Media & technology

Tech product recalls: How good is your Product Safety Incident Plan?
18 April, 2018

Whist it may seem, thankfully, a relatively rare thing for tech products to be recalled, those incidents that have hit the headlines in recent years (remember the Samsung Note?) cause a lot of brand damage, in addition to hitting manufacturers and retailers in the pocket.  Managed well, however, the result can underline a company’s commitment to its customers and their safety and in some cases even strengthen a brand.  So it is important to get the process right.  

The Government’s new Office for Safety and Standards teamed up with the British Standards Institute to launch, last month (March 2018), a new code of practice on product recalls (“the Code”).  This may be a good starting point for your business if you haven’t got a detailed plan in place for product recalls, or if you have a plan but haven’t reviewed it in a while.

The guidance is aimed at all sizes of businesses, and deals with issues affecting manufacturers, retailers and distributors (B2B and B2C).  Issues covered are:

  • how a business can plan for a recall, including establishing mechanisms to deal with any product safety issue identified;
  • managing a possible safety related product recall or other corrective action;
  • establishing mechanisms to monitor the safety of products;
  • investigating any potential product safety issue; and
  • reviewing corrective action programmes to ensure that product safety responsibilities continue to be met

The guidance also covers what should go into a product safety incident plan (“PSIP”), focusing on:

  • understanding where all component parts come from and ensuring that traceability records up and down the supply chain are clear and up to date; and
  • having in place detailed plans to cover:
  • monitoring to enable the swift identification of product safety-related trends;
  • risk assessment and root cause analysis processes;
  • legal notification requirements
  • internal and external communications; and
  • corrective action decision-making.

It’s also key not to under-estimate the importance of co-operation with regulators.   Make sure you understand the regulatory framework surrounding your product and any recalls and what regulators’ likely approach may be if possible.  It has been suggested that the Government intends the Code to be seen as mandatory, and so will be expecting businesses to follow it, but in any case the Code may also provide useful insight into what guidance regulators will be expected to follow in this context and therefore what you can expect from your interaction with them.

Having an up to date plan in place which you can implement quickly will help you take the right action to protect consumers, and therefore you and your business.


Will Brexit affect your IP rights?
17 April, 2018

For those of you who missed it, the European Commission and the UK have recently published a revised draft withdrawal agreement (the agreement which will govern the UK’s withdrawal from the EU). It confirms that some significant issues have now been agreed including those provisions relating to the protection and enforcement of IP rights in the UK post-Brexit.  The agreed provisions will help to create a ‘smooth’ transition, enabling rights holders of registered pan-EU IP rights full and seamless protection following the Brexit ‘transition period’.

Up until recently, the post-Brexit position of registered pan-EU IP rights belonging to individuals and businesses operating in the UK remained uncertain; the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would prima facie have the effect of invalidating such IP rights in the UK. Negotiating parties from Europe and the UK have, however, come to an agreement in principle for the majority of terms surrounding IP which will effectively validate certain EU IP rights in the UK.

The impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on 29 March 2019 will be softened by a transitional period between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020, during which time the UK will remain part of the EU (commonly referred to as a ‘soft Brexit’). After the transition period, owners of Community wide trademarks and designs (EU trade mark registrations, Community designs, and Community plant variety rights) will “without any re-examination, become the holders of a comparable registered and enforceable right in the UK”.

This effectively means that IP owners will automatically be granted the UK equivalent right at no cost to the rights holder. Protection must have ben obtained prior to the end of the transition period for the transfer of IP to take effect. Similarly, IP rights that have been exhausted in the UK and the EU prior to the end of the transition period will remain exhausted in the UK and EU.

The key IP provisions are still in draft form and therefore subject to negotiation. For example, there are ongoing negotiations concerning the protection of geographical indications (for products like ‘Parma ham’). Watch this space for updates.

For further information on the effect of Brexit on your business’ IP, or for general IP advice, get in touch with phil.bilney@cripps.co.uk.


Could venture capital be an option for your tech business?
20 March, 2018

 “It has never been less expensive to start a software company…”

(Will Bowmer, Managing Director, Lincoln International LLC)

Initial start up may be achievable for tech businesses from a combination of savings, loans from family and friends and early bank finance.  However, most  companies looking to scale-up will require some form of funding, and securing this by way of traditional bank funding may not be attractive or feasible.  “Venture capital” is therefore one of the most important sources of funding to early stage, rapidly growing tech companies in the U.K., who together attract around one-third of all venture capital money available in Europe.

Examples of successful tech companies that received venture capital backing in their early stages include Google, Facebook, Skype and Skyscanner. 

 

Venture capital 101

Venture capital provides finance and operational expertise for entrepreneurs and start-up companies in exchange for equity.  The main types of venture capital investment come from angel / corporate investors (i.e. individuals / companies who invest their own wealth), crowdfunding (online platforms that aggregate small amounts of money from a large number of individuals), or via venture capital funds, which pool together funds from various parties including institutional investors like pension funds and universities. 

The main difference between “private equity” and venture capital comes down to the age of the company in which money is invested.  Typically, private equity investors will invest in mature companies that have been in operation for many years.  Conversely, venture capitalists will invest in new, high risk start-up businesses that have the potential to offer strong growth. 

Venture capitalists usually take minority stakes in your business alongside other investors and will often participate in more than one round of fundraising (typically holding investments for between five and seven years).

