How To Stay Software Compliant And Avoid Big Trouble

How To Stay Software Compliant And Avoid Big Trouble

Your small business may not operate on a national or global level, but as a software user on any level, you are subject to licensing agreement laws. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted software is more common than you think. Not thinking about it will also lead to legal trouble, like the $3 million penalty the City of Denver recently paid to Oracle. Examples of misuse include sharing, downloading, selling, or installing multiple copies of licensed software. Other examples are installing a piece of software more times than the license permits and sharing software license codes, activation keys, or user IDs and passwords for web-based software applications. It is equally as important to protect your business’s intellectual property as it is to protect it from threatening audits or penalties. A small business attorney will help keep you compliant and protected. This post will discuss:

  1. Different types of software licenses,
  2. Impact and consequences of unlicensed software, and
  3. Precautions concerning software and license choices every small business should take.

1. Staying Legal With Software Licenses

According to Wikipedia, a software license is a legal contract that governs the use or redistribution of software. All software is copyright protected, and a license grants the licensee/end-user specific permission to use one or more copies of the software. One exception is public domain software, where the software has been put into the public domain for anyone to use. Another exception to typical proprietary software is open source. Open source software is under copyright, but this type of license grants users the right to modify, reuse, and share the product while protecting the copyright holders from legal liability. One of the most popular of these licenses is a GNU General Public License, which takes measures to ensure that your software stays open source even if modified or redistributed. Other open source licenses include GNU Lesser General Public License, Apache License, MIT License, and BSD License. There are varying levels of complexity and restrictions among the different open source licenses each with their own benefits. A small business lawyer will help you determine what type of software and licenses are right for your business.

2. Impact And Consequences Of Failure To Comply With Software Licensing Laws

Software licensing or compliance audits are conducted to improve software distribution and to avoid or determine copyright infringement. Not only can an infringement result in your software being disabled, but it can lead to civil as well as criminal penalties. Unlicensed software also exposes businesses and consumers to security threats, like malware, ransomware, spyware, and viruses. A CBS Denver news story reveals that, as a result of the city’s violation of licensing agreements with Oracle, Denver taxpayers will pay millions of dollars more in 2017. The article states that Oracle threatened a $10 million penalty but settled for $3 million. Chief Information Officer for Denver Technology Services Scott Cardenas did not say how the city became out of compliance, only that the city has entered a new five-year contract with Oracle that is a “true-up” or balancing of its licensing with Oracle. A Forbes article indicates that companies, like Oracle, are giving more audit and breach notices, leaving businesses prone to losing their software programs and much more. It is easier than ever to fall out of compliance with the changing nature of software products and evolution of IT infrastructure. Your small business attorney will ensure your business stays compliant in order to avoid costly fines or loss of your current database.

3. Precautions When Considering Your Software And License Choices

Small businesses can learn valuable lessons from big entities and their mistakes or misfortunes with software licensing compliance. There are numerous precautions you should take to keep your small business out of big trouble. It is essential to find the right software and license fit for your company. Once you have done this, follow a checklist as it applies to your business.

  1. Keep an organized record of purchase orders, contracts, paid invoices, retail and other receipts for purchase, and original license certificates;
  2. Audit software installed on any desktop, portable, virtual computer, server, or personal computer/device used for company purposes;
  3. Compare and match software product names, version numbers, and types of licenses;
  4. Establish a company policy regarding software usage; and
  5. Monitor ongoing usage.

A small business attorney will ensure you have taken the necessary precautions and represent you in the event of a software licensing violation.

If you need help with software compliance or your small business contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Why Your Small Business Website May Benefit from a Creative Commons License

Why Your Small Business Website May Benefit from a Creative Commons License

What small business owner wouldn’t love to see a bit of content he or she put up on the web, or a marketing campaign he or she launched on YouTube become known around the world? Especially if that content could generate just the right amount of new business! Everyone likes the idea of their content being shared, but no one wants to see their content stolen. This post will discuss the ways your small business website may benefit from a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons explains what they do:

[Creative Commons is a] digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

You might be thinking, “but I have a copyright symbol in the footer of my website!” In fact, creative work is protected in the United States the moment it is created – it belongs in that instant to the author. But there is a lot more to copyrights and licensing than you might think. When you mark your website with the copyright symbol, as most small business owners do, you are reiterating in effect, that visitors to your site cannot use your content without your express permission. Adding a license to your content, or portions of your content, is a way to define what parts you are willing to share and under what circumstances. If that sharing leads to more business for you, you want to make sharing easy! A copyright, in effect, may have the opposite effect.

Social Sharing of Small Business Website Content

Just a side note – when I say sharing in this context, I am not referring to the share buttons used for social sharing of small business website content that link to social media and allow people to share your content on their social feeds. These types of shares actually belong to the social media site you connected your web site to; in this sense you “released” your ownership of that content in the specific form it takes when shared on the social media site. In terms of licensing, I’m talking about specific creative works of your own, from your site, that people may want to share in their entirety. Examples might include detailed, informative blog posts, infographics, tools or calculators you created, and apps that you authored.

