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Milwaukee Business & Commercial Law Blog

Insight into stealing company trade secrets in Wisconsin

Many small businesses in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, often lack the knowledge, resources and expertise required for protecting a trade secret. If a company invents something new, it is important to obtain a patent for this unique invention. Even if a company never invents a physical product, any intellectual property or unique company procedure needs to be protected too.

An employee who steals company trade secrets and uses these for personal gain or leaks the company's confidential information to a competing business could be penalized under the law. These laws also prohibit an employee or business partner from making photocopies or duplicate electronic files of intellectual property.

Seeking remedies for professional malpractice in Wisconsin

When a Wisconsin business owner ends up in a commercial dispute, that business owner greatly depends on the professional advice of consultants and lawyers. Unfortunately, in some cases, a business owner realizes that the decision to hire the consultant or lawyer to mitigate the dispute has backfired and resulted in considerable losses, financially or otherwise. In such cases, it may be possible for business owners to sue these professionals citing failure to provide the industry standard of service.

However, as simple as it may look on paper, business owners often find it difficult to seek restitution after an incident of professional malpractice, especially when the defendant is an attorney. In such cases, it becomes necessary for the business owner to prove not only that the attorney acted negligently but also that the outcome of the case could have been different had it been handled competently. A business owner has to win two cases bundled into one, if the owner want a successful resolution.

What does filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy require?

Few business owners in Wisconsin want to reach the point where debt threatens the existence of their companies. Any number of events or developments, however, can lead them to the point where filing for bankruptcy is the only real way to recover. For many company owners, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing will allow survival by restructuring debt and reorganizing their enterprises. Because Chapter 11 is one of the most complicated bankruptcy methods of debt relief, business owners should understand the eligibility requirements before they begin the filing process.

What does a debtor have to do after filing? Within 14 days following a voluntary petition filing, a debtor must submit standardized statements regarding the debtor's income and finances, paystubs and schedules A through J. Failure to file any of these documents can lead to dismissal of the petition for bankruptcy relief. All petitions are accompanied by filing fees or an application to pay filing fees in installments.

Stealing trade secrets in Wisconsin can cause punitive damages

Wisconsin companies must protect their trade secrets to develop and maintain a strong and successful business. If this confidential information is stolen by an employee or business partner, a lawsuit can be filed against that person or the company who received the information. A recent case of alleged stealing of confidential business information is currently catching public attention.

The former CEO of an energy company has been charged with stealing confidential data during the end of his employment tenure and using that information to launch an oil and gas business. The business was started almost two years ago after the former CEO allegedly asked his assistant to provide important documents which provided the locations of unleased land with oil reserves. He then sent copies of the documents to his personal email account.

What happens to the old company after a merger?

Many businesses in Wisconsin find their best chances for growth through mergers and acquisitions. These moves have many requirements, however. It's important to understand some of the legal issues that can come up with mergers and acquisitions.

In a merger, only the surviving entity retains it legal identity. The surviving entity also acquires title to all property that was owned by the other entity. The surviving entity also inherits all the other entity's liabilities.

Keeping business trade secrets safe from competitors

Many Wisconsin businesses have trade secrets, and most take the need to protect them seriously, although they may not always know how those secrets can be misappropriated or otherwise compromised or stolen.

A trade secret can be a process or an element or constituent part of a product or process. It can take a variety of forms, and its essential value to the business differs with each business. It can be a secret ingredient in a recipe, a customer database, the internal workings of a website or an innovative method of executing a task. It can also be a process that does not yet have patent protection. Losing a trade secret can be a major setback for a business because it suddenly gives competitors an unfair edge in the market.

In Chapter 11 bankruptcy, what does debtor in possession mean?

Business owners here in the Milwaukee area may be aware that Chapter 11 bankruptcy is typically meant for reorganizing a corporation, a proprietorship or a partnership. According to the laws under this chapter of the Bankruptcy Code, a corporation exists separately from its stakeholders, and in the event of bankruptcy, the stakeholders are not considered debtors.

However, that is not the case if the commercial entity is a sole proprietorship or a partnership. That is because in a sole proprietorship, both the business assets and the assets of the owner are part of the bankruptcy process. Again, in the event that the commercial entity is a partnership, the partners' assets may be part of the bankruptcy process. In both cases, since the proprietor or partners are part of the bankruptcy process, they are known as debtors in possession.

The need for succession planning in family business

Residents of Wisconsin who run a family-owned business must have a succession plan for their business in place in order to ensure that their legacy continues even after their death. Succession planning is essential for the transition of family businesses from one generation to another.

Succession planning is different from estate planning. Estate planning determines how your property will be divided among your heirs after your death. Succession planning is about the survival of your business after your death.

What did the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2014 propose?

For many businesses, protecting trade secrets means protecting their prosperity. For this reason, business owners often go to great lengths to protect proprietary information that gives them a competitive edge over their competitors. Wisconsin's legislature has accepted this need for businesses to guard trade secrets and thus formally adopted the federal Uniform Trade Secrets Act of 1979 as Section 134.90 in the state's statutes.

How else has the government sought to protect trade secrets? In April of 2014, Sen. Christopher Coons (D.-Del.) introduced the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2014 into a U.S. Congressional Committee for consideration. Although the bill has apparently stalled, if enacted it would enable owners of trade secrets to file lawsuits for theft or misappropriation. The Uniform Trade Secrets Act only permitted state attorneys general to bring civil actions to obtain injunctive relief or damages.

Helping businesses and the environment coexist in Wisconsin

Curbing pollution and preserving the environment are two major focus areas for administrations across the country, including in Wisconsin. A number of ordinances are in effect to preserve the sanctity of nature for our future generations. It is a justified effort; a pollution-free environment means a healthier life for everyone. In fact, a violation of environmental ordinances is an offense, with penalties ranging from fines and business shutdowns to prison time.

The efforts toward preserving the environment, however, can sometimes inhibit the growth prospects of businesses. A business owner must know how to overcome these difficulties by developing a business plan that takes environment concerns into consideration. Due to a number of disputes that may arise and inhibit a business owner's growth plans, navigating the environmental laws and ordinances in Wisconsin become a challenge.