Protecting Your Company When a Top Executive Leaves to Join a Competitor

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What do you do when a key member of your team goes to work for a rival firm? Or, perhaps worse, how do you react when you receive a competitor’s demand that your latest hire, a new sales manager, stop working for you?

John Conkle recently participated in a discussion of experienced practitioners which looked at these and related topics at the 2014 American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Litigation, Corporate Counsel Committee’s Continuing Legal Education Seminar held in Rancho Mirage, California. The topic of the presentation was what actions inside and outside counsel need to take when a top executive of the company leaves to joins a competitor, when the company’s reputation, confidential information, and business could all be at risk. The panel addressed practical and legal strategies to help navigate the pitfalls presented by this high-stakes dilemma.

Protecting Your Company - ABA 2014

John was joined on the panel by the Hon. Gail Andler, Judge of the Orange County California Superior Court; Elizabeth K. Deardorff, Associate General Counsel of Hewlett-Packard Company; and Steven A. Weiss, of Schopf & Weiss LLP, a Chicago litigation boutique firm. More than 300 attorneys from law firms and law departments throughout the United States and from several foreign countries attended this year’s seminar.

Written materials distributed at the seminar included an article written by John and Bill Garcia, Director of Legal Project Management at Thompson Hine LLP:    First Response to Surprise Departure of Top Executive to Marketplace Rival.  The article outlines first response actions to be taken by counsel in response to an executive’s departure. Bill Garcia had been scheduled to moderate the panel, which he helped conceive and orchestrate, but he was unfortunately snowed in and unable to leave Washington, D.C.

Losing a key executive to a competitor can be a serious and sensitive matter. CK&E is well versed in the options available to a company whose top executive leaves. CK&E has also represented the interests of the company acquiring the executive and employs various strategies and defenses to help resolve disputes over such hirings. CK&E lawyers have represented both sides of these issues, from recruitment of an entire sales team to competition by a former owner of an acquired business or product line.  CK&E’s vast experience in the area of employment law, non-competition and protection of trade secrets allows the firm to efficiently assist in-house counsel to reach a desired objective with a minimum of business disruption.

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China Finds Parallel Imports Constitute Trademark Infringement

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Chinese trademark law has no specific prohibitions against sale of gray market products diverted into the Chinese market, also known as parallel importation.  An important breakthrough occurred recently when the Suzhou Intermediate Court enforced trademark holders’ rights against an unauthorized reseller of gray market goods imported into China.

Pernod Ricard China (Trading) Co., Ltd. is the exclusive trademark licensee of Absolut Vodka (Images II-IV) in China.  Pernod Ricard and the trademark owner, Absolut Company Aktiebolag, brought a lawsuit in China against a local retailer of parallel imports of Absolut Vodka products, asserting trademark infringement and unfair competition.  The key facts were that the imported products had manufacturers’ identification codes removed and had added labels bearing Chinese characters for “Absolut” (Image I) and identifying an unauthorized importer and distributor.  The code removal and label addition infringed consumers’ right to know about the product origin, interfered with the trademark owners’ ability to track products to maintain product quality, and undermined the integrity and beauty of the genuine product.   The removal of the manufacturers’ identification code violated Article 52.5 of China’s Trademark Law, which is a catchall term prohibiting impairment of an exclusive right to use a registered trademark, and constituted unfair competition.  The addition of unauthorized labeling violated Article 52.1 & 52.2, prohibiting use of an identical or similar mark on the same or similar goods without the permission of the owner of the registered trademark, and infringed the exclusive right to use the registered trademark.

Absolut Vodka Images

Absolut Vodka Images

Conkle, Kremer & Engel works to protect its clients’ brands in the United States and abroad.

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Organic products? Really?

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Are your personal care products really organic? There is no federal regulation of cosmetics sold as “organic,” other than a voluntary USDA certification process, but California takes use of the term “organic” seriously.

The California Organic Products Act (COPA), requires that multi-ingredient cosmetics labeled or sold as organic contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients.  The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) sued 40 cosmetics manufacturers in 2011 and 2012 in Alameda County for violating COPA. One of the defendants in CEH’s first lawsuit was Todd Christopher International, dba Vogue International, (Vogue) the manufacturer of Organix brand products.  While the Organix products contained less than 10% organic ingredients, Vogue contended that the “active” ingredients in its products were organic.  Vogue argued that COPA did not apply to its Organix hair care products because hair care products are not “cosmetics” and that “Organix” is not a grammatical variation of the term “organic.”  The court rejected Vogue’s arguments.  In September 2012, Vogue agreed to either change its packaging and stop using “Organix,” or change the ingredients of its products to comply with COPA.

