Thursday, June 27, 2013

Indemnification Clauses Critical to Fighting Patent Trolls

Much has been written about the rise of lawsuits, and threatened lawsuits by so-called patent trolls, also known as “patent assertion entities” or “PAEs.” If your business has not yet been the target of a patent troll, you can count yourself among the fortunate few. The proliferation of these types of claims is so widespread that the Federal Trade Commission has actually instituted an investigation into the business practices of patent assertion entities. According to a White House Report issued on June 4, 2013, PAE lawsuits have jumped 250% since 2011, now accounting for 62% of all infringement cases. As many as 100,000 companies have been threatened by patent trolls just in the last 12 months. Often these cases are based on highly questionable interpretations of highly questionable patents, applying them to technology not imagined at the time that the patent was granted. Rather than bear the cost and risk associated with litigation, businesses faced with these claims often agree to pay license fees to the PAE, further feeding the cycle.

As with many threats to business, the most effective technique for dealing with these claims is to anticipate them during your procurement process. In many instances, a well-negotiated agreement with a vendor can provide you with protection against patent trolls in the form of an indemnification clause requiring the supplier of the product or service that gives rise to the patent claim to defend you. A well-drafted indemnification provision properly allocates risk to the party in the best position to understand and assess the risk of a claim. In addition, the supplier of the product or technology actually has an economic incentive to do battle with a patent troll that its individual customer may lack. Intellectual property indemnification provisions accordingly are a critical component of any agreement.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Washington Court Rules On Statutory Exclusion For Internet Service, Awards Refund To Online Services Provider

On June 4, 2013, the Washington Superior Court issued a decision that AOL, Inc. is entitled to a multi–million dollar refund of sales tax paid on services that AOL purchased for use in providing Internet access and online services to its members during the period 2002-2006. In response to an appeal by the Washington Department of Revenue from a decision of the Washington Board of Tax Appeal rendered in AOL’s favor, the Superior Court agreed with the arguments made by AOL. The company asserted the services at issue were “internet services” under RCW 82.04.297(3), and thus excluded from the statutory definition of taxable “network telephone service” under RCW 82.04.065(2) in effect during the time period in question. The Washington Department of Revenue had argued that the services AOL purchased were nothing more than transmission services, subject to Washington sales tax. The Court rejected the Department’s arguments, finding that AOL met each and every independent subpart of the exclusion for internet services. Consequently, the Court held that the services were not subject to taxation under the applicable state statute. As a result, the Court concluded that the Board properly awarded AOL a full refund of all amounts paid to the Department.

AOL was represented in the case by Martin Eisenstein and Matt Schaefer of Brann & Isaacson.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Summer of Privacy: With the Government Under Fire, Retailers May Overlook New Rules and Risks

This may one day be known as the Summer of Privacy. From claims that the NSA surreptitiously obtains cellphone (and GPS) information from at least 100,000,000 Americans to the Supreme Court blessing routine collection of DNA evidence from arrestees, it is impossible to avoid almost daily stories on governmental privacy issues. But, don't be fooled by the focus on governmental activity. From advances on the "do not track" front to a vastly expanded federal children's privacy rule going into effect on July 1, 2013, the privacy temperature is rising not just for the government, but for online and multichannel retailers as well.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Affiliate Nexus Law Update: Minnesota and Maine Approve New Statutes, Missouri Governor Vetoes Bill

While the Marketplace Fairness Act sits in committee in Congress awaiting hearings, two more states have enacted affiliate nexus statutes imposing tax on remote sellers. The governor of another state, however, declined to add his state to the list of jurisdictions enacting counterproductive, and arguably unconstitutional, “click through” nexus laws. Below is a quick round up of recent news in Minnesota, Maine, and Missouri:

Last week, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a click-through nexus bill which creates a rebuttable presumption for out-of-state retailers with in-state affiliates and which goes into effect for sales made after June 30, 2013. The new law states that an out-of-state seller is presumed to be soliciting sales in the state if it enters into an agreement with a resident for a commission or other similar consideration for referrals of potential customers, whether by a link of a website or otherwise. The presumption only applies if the seller has at least $10,000 of gross receipts in the 12 month period preceding the calendar quarter in which the sale is made. Sellers can rebut this presumption with proof that the resident did not engage in any solicitation on behalf of the seller that would satisfy the nexus requirement under the Constitution. The same bill also imposes tax on certain specified digital products which previously were exempt from sales tax.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Marketplace Fairness Act: Are Online Retailers Now Required to Collect and Remit Every States’ Sales Tax Even Though They Do Not Have A Physical Presence?

On May 6, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act (S.743). If enacted into law, the Act would require Internet sellers (as well as catalogers and other direct marketers) to collect and remit the sales and use tax of each state (and any local jurisdictions that assess sales taxes) on all of their remote sales to the state, even if the retailer does not have a physical presence in the state. If adopted, the bill would do away with the nexus/physical presence requirement for mandatory sales tax collection described in Quill v. North Dakota.

Much of the media coverage of the Marketplace Fairness Act gives the impression that the requirement of sales and use tax collection without a physical presence will be effective immediately, now that the Senate has passed the bill. That, of course, is not the case. In order for states to have the power to require sales tax collection by companies without a physical presence, the U.S. House must pass the bill in the same form as did the Senate, and then President Obama must approve the jointly passed legislation.

While President Obama has indicated his support for the Marketplace Fairness Act, there are a number of members of the House who are opposed to the bill. Moreover, unlike the Senate which did not hold any committee hearings prior to voting, the House will hold hearings on the legislation, through the House Judiciary Committee. Importantly, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, has noted his concern regarding the failure of the Marketplace Fairness Act to address many of the concerns of remote sellers. Speaker Boehner has voiced similar concerns. Thus, it is likely that even if legislation abrogating Quill is adopted by the House ― a possibility given existing bipartisan support ― such a bill will probably not be in the same form as passed the Senate. Moreover, given the significant role played by Rep. Goodlatte, Speaker Boehner, and other members of the House, chances are there will be a substantial delay before adoption of any legislation. Indeed, the House Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule hearings on the bill, and it has been reported that the Committee is drafting its own legislation. The message for any remote seller should be wait and see, at a minimum, before embarking on costly measures to implement sales tax collection in the more than 9000 jurisdictions that impose sales taxes.