Globalization, intellectual property likely legal issues in coming year

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:23 pm

"The reality of our economy in the Milwaukee area today is that business is getting more and more global in nature, even for small and medium-size companies," says Irene Calboli, an assistant law professor at Marquette University specializing in intellectual property and international law. Calboli, who had practiced law in London and Milan, says that she sees the legal issues of globalization and intellectual property impacting Milwaukee area companies in the coming year.
She currently has several students who work for big companies in Milwaukee and Chicago’s northern suburbs. "Their companies are expanding their businesses to China and India. That’s typical of one the trends we’ve been seeing: international expansion. Companies want to manufacture their products in China and India because of the cheaper costs to do so and the fact that these areas are two major overseas markets. They are very popular because that’s where a great deal of technology is being produced. They’re the markets of the future.
"And we’re seeing smaller area businesses starting to license their trademarks and their patents for business in other developing countries," she says.
Related to that, she believes that small companies should become more aware of the importance of intellectual property. Calboli defines intellectual property as being "the sum of the tangible assets of company that altogether create good will."
That includes inventions, profits, patents, and trademarks of manufacturing companies, she says. "For software or any type of computer related products, it also includes copyright," she adds.
"Often small companies don’t take into consideration the importance of applying for intellectual property protection when they take products to the marketplace. They think it’s expensive to do so; but that’s not really true, especially in view of the fact that they’re left unprotected if they don’t.
"And it’s even more important to do so in this globalization trend, where big companies are looking to buy or merge with smaller ones. When they want to buy a smaller company they want to be sure its intellectual property is in order so they can be protected against any future litigation. If that smaller company’s products are similar to other products of other companies, they may not have been sued because of their smaller size. But if a large company buys a smaller one with unprotected intellectual property, their deep pockets may catch someone’s eye. That potential vulnerability could either affect the sale or the sales price," she says.
"So, more education and awareness of protected intellectual property is important in the coming years."
"Also related to international business, is the fact that we’re seeing a tendency for local businesses to establish networks to share the work and the search for new business."
And because the economy is not very good today, there is a decline of a very strong acquisition trend that started in the last part of the 1990s, she says. "But as the economy recovers, that trend will probably improve. What is important for companies to remember is they need each other. They need to establish good business relationships with each other. They need to establish good communications on the Internet. I see that happening a lot and see more of that in 2003."
She also sees the need for area companies to become more aware of alternatives offered by dispute resolution systems. And, she says, as the economy improves, they should also become more aware of the legalities involved in starting new businesses.
As for Milwaukee area’s law firms in Milwaukee, Calboli doesn’t see any moves to merge with their local counterparts in 2003. "Law firms are trying to attract more work, trying to expand their business by establishing networks or joining major international networks. And establishing bilateral partnerships or joint ventures with larger international law firms."

Lawyers note key legal issues for 2003

Hundreds of the world’s leading employment and labor law experts think continued workforce cuts, accompanied by a flood of wrongful practice allegations, including claims of age discrimination and whistle-blower retaliation, will be the hottest workplace legal issues in the new year, according to a new survey by the Employment Law Alliance (ELA).
The ELA 2003 Employment Law Forecast, conducted by the opinion research firm of Reed, Haldy, McIntosh & Associates, surveyed more than 550 labor and employment law attorneys across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Asked to predict the leading workplace legal issues for 2003, the American-based ELA members ranked their top five hot spots as:
— Layoffs and other reductions in force
— Family and medical leave requests
— Whistle-blower claims
— Age Discrimination claims
— National origin discrimination claims

Scott C. Beightol, CFO of the ELA, and a partner in the Labor and Employment Law Practice Area of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP in Milwaukee, said the 2003 Employment Law Forecast is significant because it represents the opinions of expert practitioners who are closest to global workplace issues, from the shop floor to the corporate boardroom. Beightol is past president of the Wisconsin Bar’s Labor and Employment Law Section and currently serves on its Board of Directors.
"There’s no question that 2003 is going to be another very busy year for employment lawyers, which is not necessarily good news for employers or employees", said Beightol. "For the second year in a row we’re looking at the prospect of increased labor reductions. What is most troubling, based on the survey results, is that even though the reductions in force appear inevitable, employers are planning on doing relatively little in the way of training and education to minimize their legal and financial exposure. Our advice is for companies to think twice and not be pennywise and pound foolish when it comes to setting their priorities for managing reductions."
The survey shows only 31% of those questioned said they expect their clients to actively increase employment and labor law training for managers. Beightol said this figure is distressing because experience shows that the best defense against a litigious workforce is a sound, proactive training program.
Looking back over 2002, 45% of the ELA lawyers polled said there was a modest increase in workplace-related litigation. However, nearly 80% of that litigation increase involved workforce reductions. The second biggest reason for litigation growth this year over 2001 was the fact that unemployed workers were having a harder time finding work after their termination. "When times get tough, for both troubled companies and terminated workers, litigation often becomes an attractive option to generate revenue," said Beightol.
There are some hopeful signs in the forecast. For example, 42% of the ELA members think employers will be spending more time addressing ethics issues at the board and executive levels. Increased workplace compliance is expected to produce fewer claims involving safety and health disputes, sexual harassment claims, and disputes over disability accommodations.

Jan. 10, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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