No one can have a monopoly on an idea, but good businesses are the ones who able to translate those ideas in to effective services and products. A tricky piece of the puzzle is figuring out how to protect the various things that allow for an idea to become a business enterprise, such as brands, pricing structures, delivery mechanisms, vendors relationships, and client lists.

An employee leaves a business and starts his or her own business. The new business provides similar services in the same market to the same clients. What recourse does the owner of the original business have? What protections does the new business have? These questions underlay a recent lawsuit between two competing Massachusetts dumpling restaurants over trade secrets and intellectual property. The dispute illustrates the fact that even small business need to have a plan for preserving intellectual property and trade secrets, and ensuring that employees do not disclose strategies and secrets to competitors. Likewise, newly created businesses need to figure out how to protect themselves from claims that they're relying on stolen intellectual property or have violated non-disclosure and non-compete agreements. 

At a minimum, businesses should have a baseline knowledge of what intellectual property and trade secrets they have and what can be legally protected. Similarly, entrepreneurs should review carefully what their prior and current obligations to former employers are. Advance planning is everything because, as the case of Dumpling v. Dumpling, shows, once the genie is out of the bottle, it's out.

Starting on July 1, 2015, Massachusetts employers with 11 or more employees must begin providing paid sick leave. Click here for a summary of the new law's key features.

Both employers and employees should review their rights and responsibilities under the new law carefully. Notably, good record-keeping of hours worked and accrued leave will be essential. 

Employers should also be aware that employees still retain their FMLA rights under federal law. Furthermore, when documenting the use of sick leave employers should bear in mind the need to comply with both HIPAA and Massachusetts data security and personal information privacy standards, when dealing with employee medical information.


We are what we eat


After eating some very delicious Christmas and New Years meals with family and friends, I've realized that few personal freedoms are as close to our hearts and daily lives as being able to eat what we choose. When governments step in to regulate what we eat on grounds other than public health and safety, there should be careful scrutiny of such rules. In a small, but important case in federal district court in California, the state's ban against foie gras -- based on legitimate concerns about animal cruelty in its production -- was overturned on the grounds of federal regulatory preemption. In other words, the comprehensive nature of the federal regulations trumped the state's attempt to impose its own wholesale ban on a product. Here's the New York Times article

The lesson goes beyond foie gras and beyond California. Businesses of all sizes would be well served by being willing to carefully scrutinize state and municipal regulations and licensing practices for overreach and excessive micromanagement of legitimate activities. Governments do not have unfettered or unlimited regulatory authority. 

Happy New Year!
Cats are not an appropriate source of foie gras.
Dogs . . . and cats and horses and the occasional goat . . . have pride of place in my heart. And the small businesswomen and men who serve them have my deep respect and loyalty. People such as Melissa McCue-McGrath, of MuttStuff in Somerville, Massachusetts, an extraordinary trainer and entrepreneur.