Wyoming Blockchain
Photo by Kenneth Vetter

While Bitcoin initially paved the way for the introduction of blockchain and distributed ledger technology in the mainstream, most would agree that the potential applications of this relatively new technology goes far beyond just cryptocurrencies.

Blockchain technology, at its core, is merely a set of linked records that form an immutable ledger. Information is added in “blocks” which are linked to the prior information on the block by a cryptographic hash of all of the prior information. The information on the blockchain is secure because any attempts to change information in an earlier block would result in a different “hash” that would be easily detected by the network, which would reject that version of the blockchain as being unauthentic (there are several articles about how cryptographic hash functions work, but at the most basic letter, these functions take an input of any size and convert it to an alphanumeric output of a specified length). Furthermore, because the blockchain is distributed among multiple computers, each operating as a node running the underlying software, there is no single centralized entity or system responsible for maintaining the blockchain. Rather, the collective nodes maintain the blockchain pursuant to the underlying software code.

The potential applications of blockchain technology are seemingly endless. For example, digital representations of shares of stock of a corporation could be tokenized and traded on a blockchain, which would allow companies to maintain a corporate stock ledger without the need for a transfer agent. These shares of stock could also be traded on a decentralized exchange that would provide liquidity to shareholders without the burden of applying to be listed on a national securities exchange.

Several states have taken steps to facilitate these kinds of applications for blockchain technology. For example,
Continue Reading

On February 21 the SEC issued a  “Commission Statement and Guidance on Public Company Cybersecurity Disclosures”. The Release contains new guidelines and requirements regarding public companies’ disclosure responsibilities for cybersecurity situations. No new rules or regulations have been issued at this point, but the Release contains some valuable guidance. It is also clear that cybersecurity is a hot button for the SEC and for Chair Clayton, and I believe that cybersecurity disclosure issues will be subject to more rigorous scrutiny going forward. All public companies should carefully review the Release and evaluate their disclosure obligations in connection with cybersecurity.

The Release updates the SEC’s position on cybersecurity. The SEC’s previous guidance in this area was primarily a Corporation Finance Division Release issued in 2011 that did not contain specific disclosure requirements. The cybersecurity landscape has changed radically since then. The substantial increases in the number and severity of cybersecurity incidents, coupled with the growing dependence of businesses on cyber systems and the associated problems that arise in a cybersecurity incident, have clearly convinced the SEC that additional disclosure is required.
Continue Reading

Photo by Carlo De Pieri
Photo by Carlo De Pieri

President Barack Obama signed into law Wednesday, May 11th, a bill that will provide protection for trade secrets on the federal level.

This new legislation, called the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, or DTSA, has been hailed by commentators as an extremely significant addition to federal intellectual property law. The DTSA was created as an amendment to the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 to provide civil remedies for trade secret violations under federal law. While some potential issues exist, I believe that this new law should be beneficial to many companies because of the possible increased trade secret protection and aggressive potential remedies that it will provide.

Trade secret protection in the U.S. has primarily been available under applicable state law. The Uniform Trade Secrets Act provides some consistency, and it has been adopted by 48 states. The trade secret laws of the various states are not totally uniform, however, and this has sometimes made it difficult for companies to protect their trade secrets under the various state laws. Legal actions involving trade secret protection have generally been brought in state courts. Since the DTSA is a federal law, more trade secret actions will now be able to be brought in federal court, providing an additional potential venue for these actions.

The DTSA does not replace or preempt existing state laws. As a result, this could be an advantage to companies as it may provide a separate method of protecting their trade secrets. The DTSA also defines trade secrets a little more broadly, using “public economic value” as the heart of the trade secret definition. This broader definition of what constitutes a trade secret may expand the range of information that a company can claim as a trade secret.

That said, there is a potential problem here: the DTSA does not provide a uniform system of trade secret law and instead establishes a federal level of trade secret law on top of the existing states’ trade secret laws. This could increase the number and the complexity of legal actions involving trade secrets. Therefore, a company that wishes to assert a trade secrets action will need to analyze which court — state or federal — will be more advantageous, and this will likely vary with the different circumstances of each situation.

One-sided seizures

The DTSA contains fairly aggressive potential remedies that may be advantageous to companies which believe that a trade secret violation has occurred. The provision that has drawn the most interest is the ability of a court to issue an ex parte seizure order in certain extraordinary circumstances.
Continue Reading

Photo by Jan Tik
Photo by Jan Tik

In business, we’ve all seen the traditional nondisclosure agreement (also known, more simply, as the “NDA”) between two parties wishing to discuss a potential business transaction. While NDAs are good tools to protect a party’s confidential information during such discussions,  businesses must take care to ensure that an NDA does not jeopardize the strong protections traditionally available to them under state laws.

