Law Briefs Featured

9:55am EDT July 22, 2002

Congress is again debating a bill that could give commercial database developers and operators intellectual property-type protection for data they compile and resell.

The Collections of Information Antipiracy Act would protect databases, whose development and maintenance require significant investment of capital and other resources, against unlicensed copying. Data piracy has flourished as improvements in technology make it possible to quickly download and duplicate data from the Internet and CDs anywhere in the world.

Small businesses have a keen interest in the outcome of the debate. The bill would give database developers an incentive — in the form of enhanced intellectual property-type rights — to create and provide access to databases. Depending on the final version of the bill, however, businesses may find access to existing data restricted.

Five steps to protecting confidential information

1. Identify and label confidential information.

2. Make employees aware of what is confidential and limit access to those with a need to know.

3. Physically protect and document distribution of confidential information.

4. Have employees and outsiders given access to confidential information sign confidentiality agreements.

5. Document exit interviews with departing employees, reminding them of their obligation of confidentiality and recovering copies of confidential materials.

While taking these five steps won’t guarantee that someone won’t steal your confidential information, they will strengthen your case if you catch an employee or former employee doing it. And a court more likely will believe that you made a serious effort to safeguard information vital to your company’s business.

The value of Internet domain names

A U.S. Circuit Court in Virginia has ruled that a company’s domain name is as much an asset as any tangible property and that it can auctioned off to pay debts.

The ruling comes from a trademark infringement case in which Umbro International sued an individual who had registered its trademark as a domain name and then asked the company for payment. Umbro won the case, and the Circuit Court ruled that the individual’s other domain names can be auctioned off to pay Umbro’s legal costs.

Network Solutions (NSI), the company responsible for registering domain names, claimed in a court filing that it does not sell, but leases, domain names, and they therefore cannot be owned by anyone except NSI. The court held that a domain name is a form of intellectual property that can be garnished just as a patent can be.

The ruling also gives businesses clear leverage over domain name pirates and speculators in their battles to protect their trademarks.

OSHA proposes safety equipment cost changes

Small businesses can breathe a sigh of relief if a proposed OSHA rule change is implemented. Under the new standard, employers will no longer have to pay for steel-toed safety shoes, logging boots and prescription eyewear under the following circumstances:

  • The employer permits the footwear and eyewear to be worn off the job site.

  • They are not used at work in a way that makes them unsafe for use off the job site.

  • They are not designed for special use on the job.

The new rule, in effect, relieves small businesses of the requirement to buy employees equipment that they could use — and wear out — for purposes not related to the job. Nor will employers be required to provide personal-protection equipment not required previously.

Negotiation before litigation

Under a ruling published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in February, litigants in complex job safety cases involving large penalties will be required to participate in settlement negotiations before a trial is scheduled.

The ruling inaugurates a one-year pilot program under which all cases appealed to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission involving proposed penalties above $200,000 will be subject to formal settlement talks.

The pilot program, OSHA says, should speed resolution of such cases, lowering the costs associated with them, which will particularly benefit businesses.

SBA provides Y2K relief

Congress has required the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a loan program to provide relief to small businesses coping with Y2K problems.

The Small Business Year 2000 Readiness Act provides funding to guarantee loans made by private lenders to small businesses to offset the cost of Y2K repairs and any economic damage sustained from Y2K glitches.

Small businesses facing burdensome Y2K remediation costs can benefit from the loan program, but should not put off steps to prevent problems. Each lender participating in the SBA’s business loan program is eligible to participate in the Y2K loan program.

Law Briefs is written by attorneys from Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, a national law firm based in Pittsburgh.