CEH then brought another lawsuit against Vogue.   This time, it was a class action aimed at stopping Vogue’s use of “Organix” nationwide – not just in California.  CEH claimed that Vogue’s labeling is unfair and deceptive under each state’s consumer protection laws because Vogue’s Organix products are not composed of predominately organic ingredients.  In October 2013, the federal court for the Northern District of California preliminarily approved a settlement of the class action in which Vogue would pay $6.5 million and stop using “Organix” for cosmetics that did not contain at least 70% organic ingredients.  The final approval hearing is set for April 3, 2014.  Vogue has already begun to transition its packaging and advertising to the more defensible “Ogx”.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel stays current on federal and state regulatory issues and helps its clients avoid the kind of labeling problem that befell Vogue.

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The Conkle Firm Presents Hot California Regulatory Compliance Issues in New York

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney John A. Conkle was the featured speaker at a special presentation given on February 11, 2014 in New York, New York to business executives and lawyers.

The presentation, entitled “Are Your Products California-Bound?  Dealing With California’s Unique Regulatory Schemes,” provided valuable information about and insight into such California regulatory laws and initiatives as:

  • Proposition 65 (California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986)
  • California Safe Cosmetics Act
  • California Green Chemistry Initiative (the Safer Consumer Products Regulations)
  • California Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Regulations
  • California Organic Products Act (COPA)
  • California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA)

California’s vast and ever-changing regulations pose a challenge for businesses no matter where they may be located.  Any business manufacturing, distributing or selling products into California needs to comply with California’s regulatory schemes to stay out of difficulty with the California Attorney General, regulatory agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), bounty hunters, putative class action plaintiffs and even competitors.

CK&E was honored to team with the New York-based law firm Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman, P.C., which specializes in intellectual property, to provide this presentation. CK&E has worked with the Gottlieb firm for nearly 25 years on matters of common interest to our clients. CK&E’s active regulatory compliance practice has helped clients in numerous industries – including  such diverse areas as personal care products, alcoholic beverages, construction and recreational equipment.

 

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CK&E Attends ISSE to Help Beauty Industry Clients

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys recently attended the International Salon and Spa Expo (ISSE).  Held annually in Long Beach, California in January, ISSE is the biggest beauty expo on the West Coast, and attracts hundreds of beauty industry companies from around the world.  ISSE is sponsored by the Professional Beauty Association (PBA).

CK&E attorneys attended ISSE to meet with beauty industry clients, and to stay abreast of the latest trends and developments in the industry.  Attending trade shows helps CK&E maintain its unparalleled legal expertise on such matters as intellectual property protection, manufacturer-distributor relations and government regulatory and compliance issues that affect personal care product companies.

One highlight of this year’s ISSE was the launch of Glycelene, a line of natural, organic and vegan beauty ointments by CK&E client Borio Beauty.  Glycelene was named to PBA’s “Hot List” of products.  As part of CK&E’s  practice of assisting emerging companies for costs reasonably scaled to their needs, resources and business plans, CK&E helped to protect the Glycelene brand from its inception by initiating federal trademark registration and consulting on the packaging.

The breadth and depth of CK&E’s industry experience allows the firm to accomplish client objectives efficiently and effectively.  CK&E continuously builds on its decades of experience representing client interests in every facet of the personal care product industry by continuing to stay up to date on all matters of concern to its industry clients.

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National Article Profiles the Conkle Firm’s $6.2 million Judgment for Unpaid Sales Commissions

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel’s $6.2 million judgment against an electronics manufacturer is the subject of a feature article in the monthly publication of Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA).  The article, Fallout From an Oral Contract, appears in the January 2014 issue of Agency Sales Magazine.

The article profiles Plaintiff Peter Reilly, a sales representative who was denied his commissions.  Author Jack Foster chronicles how CK&E lawyers Eric S. Engel and H. Kim Sim marshaled the facts and developed the law of the California’s Independent Wholesale Sales Representatives Contractual Relations Act to win a treble damages judgment for Mr. Reilly.

