iLaw shortlisted for prestigious SME National Business Award

iLaw shortlisted for prestigious SME National Business Award

Innovative London law firm, iLaw, has been shortlisted in the ‘Business of the Year less than 50 Employees’ category at the prestigious SME National Business Awards 2019.

The sought-after awards recognise the achievements and contributions of the UK’s SMEs across all sectors.

iLaw is one of just a handful of firms from across the UK to have been shortlisted in the ‘Business of the Year less than 50 Employees’ category.

iLaw works with a wide range of innovative businesses providing advice on corporate and commercial matters, such as contracts and transactions, employment matters, intellectual property issues and litigation, as well as working in more niche areas such as film and media law and cryptocurrency and blockchain law.

The rigorous judging process has already seen iLaw make a detailed written submission to the judges, setting out its achievements over the last 12 months as the firm aims to become the leading boutique practice for the IT, telecoms, media and technology sectors in the UK.

Mark Culbert, Managing Director at iLaw, said: “This is wonderful recognition for our whole team as we seek to grow the practice in order to provide our market-leading services to an increasing number of businesses, including many household names.”

iLaw is no stranger to awards success, having last year been named as a finalist in the Boutique Law firm of the Year at the British Legal Awards.

ICO crackdown on GDPR non-compliance should stand as a stark warning to others, says iLaw

ICO crackdown on GDPR non-compliance should stand as a stark warning to others, says iLaw

In the last few days, the Information Commissioner’s Office has announced its intention to issue two landmark fines – £183 million against British Airways and £99 million against Marriott Hotels.

In light of this sudden crackdown on large firms, innovative London legal firm, iLaw is calling on businesses to take urgent action to review their own policies and procedures to ensure they are compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), under which these fines were issued.

Prior to these fines, the maximum data protection fine issued in the UK was £500,000 under the previous regime that existed prior to the introduction of the GDPR in May 2018.

Justin Ellis, a Director at iLaw and a specialist in data protection regulations, said: “The £183 million fine against British Airways was significant, but to follow up with another fine of almost £100 million against Marriott Hotels in the same week clearly indicates that the ICO is serious about upholding the GDPR.

“In both instances, the fines are actually below the maximum penalty that can be issued, which shows just how significant action by the ICO can be if it chooses to flex its muscles. There is still a significant backlog in cases from the previous data protection regime, but I suspect that we’ll see more and more of these higher fines coming through in the next few weeks as the ICO seeks to make a statement.”

One interesting factor in the Marriott fine is that it is believed that the IT vulnerability which led to over 300 million guest records being exposed globally had begun in 2014, but the problem wasn’t reported until November 2018.

The vulnerability had been inherited when Marriott bought the Starwood hotel group in 2016, and the ICO concluded that Marriott had failed to conduct sufficient due diligence in relation to that purchase.

Even so, the fine has been levied under the GDPR rather than the milder Data Protection Act 1998, which was in force at that time.

Justin has reiterated previous warnings to businesses of all sizes – they should be setting time aside regularly to review their existing procedures to make sure they are compliant. The Marriott case demonstrates the need to be extra-vigilant when acquiring a consumer-facing business.

“By now most businesses should have a policy in place for preventing and reporting breaches and where required, have a data protection officer who can maintain the correct standards, but it’s a case of ensuring that those policies are enforced and kept up to date” said Justin.

“Prior to these fines there appears to have been a view in some circles that the ICO had no teeth, but I am sure most would now agree that it is serious about the job it has been set.”

Justin said that those businesses who were unsure about whether they were compliant with the GDPR should seek urgent professional assistance.

To find out how iLaw can assist with data protection advice, please visit www.ilaw.co.uk

Adidas trade mark ruling highlights complexities of EU trade mark protection, claim iLaw

Adidas trade mark ruling highlights complexities of EU trade mark protection, claim iLaw

Alex Hall, a specialist in intellectual property at innovative London law firm, iLaw, has said that the latest decision against Adidas shows that even recognisable brands can struggle to protect their intellectual property.

The General Court of the EU has ruled that Adidas failed to prove that one of its trade mark registrations for its three-stripe branding has acquired distinctiveness throughout the EU.

It comes after a long, protracted and complex battle with Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe, which had applied to the EU intellectual property office to annul one of Adidas’ many three stripe trade mark registrations.

