual properties and representation before the United States Patent & Trademark Office, please contact Business Patent Law, PLLC and we will discuss possibilities for your business and intellectual properties.

If you would like to stay up-to-date with news that impacts your intellectual property, sign up for Business Patent Law’s Monthly Mailer™ newsletter.

Entrepreneurs Small Business Startup Advice

Advice for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses

Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses

In the United States there are approximately 29,000,000 small businesses. Most of these small businesses are founded by one or more entrepreneurs. One US Small Business Administration (SBA) measure for defining a small business is: a small business has 500 or fewer employees. According to the SBA, of these 29 million small businesses, approximately 23,000,000 small businesses do not have any employees.

In the United States, approximately one-half of all jobs are supplied by small businesses, so there is a correlation between more small businesses and increased availability of jobs.

Entrepreneurs Create Small Businesses

First, the entrepreneur conceives the invention/product/service and/or business model. Then that entrepreneur will develop a method to commercialize the invention/product/service. According to the SBA, each year more small businesses “are birthed than die.” Over the years, BPL has witnessed entrepreneurs who fail to realistically approach the problem of anti-commercialization forces that result in the death of small businesses. At the same time, those entrepreneurs who do persist can create small businesses that have 100 or more employees with annual sales of 200 million dollars or more.

The owners of a $200MM small business usually have a group of trusted advisors in place, but what about startups?

Entrepreneur Advice and Startup Considerations

If you are one of the 23 million small business owners, entrepreneurs or start-ups, you should:

  • Think and rethink the invention/product/service
  • Discover competitors and discern how your invention/product/service is different – your market niche is likely narrower than you originally thought
  • Determine how to make a profit in your niche market
  • Seek and listen to the advice of other successful small business owners
  • File Intellectual Property Applications – if your market and price point(s) justify the filings
  • Patents owned by startups provide the owners a limited monopoly to prevent others from making, using, offering for sale or selling their patented invention
  • Investors appear to like small businesses with Intellectual Property portfolios
  • Prepare a business plan
  • Commence assembling your team of trusted advisors – mentors first – then accountants, attorneys, engineers, insurance professionals, investors, lenders, and scientists, etc.

Many small business owners reap large financial rewards when the small businesses are sold to a third party.

Get Help With Your Small Business Venture

Business Patent Law, PLLC would like to assist you with your small business or Intellectual Property needs.  Please contact Business Patent Law, PLLC and we will discuss possibilities for your business.

If you would like to stay up-to-date with news that impacts your Intellectual Property, sign up for Business Patent Law’s Monthly Mailer™ newsletter.