 

Venture capital trends for 2018

It is predicted that tech start-ups will continue to dominate the venture capital investment market in the U.K.  Within the tech sphere, the following are some trends to watch out for in 2018:

  • Cyber security – corporate and consumer concerns regarding data integrity will fuel developments in mobile and cloud technology.
  • Consumer healthcare – the pressing need to develop more efficient medical treatments and ease access to healthcare services will drive this sector forward.
  • Robotics – making companies more efficient through the use of robotics will help streamline the way businesses operate meaning many tech companies are focusing on developing new and innovative technologies.

 

What do venture capitalists really want?

Overall, investors are looking for much more than a “nice idea” backed up by a few early sales.  Essentially, it comes down to two things: the make up of your leadership team; and the future earning potential of your business. Venture capitalists are looking for businesses with the potential to grow exponentially and those that they think will provide a good return on exit for example from an IPO (stock market float) or M&A event.   Therefore, more often than not the business idea needs to be one that appeals to the mass market – usually achieved by offering a product and /or service that is a “must have” or solves an every day problem. Although the business does not necessarily have to be offering “breakthrough” tech to be an attractive proposition.

 

For more information as to how Cripps can assist your business to deal with its investment and fundraising needs please contact Laura Wilson by email (laura.wilson@cripps.co.uk) or by phone (01892 506 047).

 

For updates from us and the latest Tech news follow us on Twitter @CrippsTechLaw


Government announces review of law in preparation for driverless cars
15 March, 2018

In its 2017 Industrial Strategy the Government said that it “wants to see fully self-driving cars, without a human operator, on UK roads by 2021”.

In keeping with the Government’s focus on the development and implementation of driverless technologies, the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission are conducting a joint 3 year review of driving laws.

The review will consider such matters as: who is ultimately “responsible” for a driverless vehicle; how civil and criminal responsibility should be allocated when a human and a machine share control; how driverless vehicles will play a part in public transport networks; and whether new crimes will need to be created in relation to the conduct of or interference with driverless cars.

Steps already taken towards a driverless future

The Government has already committed a great deal of resources to the development of driverless cars.

The draft Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill 2017-2019 was introduced to parliament on Wednesday 18 October 2017. The Bill addresses liability for accidents, public electronic charging points, and hydrogen refuelling points.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has already highlighted existing practical barriers to the implementation of an automated vehicle network. At present local authorities are responsible for their roads, which poses challenges if automated vehicles are to rely on connectivity and universal systems across districts. A related concern is the level of broadband available; in some parts of the UK this is poor, or non existent.

Economic and other benefits of driverless cars

It is not difficult to imagine the large range of benefits that driverless cars could bring. Hailing a driverless car as and when needed (“Uber” style) might reduce the millions of parked cars which obstruct so many residential roads. Fewer parked cars would ease traffic congestion. Vehicles that communicate via a network could drive closer to one another, at greater speed, and could negate the need for traffic lights as a means of controlling traffic flows. The removal of human error would lead to greater road safety: the USA’s Eno Centre for Transportation has stated that if 90% cars were fully automated then road accidents would reduce by 80%.

In addition to these potential practical benefits, automated vehicles present an economic opportunity for the UK. The Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles produced a report last year which estimated that the global market for driverless cars and other vehicles could be £970 billion by 2035. The UK share of that market could be worth £30 – £57 billion, depending on early development and adoption.

Considering the economic benefits alone, it is clear why the Government is keen to push driverless technologies and invest resources in reviewing the laws that can help to make them an every day reality.


Grumpy Cat wins copyright case – not so grumpy anymore!
7 February, 2018

Copyright: mdorottya / 123RF Stock Photo. For legal reasons, we have not used an image of the actual Grumpy Cat.

The owner of a world famous and perpetually grumpy feline has been awarded $710,000 (£500,000) in a copyright dispute over the use of the image and name ‘Grumpy Cat’. This is the first ever recorded case where a meme has been given legal rights, and a lawyer representing the cat’s owner stated in an interview that the verdict could set a legal precedent.

 ‘Grumpy Cat Limited’ was founded by the owner of Grumpy Cat in order to promote and protect the use of the Grumpy Cat brand.

A coffee company, ‘Grenade’, were granted the right to use this brand on the drink ‘grumpuccino’ in a deal worth $150,000. A dispute arose when Grenade started using Grumpy Cat’s image to launch a whole line of products. The result was that Grumpy Cat Limited sued Grenade for trademark infringement and breach of contract. A jury in California has now ruled that Grenade exceeded their authority in the use of this right and were in copyright infringement.

The cat, whose real name is Tardar Sauce, became famous in around 2012 after photos of her went viral online. Rumours, which the owner has denied, suggest that the cat is now worth an estimated $100 million. So the use of this brand is potentially big money.

As this is a US case it is not binding on English judges, though it is likely to be highly persuasive in future UK copyright disputes over the use of a meme.

In the UK, the purpose of copyright law is to reward authors for the creation of original works (i.e. works the author has expended independent effort to create). Infringement of copyright can result in civil and criminal repercussions.

In light of this decision, it will be interesting to see what developments could be in store for other memes. As ever, social media is a brave new world!

 

If you are interested in copyright or intellectual property infringement, or would like an explanation of just who on earth Grumpy Cat is, please contact Joanna Ford at joanna.ford@cripps.co.uk.


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