The 2014 trade mark was granted to Adidas on “three parallel equidistant stripes of identical width, applied on the product in any direction” on clothing, hats and shoes.  Crucially, the mark was treated by the Court as a figurative mark rather than as a surface pattern, so that it protected only the specific proportions set out in the registration.

During the hearing, Adidas as, it said, it related to signs other than the mark at issue because it did not show use of the mark in the exact proportions of the registrations.  As a result, Adidas failed to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that consumers instantly associated this particular representation of its three equidistant parallel stripes with the German company.

Further, the Court held that Adidas had failed to provide sufficient evidence to establish that the mark had acquired distinctiveness across the EU, having submitted market surveys from only five member states.

“Commercially this probably won’t be a great loss for the Adidas brand as they hold and protect a large portfolio of trade mark and design registrations across the EU and around the world, but they are likely to feel aggrieved to have suffered this setback,” said Alex.

“This case isn’t unique and there have been a number of high-profile trade mark disputes in recent years that have affected similar large corporations as they try to protect every element of their design and brand.”

Alex said that a substantial part of most companies’ value is contained within their intellectual property portfolios and that there is often an ongoing mission within these organisations to enhance the protection of their trade marks and designs within the law.

“Adidas now has the option to appeal at the European Court of Justice against this decision and they can, of course, apply for new trade marks to supplement their already broad portfolio if they think there are parts of their brand that will suffer from the annulment of this mark,” he added.

“The case serves to highlight the importance for all brand owners in getting their registrations, and the evidence they use to defend them, right in the first place, no matter how well-known the mark might seem to be.”

Are Smart Contracts the future?

Are Smart Contracts the future?

How industry can implement blockchain-backed agreements

By Justin Ellis and Allan Murray of iLaw

The use of blockchain technology has increased substantially in the last five years and it is now being adopted in a number of ways across different markets to transact, store data and automate certain processes.

The most common and well-known use of blockchain by far is Bitcoin, which uses a secure but publicly accessible distributed ledger system to create and store a form of digital currency.

Blockchain is unique in that unlike traditional forms of data storage it does not rely on a single server or bank of servers, but instead stores the data on multiple machines to create a highly secure, decentralised network of encrypted data that verifies and records each new block of data within a longer chain of data.

This means that data further down the chain cannot be deleted or amended without deleting or amending an earlier part of the chain, which both increases transparency and prevents fraud.

It is clear why this technology is popular for digital currency, but its application in the world of contracts may not be as obvious.

However, whereas the Bitcoin blockchain stores financial transactions, blockchain can also be used as a programmable platform – the most notable example being Ethereum – on which new applications can run and new use cases found.

One example is Smart Contracts, which although a relatively new phenomenon, are seeing increased use as a way of moulding and executing a contract digitally in a secure manner.

Legal Clarity

The Government is currently consulting with the help of the LawTech UK delivery panel on the status of Smart Contracts under English law and it is anticipated that they will issue an ‘authoritative legal statement’ at the end of the Summer outlining their use and legal status.

In anticipation of this, it is useful to look at the rise of Smart Contracts and how they may be implemented and used commercially in the future.

Smart Contracts are typically made up of a special software code running on the blockchain. They are not legal contracts, but can be used as a substitute, or sometimes alongside, a traditional legal document.

At the moment it is not clear under what circumstances a Smart Contract becomes ‘legally binding’, or how parties’ rights might be enforced if there is a software failure. The LawTech panel has stated that their legal statement will provide clarity on this.

It is the involvement of automation via the blockchain that makes it unique. When created, a Smart Contract may be a simple agreement with certain manually executed mechanisms, but as it evolves through the blockchain it may be self-executing so that as certain terms are met the agreement changes.

An easy way to explain it is by looking at the most simplistic form of automation, which states that “if this happens, then that should happen next”. A Smart Contract runs on the individual connections within a chain and will automatically execute certain tasks once pre-agreed conditions are met, or an obligation is performed.

By using the blockchain, the code for which is public, the extensive network of computers that make up the chain can monitor external, real world data via trusted, third-party feeds which send information into the Smart Contract, which then executes changes and stores them securely and irreversibly within the chain.

