Austin TX Business Law Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Is a Joint Venture Right for My Business?

What factors should be covered in a joint venture agreement?

A joint venture with another company may be a way to grow your business. You may want to exploit a potential market for your products or services, but your business may not have the needed resources. Perhaps there is another company that complements what you do, and the two of you could work together to open up a new market so you can both profit.

That sounds good on paper, but in reality, it can be difficult to pull off. Properly drafted agreements are crucial to avert failure of joint ventures. Some common pitfalls to consider are:
• Rapid consumption of capital: Capital is often used much faster and much earlier than expected. Failure to plan for this may result in a struggle to find more capital and agreeing to a loan on unfavorable terms. The joint venture agreement may include the option of a loan from one of the partners, but the terms should be at least as favorable as a loan from a third party.
• Arguments over control: Each partner will be accustomed to his or her leadership style, and disagreements over management often occur. To manage conflicts in the future, if and when they arise, the joint venture agreement should spell out the management structure, how decisions are to be made and how are any disagreements to be resolved.
• Desire for assets: One partner may want to control the assets of the other party. A smaller company may be willing to give more control to a larger company in exchange for capital, which could result in loss of control over the project and failure in the long run. Assets that each party brings to the venture need to be properly valued and that value should be reflected in reasonable shares of ownership and control.
• Unrealistic profit expectations: Partners want to see profits, but how should they be distributed? An agreement could list priorities as to where profits should go, including paying off debt or investment back into the business.

If you are in the Austin, Texas area and think a joint venture is something that may be in your company’s future, call business and corporate law attorney Sanjeev Kumar at (512)960-3808 for a consultation today. With his successful business background, Sanjeev Kumar provides insightful and effective counsel to business owners and entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Law Will Streamline Design Patent Filings for Global Products

Do I have to seek design protection in each different country where I sell my products?

Businesses seeking to expand their markets to other countries have often sought foreign patent protection. That process will now be much simpler. The United States is joining the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs. This means that rather than filing for design protection in individual countries, applicants can file one international design application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. From that single application, protection can be obtained from all countries that are members of the Hague Agreement.

The terms of the Hague Agreement are scheduled to go into effect in the United States in May 2015. At that time, newly-filed design patents will have a term of 15 years instead of 14 years. Another feature of the new international application is that it can contain up to 100 designs, unlike the current U.S. design patents that can only contain a single claim. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has not yet published its final rules on how it will handle the new international applications.

Generally, design patents protect the way a product looks; they relate to the shape or configuration of a product, or to the surface ornamentation applied to a product, or to a combination of those. To be patentable, a design has to be original. Since design has to do with visual appearance, it is distinct from how a product works, which might be the subject of a utility patent. Sometimes, products are eligible for both kinds of patents.

The Kumar Law Firm PLLC in Austin, Texas is uniquely qualified to help your business leverage its intellectual property assets. Sanjeev Kumar's business experience enhances his legal services. Contact him today at (512)960-3808 for a consultation about forming your business strategies.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Texas Licensing Requirement for Hair Braiders Struck Down

Can the state require a business owner to take classes and buy equipment unrelated to the business?

The entrepreneurial spirit is usually celebrated, but one woman in Texas found nothing but obstacles in her way when trying to open a school to teach hair braiding. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation informed the expert hair braider that she would have to become a state-licensed barber instructor before she could open her own hair braiding school. This would have required 1,500 hours of classes and more than $20,000, in facility and equipment costs, yet none of it was relevant or necessary for a hair braiding business.

A federal lawsuit successfully challenged the licensing requirements. The judge called the rules irrational and found them to be unconstitutional. In just one example, the state required a minimum of five sinks, arguing it was related to health and safety. Braiding hair, however, does not require washing hair. As for Texas sanitation standards, the judge pointed out that a sink was not needed, as braiders could use hand sanitizer, for example.

The Institute of Justice, a legal advocacy group, was involved in bringing the lawsuit. It has been litigating similar cases around the country pushing back against regulations that are supposed to be about public health and safety but might be more about protecting certain professions after political lobbying.

For the hair braider in Texas, she is now able to open her school. It is not the first time she helped to change Texas law. In 1997, she was arrested for operating a braid shop without a barber license. That became legal in 2007.

If you have an idea for a business, The Kumar Law Firm PLLC in Austin, Texas can provide the guidance you need. Sanjeev Kumar has experience as a technology professional and engineer; his business background enhances his legal services. Contact him today at (512)960-3808 for a consultation about forming your business strategies.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying a Franchise

Is a franchise right for you?

