The Top 10 Issues Facing Dot Com Companies Today


Overview
Issues to Consider
1. Move at your own pace
2. Choice of entity
3. Domain name registration
4. Ownership of intellectual property
5. Privacy
6. Confidentiality
7. Stock options
8. Noncompetition
9. Regulations
10. Contract issues
Overview

Today's barriers to the e-commerce market are extremely low. All one needs to do business on the Web is the domain name fee, a computer, some prepackaged software and a product and/or service to sell.

As the proliferation of Web-based start-ups continues and existing companies expand marketing efforts by utilizing the Web, there are several legal issues to consider.

1. Move at your own pace

The Internet moves at light speed, but that does not mean your business should. Take the time to understand your business and what is happening within it. Surround yourself with employees, consultants and professionals with proven track records in your business's area of expertise and the Internet.

2. Choice of entity

Start-ups quickly form an entity to begin doing business and often decide based upon tax considerations, with the preference usually an "S" corporation or limited liability company. But if a business will be looking for venture capital within a year, there may be a benefit to forming a Delaware "C" corporation or limited liability company to satisfy investors.

3. Domain name registration

Search Network Solutions Inc., the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the applicable secretary of state office to determine whether a name is available. Use a professional search firm, covering state and federal registrations, common law (unregistered) usage and URL registrations. Register the domain name (plus derivatives, and under the various domains of .com, .net, .org, .cc, etc.), register the domain name as a federal trademark and reserve the trademark name with the secretary of state. A registered trademark holder may challenge a domain name covering its trademark.

4. Ownership of intellectual property

The Web provides access to volumes of information and makes commercial exploitation of products, logos and slogans easier. Once a product or company name hits the market, it has brand name, brand recognition and an associated monetary value. Protect anything that is instrumental to your business.

Generally speaking, copyrights protect an expression of an idea, such as text, artwork and software. Patents protect processes and compositions, methods (including methods of doing business), software and articles of manufacture. Trademarks protect any word, term, name, symbol or device used to designate the source or origin of goods or services.

5. Privacy

Many Web sites post privacy policies to inform a visitor how certain data may be collected and used based upon their visit to the site. Polices should be drafted in a "click through" fashion, so a visitor must consent to the terms (by clicking on the "accept" button) before gaining access to a site.

Information about consumers accumulated as a result of their visits to a Web site and their purchases online have value to third parties.

6. Confidentiality

Any business needs to keep confidential any information that goes to the heart of its operations. Identify trade secrets, which may include codes, strategies, customer lists, formulae, manufacturing methods and e-commerce methods. Have employees and consultants with access to confidential information execute a confidentiality agreement. Access to confidential information should be restricted to those who require it to do their jobs.

7. Stock options

Stock options can be used to attract and retain qualified employees and consultants. Remember that stock options are securities and must comply with applicable federal and state securities regulations. In addition, the granting of stock options can present tax and investment capital issues.

8. Noncompetition

Generally, noncompetition agreements that protect a legitimate business interest must contain a time limitation, a geographic limitation and evidence of adequate consideration. The time limitation must be no more than is necessary to protect the legitimate business interest.

This type of agreement can be used to restrict an employee or consultant from competing against your company. It can also be used to limit a consultant's ability to do similar work for a competitor. Be careful if employees relocate — California and Texas do not look favorably upon noncompetition agreements.

9. Regulations

General federal regulations to keep in mind include the Uniform Electronic Transfer Act, the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act and Federal Trade Commission rules.

10. Contract issues

Any form of business has numerous contract issues which, depending upon the nature of the business, may determine whether it will need to deal with issues including outsourcing of Web-related services (always maintain control); Most Favored Nations clauses (covers exclusive business relationships); click-through policies; and licensing issues such as royalties.

Reprinted with permission by SBN magazine