Smart Contracts running on the blockchain are likely to find wide adoption in the finance and insurance sectors, as well as in property market due to the promise of almost instantaneous transactions, together with the increased security and transparency that the technology promises. And because of the automatic execution of key contractual provisions, with no intermediaries required, there will also be significant costs savings to parties.

Smart Contracts are currently being employed in the solar industry for insurers so that when bad weather creates a shortfall in energy generation, and therefore income, the company receives a compensation payment.

They can also be used to set other conditions in an agreement for when funding should be released, for instance in a supply chain when goods reach their destination.

Another example could be a system that makes automated compensation payments to telecoms customers if their broadband remains down for a set period of time, or to airline customers if their flight is cancelled.

What’s more, should commercial conditions change the contract can be managed in such a way that parties can agree to changes that are automatically implemented.

This flexibility, something not typically associated with traditional contracts, is likely to be very appealing to companies as it allows for easy life cycle management of an agreement.

Types of Smart Contract

When looking at the future adoption and implementation of Smart Contracts, businesses will typically face three common models to choose from, Solely Code, Internal and External (although other models and hybrids do exist).

The Solely Code Model is a contract based exclusively around a code, with no natural contractual architecture or language. These are typically used for simple transfers or conditional payments between parties.

The Internal Model is a Smart Legal Contract which should be seen as a document containing software code, but is not exclusively code. This makes use of natural contractual language to set out rules by which the code should be executed when conditions are met.

Finally, the External Model, which is often referred to as a traditional contract supported by code. In this case the relevant code is not included directly within the contract, but is instead paired with code that is stored and executed outside of the written document and performs certain functions agreed to in the written contract.

The possibilities for these types of arrangements in commerce are vast. The implication for lawyers is also significant, with traditional ‘off-chain’ written contractual clauses having to be incorporated into agreements with ‘on-chain’ code.

With a variety of models on offer, each offering a different level of blockchain integration, and with legal clarity on the horizon, we are likely to see a growing variety of agreements and transactions trialling the use of increasingly complex and sophisticated Smart Contracts in the near future.

Employers need to take heed of latest EU employment rules change, says iLaw

Employers need to take heed of latest EU employment rules change, says iLaw

One of London’s most innovative law firms, iLaw, has said new rules on EU workers’ rights should be considered when recruiting or contracting employees on casual or zero-hour contracts.

This week the European Parliament approved new rules that will seek to provide greater clarity on the rights of people working in the so-called ‘gig economy’ and on zero-hour contracts.

Under the new legislation, which will have to be implemented by member states within the next three years, employers will have to be more transparent about the job roles on offer and provide greater protection against cancelled work in a bid to end abusive employee/employer relationships.

Aimed at the “most vulnerable employees on atypical contracts and in non-standard jobs” it is intended to try and clear up grey areas around employment and worker status.

In recent years, several gig economy contractors have challenged their status through the courts to try and be recognised as a worker, rather than a self-employed contractor so as to enjoy additional rights to sick pay and other benefits.

This situation has left employers operating in the gig economy unsure of where they stand and while some, such as Hermes, have sought to introduce a system called ‘self-employed plus’, others have continued to challenge the courts.

Julian Cox, Head of Employment at iLaw, said: “The UK Government has already taken some steps to legislate in this area following Matthew Taylor’s report, which resulted in the Good Work Plan that is currently being implemented.

“However, elements of the EU’s new directive go beyond this and at present, the UK may be bound by these rules despite the ever-looming spectre of Brexit.”

Julian said that the low threshold for employment, which means that the new rules apply to all those who work at least three hours a week (averaged over four weeks), mean that many businesses may be caught out by EU’s legislation, which requires employers to inform employees about their duties, pay, the hours they are likely to work and their right to compensation for cancelled work on the first day of employment.

“The EUs approach seems slightly heavy handed and will certainly leave many employers in EU member states unsure of where they stand,” explained Julian.

“I am sure many businesses will welcome these changes to worker’s rights and that they will comply, but one has to wonder how it will affect future models of flexible employment, which are proving to be more popular with modern workforces.”

EU officials have confirmed that these new rules will not relate to people who are genuinely self-employed and it is not yet clear whether the UK will be bound by the rules after Brexit, but Julian believes businesses should prepare themselves nonetheless.