State trade secret laws can provide substantial protection to certain confidential information, including trade secrets. These protections generally apply to information or materials that (1) have independent economic value; and (2) are kept “secret” by the owner. Importantly for purposes of meeting the secrecy requirement, most state laws provide that, so long as the owner takes measures to protect the secrecy of the information or materials that are reasonable under the circumstances, the requirement will be deemed met. Entering into an NDA sure sounds like at least one reasonable measure to protect the secrecy of a business’ confidential information, including its trade secrets. But business must beware: certain provisions of NDAs, if not properly addressed, could endanger state law protections regarding trade secrets. These provisions generally fall into one of two categories:

1. The term of the NDA. In many cases, the term of the NDA is limited to a one, two or three year period. The issue with NDAs of limited duration stems from the fact that, once expired, the recipient of trade secrets under the NDA might have no duty to keep such information or materials confidential. Under these circumstances, once the NDA has expired, some courts may find that the owner of a trade secret is no longer taking reasonable measures to keep its trade secret a “secret.” As a result, the relevant information or materials may lose trade secret protections under state law.

On its face, the obvious solution to this problem
Continue Reading

Photo by JMR_Photography

On September 19, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba completed the initial public offering of its stock. The underwriters for the offering subsequently exercised their option to buy additional shares, making this the largest IPO in history at $25 billion. The stock’s price immediately jumped by a huge amount, finishing its first day of trading at $93.89, a 38% increase over its $68.00 IPO price. The stock has since lost some ground, closing at $87.17 on Tuesday.

What does this massive IPO mean for U.S. technology companies? I see four possible areas of impact:

  1. U.S. technology companies may delay their IPOs until they see how the Alibaba stock performs. This could be a short delay if the stock price holds up or does well. Right now U.S. technology companies Hubspot, Lendingclub.com, GoDaddy.com and Box, among others, are expected to conduct IPOs this fall.
  2. If the substantial demand for Alibaba stock holds up, fund managers may reduce their
    Continue Reading

Where to list NYSE or Nasdaq?These are interesting times for technology companies that are contemplating initial public offerings. For companies of sufficient size, the exchange for the listing of their securities generally comes down to the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market. The NYSE has historical prestige and a long track record, while the Nasdaq has cultivated a progressive, tech-friendly reputation. If you are a high visibility technology company, you will probably find these exchanges actively competing for your listing. Such benefits as free advertising have been used, and business deals involving a company’s services may influence a company’s decision as to which exchange to list its securities. For example, Oracle’s switch to the NYSE from Nasdaq was reportedly in part due to an agreement by the NYSE to continue to use Oracle software in its operations.

Nasdaq has long been the favorite exchange for the listing of technology company offerings. This was probably due to the initial progressive use of automation and electronics in this exchange’s early operations which resonated with technology company executives. Rather than traders waving pieces of paper (the historical process at the NYSE), Nasdaq pioneered the use of electronic quotation boards and other advanced methods in its operations. Nasdaq was willing to list the offerings of smaller companies and was also cheaper than the NYSE. All of these factors allowed Nasdaq to build a reputation as the technology companies’ preferred exchange. This reputation was fostered and supported by the listing of a large number of technology companies, including big hitters like Apple and Microsoft.

Nasdaq’s role as the preeminent exchange for technology companies has been diminished. One of the major blows for this exchange was
Continue Reading

The next big tech IPO is in the works. Twitter, the hugely popular short message social media site, announced last week that it has filed a Form S-1 registration statement with the SEC in connection with the company’s proposed initial public offering. This IPO has been rumored and anticipated for some time, and it will generate substantial interest among members of the tech and investment communities. This offering may not have the impact of last year’s Facebook IPO, but it will be close.

Twitter appropriately announced its planned IPO in a tweet on September 12:

Twitter announces IPO in tweet

(followed by a “get back to work” tweet):

Twitter IPO

This offering should proceed more smoothly and productively than the ill-fated Facebook IPO. The various participants in the IPO process learned a lot from the significant problems that the Facebook IPO encountered, and in some cases these lessons were driven home by significant monetary penalties (See my prior blog post regarding the Facebook IPO and its problems). No one wants a repeat of that situation, especially with such a high profile IPO. Twitter has also always impressed me as a more thoughtful and rational company than some in the tech space, and this should carry through in their IPO.

In its IPO filing process Twitter took advantage of one of the key available provisions of the JOBS Act. Section 6(e) of the Securities Act allows an “emerging growth company” to file an IPO registration statement on a confidential basis. This provision is designed to give the company and the SEC time to identify and work through potential problem areas or issues before investors see any information. It also allows companies to keep material nonpublic information confidential until late in the SEC review process. If the company decides not to proceed with its IPO, it has avoided the public disclosure of this information. If the company and the SEC can work out these problems and issues satisfactorily, the registration statement (amended as necessary) eventually becomes available to the public and the IPO process goes forward. This should make the registration process very quick and efficient after it emerges from the initial SEC review.