The Independent Wholesale Sales Representatives Contractual Relations Act is a little-known statute that requires a signed written contract containing specific terms in some commission agreements between manufacturers and sales representatives.  A willful failure to have a written contract that complies with the Act, or to account for and pay commissions as required by the written contract, can result in an award to the sales rep of three times the amount proved at trial, in addition to attorney fees.  In the Reilly v. Inquest case, the jury awarded the sales representative $2.1 million for unpaid commissions, which was trebled by the Court to more than $6.2 million.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed the award in full.  The Reilly v. Inquest Technology decision was unprecedented, because it is the first published decision to endorse the full scope of remedies available under the Independent Wholesale Sales Representatives Contractual Relations Act.

The Agency Sales Magazine article follows an article about Reilly v Inquest that appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

CK&E’s lawyers are well versed in issues affecting manufacturers and sales representatives.  CK&E lawyers litigate and resolve disputes over sales commissions and terminations, and use that knowledge to help manufacturers and sales representatives draft more effective contracts.  CK&E is a member of MANA and the Electronics Representatives Association (ERA).

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CK&E Attorneys Speak at ERA Owners Forum

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CK&E attorneys Eric Engel and Kim Sim were pleased to be invited to speak at ERA So Cal’s January 28, 2014 Owners Forum.  ERA is the international association of professional sales representatives and electronics industry manufacturers who use independent sales reps.  ERA’s member rep firms sell more than $40 billion annually in electronics products for thousands of manufacturers.

The ERA roundtable forum included lively and thoughtful questions and comments by business owners and managers, directed toward improving their ability to collect commissions owed for their sales representatives’ work promoting sales for manufacturers.  In addition to outlining important terms that should be included in written contracts, much of the discussion concerned the application of the Independent Wholesale Sales Representatives Contractual Relations Act, California Civil Code §§ 1738.10 et seq.  Under the Act, a manufacturer must have a signed written contract with the sales rep containing particular terms required by the Act, and the manufacturer must provide a written accounting with every payment of commissions.  When a manufacturer willfully fails to comply with the requirements of the Act, the sales rep is entitled to three times his or her unpaid commissions and other damages, plus attorney fees.

Eric Engel and Kim Sim were the trial attorneys in Reilly v. Inquest Technology, the first precedent in California that enforced the full remedy of treble damages under the Act.  In Reilly, application of the Act led to a $2.1 million jury verdict becoming a judgment for $6.2 million, plus attorney fees and interest.  ERA and its partner organization, Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA), were important sponsors of the Act and similar legislation enacted in about 36 other states to protect the rights of independent wholesale sales representatives.  CK&E is proud to be able to help sales representatives create contracts that protect their rights to be paid for their services, and to help them enforce their rights when disputes arise.

 

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Could a Pending Federal Safe Cosmetics Act Preempt the California Safe Cosmetics Act?

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After nine years, the California Safe Cosmetics Act is suddenly in the news, now that the California Safe Cosmetics Program Product Database has been posted for the public.  The California Safe Cosmetics Act requires manufacturers of cosmetic products to be sold in California to report any ingredients in their products that have been identified to the California Department of Public Health as causing cancer or reproductive toxicity.

While no federal counterpart to the California Safe Cosmetics Act presently exists, legislation to amend Chapter VI of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act or FDCA, 21 U.S.C. § 361 et seq.) has been introduced in every session of Congress since 2010.  The latest version of the bill, the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013, seeks to ensure the safe use of cosmetics by creating a uniform system of registration of cosmetic companies, set national safety standards for cosmetic ingredients, and provide recall authority.  The bill was proposed March 21, 2013 (H.R. 1385, sponsored by Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D. Ill.)), and remains pending during the 2013-2014 legislative session. It remains an open question whether any finally enacted federal law regulating cosmetics ingredient safety may preempt state authorities’ regulation in the same area.  That is an issue in which the Personal Care Products industry should be keenly interested.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel lawyers keep abreast of developments in regulatory compliance matters to help clients proactively create and execute plans to remain competitive while meeting their compliance requirements.

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Safe Cosmetics Act Database to Go Public in 2014: Watch for More Lawsuits

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In a previous blog post, we referred to the Safe Cosmetics Act as a “sleeper” because it has been in existence for several years but has been little noticed and seldom used.  That is likely to change in 2014.

