This is, without a doubt, one of the most complicated areas of the law. You or your company can be defamed if someone falsely says, or writes, that you or your company is criminal, defrauds people, or commits other loathsome acts. It is important to consider who said these things about you; journalists and newspapers have more leeway than individuals. How they say it is equally important. Are they asking leading questions, making statements of their opinion, or making factual statements? It is also essential to know the ins and outs of both federal and state law of defamation. The tests are different.
In a business context, determining the damages can require complex economic and financial calculations. A business brawl over defamatory statements or writings will require considerable expertise, both legal and economic.
Unfair competition includes many different types of fraudulent, deceptive, and dishonest trade practices. The law’s purpose in limiting competition is to protect a business’ investment in distinguishing itself and its image, to preserve the good will it has had with customers, to deter a business from appropriating the good will of a competitor, to promote clarity and stability by encouraging consumers to rely on a merchant’s good will and reputation, and to increase competition.
Unfair Competition can include either deliberate or negligent (careless) interference with existing or prospective contracts or business. Any interference with current employees’ willingness to work for you may also violate the law. In addition, unfair competition deals with stealing your intellectual property or trade secrets. Trade secrets can be anything: finances, methods of production, customer lists, etc. Anything that gives someone else an independent economic advantage over you. The simple acquisition of a trade secret can violate the law if you know it was acquired improperly, disclose it without permission, or even if you acquire it by accident or mistake (and know it). Trade secrets can be protected for as long as secrecy is maintained; therefore, the employer must use “reasonable efforts” to keep it secret. This is very fact specific and the courts will look at case-by-case situations.
Everyone wants to protect what they own or what they think they own. Unfortunately, even if you paid for someone to create something for you, there are many factors that determine whether you own it unconditionally. A work created for or prepared by someone else usually falls under the copyright category of a “work for hire.” But not always. And what about the confidential information or trade secrets you have spent hundreds or thousand of hours and dollars to create? Your employees need to know this stuff in order to work for you but … can they use what they learned against you if they leave? Not always, but it depends.
The law provides various ways to protect your interests, confidential information, trade secrets and technological innovations. But if you don’t know what they are, or if you don’t do exactly what is required, you could lose your rights. And even if you do, you may have to fight to enforce them. So it’s easier to protect yourself by doing it right the first time.