When to Use a Creative Commons License

It’s not hard to determine when to use a Creative Commons license; if you are creating content online and want to see it shared outside of social media, you should probably license it. A Creative Commons license can be in helpful in a couple of ways: First, it provides you with a simple way to license the content so that the intended use is well documented, which protects your legal position. Second, a clearly stated license will offer reassurances to someone who may want to share your content, but would be unwilling to do so if your intentions about sharing are not clearly stated. If you have creations you want circulated on the web, where a thumbs up from someone else has more value than anything you could ever say about your own work, then you may want to use a Creative Commons license. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, once you select and apply a license, your newly licensed content will be included in the Creative Commons repository and can be searched, discovered, used, and shared by people who need content to share and are looking for exactly the type of content you have created! How much will it cost to have your content included? Creative Commons is free, but you have the opportunity to donate.

Which Creative Commons License You Should Choose

As with so many things where there are repercussions, the best answer is… it depends. Which Creative Commons license you should choose is determined by your intentions and situation. But don’t worry, CC has come up with a simple license picker to help you decide on the best license for your particular situation. If you get stuck, use the handy Creative Commons FAQ.

A Creative Commons license isn’t for everyone – but there are benefits in the right situation. If you need help understanding when and if your small business website may benefit from a Creative Commons license, or have other questions about your intellectual property, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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3 Things to Know Before Starting an Online Business

It seems simple – no lease to sign, no building to maintain or insure, fewer employees to manage. Online is easy, and starting up a new business is as simple as building a website! Only, it’s not. More often than not, I end up helping small business owners with issues they could have avoided if they had sought advice before starting an online business.

Based on the issues I am most often asked to address after the fact, there are three things I would advise a new online startup to understand before jumping in:

  1. What type of business form is correct for my situation?
  2. What type of control am I giving to my web developer?
  3. How will I terminate an advertising and promotions contract?

The Correct Form for an Online Business

The rules governing your information technology company, information services company, or online business are different than a traditional brick-and-mortar business. There are the typical business formation questions; should you form your business as a corporation or LLC, for example. But it is also important to understand the legal implications of having a brick-and-mortar store with an online presence, or even transitioning your brick-and-mortar store to being solely online. And while it may look more affordable to ditch the brick-and-mortar storefront for a website, your agreement with the company that creates and maintains a website for you is in many ways similar to a lease. Signing a contract with a questionable company can cause you just as much grief as bad landlord.

Controlling Your Online Assets

With the growth of the internet and information technologies, more and more businesses are based completely online. An online business can include online advertising, a social media presence, and online sales of physical products, all of which come with their own set of legal ramifications. Whether your business is an information technology business, IT services business, supplements its income with an online store, or is completely online, you will probably be signing contracts with web development firms who will help you build and maintain your website. It is crucial that you understand what you are agreeing to when you allow someone to build a website for you. I hear stories all the time from developers such as:

I was being asked to build a third website for her, after two previous contractors failed to deliver a finished product, or failed to deliver a quality product. When I attempted to set up her new site, I found the previous developer had moved her domain, which she had owned and had control of for many years. She had given them permission to do so, but she didn’t understand that she was giving up control of her URL when she did. In addition, the company she contracted with to build her previous site had been controlling and filtering her email. She spent days on the phone trying to end the contract and get her domain and email back, and she lost much of her email history, and all of her website content in the process.

Unfortunately, this is a typical and frustrating scenario I hear from newcomers to online businesses. Another stumbling block I see small business owners encounter as they enter the online world involves contracts with companies that offer to help with advertising and promotion.

Promoting Your Online Business

Promoting your online business comes with it’s own set of concerns, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to help you. Some contracts tie you to a service regardless of whether or not it performs well for you – in this case, what you don’t know about social media, advertising, and promoting a business online can really hurt you. Again, a trusted advisor who understands internet technologies, and online business promotion can really help here. Until you have some experience and know what works for you, ask someone who does to recommend a company that can do it for you, or train you to do it yourself.

Even if you are an experienced entrepreneur, you will face challenges as you enter the online world and perhaps encounter unscrupulous actors offering to help you launch an online business. An attorney can help you make sure that important assets, such as your domain name, remain in your control. It is also very important that a clear means for you to retain the contents and coding for your website exists, even if you choose to end the relationship with the contractor or company that builds it for you. These, and other concerns can be avoided just by getting a good referral to a reputable firm. An attorney with a strong background in IT and online business practice can guide you to reputable firms, and make sure the contracts you sign are fair.

If you need guidance concerning the formation of your online business, or help reviewing a contract with a web developer or firm offering to promote your business online, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Patent Accessibility for Small Business Owners

Patent Accessibility for Small Business Owners

Patents and the Small Business Owner

While some people launching a small business for the first time might not have legal help at the top of their mind, most everyone would agree that even thinking about pursuing a patent means it’s time to call an attorney. While your lawyer will probably agree that legal advice is a good idea when it comes to patent applications, there are things you can do on your own in the early stages.