The Safe Cosmetics Act was enacted in 2005 and became effective January 1, 2007.  Businesses manufacturing cosmetics sold in California were required to make their initial report to the California Department of Public Health by December 15, 2009.  Reporting must be made on a continuous basis, such as when formulation changes add a “suspect” chemical to an existing cosmetic product.  The Safe Cosmetics Act is so little-known that many manufacturers may have missed the reporting requirements, or complied as to some products but failed to update their reporting as product formulations changed.  So far, those omissions have rarely had any significant impact on manufacturers, but that is likely to start changing now.

The relative quietude may change in 2014 because by December 31, 2013 the CDPH must make a publicly accessible database available on its website containing all of the information collected pursuant to the Safe Cosmetics Act.  The information included in the database could be used by enterprising Prop 65 bounty hunters searching for products that contain chemicals that are subject to the warning requirements of Prop 65.  And the failure to report required information timely or accurately may be the basis for future unfair competition lawsuits by private parties, including consumers and competitors.

As a harbinger of the potential consequences for manufacturers, in January 2012 the California Attorney General’s Office announced the first law enforcement action taken under the Safe Cosmetics Act against a manufacturer of “Brazilian Blowout” products.  But the manufacturer’s failure comply with the Safe Cosmetics Act’s reporting requirement was only one of many business acts and practices alleged to violate California’s Unfair Competition Law.  The Attorney General also alleged violations of California’s False Advertising Law and Proposition 65.  The end result was a consent judgment that required the manufacturer to pay $300,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and an additional $300,000 civil penalty for violation of Prop 65.  The manufacturer was also subject to numerous injunctions, including a requirement that it report in compliance with the Safe Cosmetics Act.  Private claimants such as Prop 65 bounty hunters are likely to take notice of the newly available information and any failures to comply.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel stays up to date on regulatory compliance matters to provide continued expert legal guidance to clients.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel has decades of experience representing clients in the personal care products and cosmetics industry, and understand the unique regulatory compliance concerns facing manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

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Prop 65 Notices and Lawsuits Target Cocamide DEA

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Cocamide DEA (coconut oil diethanolamine condensate) is a common ingredient in personal care products.  It is a viscous liquid used as a foaming agent in shampoo and soap products and as an emulsifying agent in cosmetics.  It can be found in shampoos, liquid soaps, body washes and bubble baths, among other products.  In June 2012 Cocamide DEA was added to the list of Proposition 65 chemicals, and warning requirements took effect one year later, on June 22, 2013.  To date, Notices of Violation concerning cocamide DEA exposure have been served on more than 350 businesses, and public enforcers have filed at least 16 lawsuits, most of them naming numerous defendants.  Lawsuits have been filed in both Los Angeles and Alameda Counties.

Proposition 65 is California’s right-to-know statute that requires businesses to provide clear and reasonable warnings before exposing Californians to a wide range of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm or both.  Proposition 65 requires a 60-day Notice of Violation to be served before public enforcers may file a lawsuit for alleged violation of the law.  The public enforcers who have served Proposition 65 Notices of Violation with respect to exposure to cocamide DEA include Center for Environmental Health, Shefa LMV LLC and ProtectConsumers LLC.  In addition, a number of individuals have become involved in Proposition 65 enforcement actions concerning cocamide DEA.  These individuals – Mark Lewis, Crystal Gerard, Mark Bates, Natisha Meloncon and Latonia Edge – are all represented by The Law Offices of Morse Mehrban.

2013 has been a particularly difficult year for manufacturers, distributors and sellers of personal care products.  In addition to cocamide DEA, other chemicals commonly found in personal care products and cosmetics became subject to Proposition 65 enforcement in 2013, including benzophenone and diethanolamine.

Businesses should carefully review the contents of the products they manufacture or distribute to determine whether those products may contain cocamide DEA.  Notices of Violation followed by prompt lawsuits have become the norm for alleged exposure to cocamide DEA.  Businesses must be proactive in protecting themselves from Prop 65 bountyhunters.  CK&E regularly helps clients with Prop 65 compliance issues.  If a Notice of Violation is received, CK&E handles responses to Notices of Violation and defense of businesses in Prop 65 actions to help resolve claims as efficiently and economically as possible.

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