This confidential filing opportunity has been popular with emerging growth companies. According to an Ernst & Young JOBS Act study, approximately 63% of eligible companies used this process during the first year of its availability under the JOBS Act. The SEC has published a set of helpful FAQ’s which clarify many components of this confidential filing process.

Twitter added one interesting change to this
Continue Reading

SEC reminds you to have a disaster recovery planAlmost 10 months since Superstorm Sandy caused widespread destruction to the northeastern U.S., an area not known for frequent hurricane activity, the people and businesses affected have still not fully recovered. As we now reenter the peak of hurricane season, businesses along the eastern seaboard are probably taking a closer look now than in years past at their disaster preparedness in light of last year’s events. The impact of Hurricane Sandy was certainly not limited to the U.S. In reality, there were global implications as, for example, U.S. equity and options markets were closed for two full trading days following the storm. As a result, the SEC, FINRA and the CFTC undertook a joint review of their individual business continuity and disaster recovery planning. Last week, on August 16, these three regulatory agencies issued a joint release outlining some lessons learned and best practices noted in their investigations and review.

The release focused on a number of specific areas including:

  • Widespread disruption considerations;
  • Alternative locations considerations;
  • Vendor relationships;
  • Telecommunications services and technology considerations;
  • Communication plans;
  • Regulatory and compliance consideration; and
  • Review and testing.

The primary motif in the release was that
Continue Reading

New platform for private companiesNasdaq OMX Group, Inc. announced today that it will enter into a joint venture with SharesPost, Inc. to form a marketplace for the trading of shares of unlisted companies. This is an interesting and cutting edge move that solves some problems for both Nasdaq and SharesPost. This new marketplace should be very positive for rapidly growing and large private companies which want to allow some trading in their shares but which are not ready to become publicly traded companies. It will also give investors opportunities to buy the shares of large private companies before the shares of these companies become publicly traded. According to a Nasdaq press release issued today this new marketplace, which will be called The Nasdaq Private Market, will “provide improved access to liquidity for early investors, founders and employees while enabling the efficient buying and selling of private company shares”. 

Nasdaq will own the majority of and will control this joint venture, but the joint venture will use SharesPost’s existing trading platforms and infrastructure. The joint venture will be run by SharesPost founder Greg Brogger. Depending on the speed of regulatory approval, this new market for unlisted shares could be operational later this year. 

This move makes good sense for Nasdaq because it should help them to begin to rebuild their credibility with up and coming companies and the technology industry. These market segments have traditionally been Nasdaq’s strength, but Nasdaq has been losing company listings (even from technology companies) to the NYSE and other exchanges. Nasdaq’s problems in attracting new technology company listings may be due to the significant negative issues that occurred in the initial public offering of Facebook’s shares last year. Nasdaq took a huge hit to its credibility as it was roundly blamed and criticized for the technical glitches that occurred with the Facebook offering. Some estimates say that major market makers and broker dealers lost more than $500 million in the Facebook IPO because of Nasdaq’s technical glitches. Nasdaq will also soon feel the economic effects of this matter as it reportedly offered as much as $62 million to settle associated claims and it now faces a possible $5 million fine from the SEC. For a good discussion of the current status of Nasdaq’s Facebook offering woes, see Charlie Osborne’s post on ZDNet

This new relationship should also be very beneficial to SharesPost. SharesPost, which began operations in 2009, experienced substantial success in facilitating trading of shares of unlisted companies. The company provided the platform for trading in unlisted securities of high visibility technology companies such as LinkedIn and Facebook before these companies’ securities became publicly traded. SharesPost eventually encountered regulatory scrutiny, however, and the SEC brought an action against the company for failure
Continue Reading

Cybersecurity legislationSenator Jay Rockefeller (D., West Virginia), the most vocal proponent of cybersecurity legislation, has renewed his focus on cybersecurity legislation. He has sponsored previous cybersecurity-related legislation, but has been unable to implement any meaningful legislation in this area. His prior sponsorship of the proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2012 initially seemed to draw support in the Senate, but it encountered strong opposition from the United States Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber strongly criticized this proposed legislation and went so far as to state that the Chamber would include senators’ votes on this proposed legislation in its annual “How They Voted” survey. In any case, this proposed legislation was not passed in 2012. 

One of the strongest aspects of the Chamber’s resistance to this proposed legislation was the assertion that American companies would be strongly opposed to the legislation.  To confirm the positions of American companies on this issue, Senator Rockefeller sent a letter to the CEOs of all Fortune 500 companies on September 19, 2012. The Senator’s office has now received responses to this letter and the majority staff summarized them in a January 28, 2013 Memorandum

Approximately 300 companies responded to the Senator’s letter. The companies that responded were predominantly larger members of the Fortune 500. According to the Staff Memorandum, the overall responses of the companies were favorable to potential cybersecurity legislation (with some important caveats). 

Based on the Staff Memorandum, there appears to be general support from the responding companies for a voluntary cybersecurity compliance program. The companies’ main objections appear to be concern about the
Continue Reading