Legal Help When You Need It

Giant corporations can afford to keep attorneys on staff or on retainer. If you’re a small business owner, you probably have to budget carefully for legal advice. The good news is there is a great deal of free information and support available from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO). They offer good early planning advice and ideas that can be a big help to hopeful entrepreneurs considering a patent. If this describes you, check out the Getting Started section of their website that includes a patent basics section with good information on Types of Patent Applications, Process Overview, Using Legal Services, and Inventor Resources.

However, much of the material is written for lawyers, not laymen. For example, you can download the 36 page guide to filing a design patent, but you may be dismayed by the opening paragraph:

Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.

Huh? Not to worry! There is plenty of simple, straight forward advice on researching your business idea to see if someone already holds a trademark, copyright, or patent on it. And while you may not yet be entirely clear about what type of patent you are filing for, the USTPO has a good FAQ page where you can start to explore the possibility of obtaining a patent for your idea. Here are a couple of tips from the FAQ section you will want to consider:

1. Avoid Being Scammed
The USTPO recommends that you check on the reputation of an invention promotion firm before engaging one to help you in the patent process – something you can do easily online or on their website.

2. Get Help from the IAC
The Inventors Assistance Center (IAC) provides patent information and services to the public and is staffed by former Supervisory Patent Examiners, experienced Primary Patent Examiners, various intellectual property specialists and attorneys who can answer general questions (but cannot give legal advice).

How to Contact the IAC
Hours: Monday – Friday, 8:30 AM – 8:00 PM (ET), except federal holidays
Toll-free: 800-PTO-9199 (800-786-9199)
Local: 571-272-1000
TDD/TTY customers can dial 800-877-8339 for customer assistance

Greater Clarity, Better Service

While the patent process is complicated, the USTPO has recently launched the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI) to strengthen their “work products, processes, services, and how we measure patent quality at all stages of the patent process.” While this may not translate into an immediate do-it-yourself model for patent applications, it does have Denver-area intellectual property lawyers hopeful about a more streamlined process, including more affordable alternatives to the appeals process.

Can a Denver Small Business Lawyer Help?

Patent law is highly specialized and not typically part of the practice for any small business attorneys that I know of in Denver. However, when it is time to hire a patent attorney, I can refer you to some of the best. Meanwhile, if I can help you draft company documents, review your online legal standing, or decide on the right language for an employment contract, you can reach me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis PC, home of your Denver Business Lawyer: 720-258-6647 or email me at Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com.

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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CO Anti-Patent Troll Law

Colorado recently passed a law aimed at reducing the amount of so-called “patent trolling.” Generally, “patent troll” is used as a derogatory term to describe non-practicing entities, which are entities that own a patent on something but do not use it themselves (they may license it to others or do nothing at all with it other than enforce their patent rights against others). Such entities may “troll” other companies that are allegedly using that patent without permission by sending them threatening letters that if they do not pay up a licensing fee for the patent, that they will take them to court over it.

There have been various cases where businesses have shut down or struggled after receiving these letters or paying the licensing fees. This has become an issue of particular concern in the tech industry where very broad patents have been issued, that arguably never should have been or at least been more narrow. You can check out these two This American Life podcasts on the subject if you want to learn more: When Patents Attack! Part 1; Part 2. However, more specifically, this law was motivated by cases where businesses have received threatening letters without much information as to who they were coming from or what the basis was for the alleged infringement.

HB-1063 aims to combat this by allowing Colorado’s Attorney General to go after people who send threatening letters in bad faith to companies asking for money over alleged uses of their patents by the company. The act would apply to instances such as where the sender of the letter falsely claims that litigation has been filed against the recipient or related persons, where there is no reasonable basis in fact or law for the allegations (such as if the sender does not own the patent in question or have any authority to license or sell it). The act can also come into play when the sender does not provide enough information to the recipient. Required information would generally include:

  • Identity of the person sending the letter
  • The number issued by the USPTO of the patent in question
  • Factual allegations regarding the specific areas that the recipient’s activities (products/services/technology) infringed the patent in question

Note that this law should not prevent anyone who legitimately has the rights to the patent and/or its licensing, unless you fail to send adequate information to alleged violators or send such letters without a reasonable basis. This means that so-called patent trolling will not cease to exist, but it should make allegations of patent infringement more substantive, clear, and transparent. This should also reduce abusive and more questionable instances of patent trolling.

It will be interesting to see if this law has the desired effect of both reducing the instances of “patent trolling” in Colorado and encouraging technology and knowledge-based companies to begin and grow in Colorado. From a legal perspective, it will also be interesting to see if this law will have any problems with preemption by federal law, basically meaning that this state law could be held invalid by the federal courts because it is incongruent with federal law (this legal concept is based on the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause).

If you have questions about intellectual property issues, please contact the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney, Elizabeth Lewis, at 720-258-6647 or email her at elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.