There are many ways to start a business, including buying a franchise. No matter which path you take for your start up, there  are advantages, disadvantages and legal challenges associated with each.

The person buying a franchise is called a franchisee. That person pays a certain amount of money up front, makes ongoing payments to the franchisor (the company that started the business) and promises to live up to the rules and conditions set forth in the franchise agreement. A franchise business provides the franchisee with a business model and normally supplies everything he or she needs to get started and maintain it.

There are a number of responsibilities and benefits that come with owning a franchise.  A prospective franchisee should be aware of the pros and cons of a franchise structure.   Though not an exhaustive list, following are some of the issues associated with a franchise business:

• Similar to an owner having substantial leeway to run his or her business, the franchisor also can have a lot of control over what he or she does. This can impact what a franchisee can do and generally would put limits on the franchisee' s control of the business operations.  If the franchisee does not like the color scheme, marketing or uniforms, they usually cannot be changed. Therefore, a franchise may not be the best form of business to pursue for a headstrong person accustomed to doing things his or her own way. 

• Just because it is a franchise does not mean it will require less work than starting a business from scratch. Even if a person buys a well known franchise, it does not mean people will be lined up at the door.

• Buying a franchise should be a lesser risk than starting a business from the ground up, but there are no guarantees. The franchisee can rely on the experience and support system of the franchisor. The franchisor would generally offer training for the franchisee and staff. The franchisee might also be able to take advantage of lower prices for supplies because the franchisor is buying in bulk and passing on the savings.

• Buying a franchise can be expensive and range from tens of thousands of dollars to over a million, though the upfront cost can vary widely depending on the franchise a person gets involved in. A person may need a wealthy partner or a healthy line of credit to get started. There are also ongoing fees normally based on a percentage of sales plus contributions to a marketing fund.

The key document in buying a franchise is the franchise agreement. It should spell out the rights and responsibilities of the parties and the penalties if the contract is breached. It is critical that you fully understand the agreement and its legal and financial impacts. The Kumar Law Firm can assist you in navigating these agreements and negotiate any changes.

If you are considering getting involved in a franchise, contact the Austin, Texas, business law and franchise attorney, Sanjeev Kumar, by calling (512)323-6060 for a consultation today.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Minority Shareholder Rights, or Lack Thereof, in Texas

What rights do minority shareholders have when in dispute with majority shareholders?

When starting a business you need to think about what form that business should take. One option is a corporation. You see yourself as the majority shareholder, with others, possibly investors, getting minority shares. What are the limits to the power of majority shareholders? The state’s supreme court took up that issue earlier this year in the case of Ritchie v. Rupe.

In that case a minority shareholder, Ann Caldwell Rupe, filed a lawsuit against a closely held corporation and its board of directors. She claimed the majority shareholders engaged in oppressive conduct (forcing minority shareholders to lose their rights and/or investment in a corporation to the benefit of the majority) and breached their fiduciary duties by refusing to buy plaintiff’s shares for fair value or meet with prospective buyers. 

Initially the case went well for the plaintiff. The jury found in her favor and the court ordered defendants purchase her shares for $7.3 million. The court of appeals upheld the decision, deciding the defendant directors’ refusal to meet with Rupe’s prospective purchasers constituted oppressive conduct. 

The case turned in the defendants’ favor at the state Supreme Court. It reversed the lower courts’ decisions, deciding that those courts issued orders not authorized by state statute.  The court found that the defendant directors’ conduct was not “oppressive” under the relevant statute, that the statute did not allow courts to order a corporation to buy out a minority shareholder’s investment, and that there was no common-law cause of action for “minority shareholder oppression.” The court sent the case back to trial to consider plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim.

Often a new business will start as a corporation that is closely held by its founders. Because it’s closely held by a few people, there is no open, public market for these shares. Though initially shareholders may agree to work together and have common goals, as time goes on, differences in managing the business can arise, or if a minority shareholder wants to simply sell his or her shares or retire, majority shareholders may want to limit how much they pay for those shares or put obstacles in the way of the party to find a buyer for the shares.

Before the Rupe decision, when necessary, courts ordered majority shareholders to buy shares owned by minority shareholders at a fair market price set by an independent expert. The Texas Supreme Court decision in this case ended the minority shareholder oppression doctrine in Texas, ceasing that practice by lower courts.  But, the court in Rupe didn’t leave minority shareholders totally defenseless. There are several other potential causes of action minority shareholders may be able to use depending on the circumstances, including breach of fiduciary duty claims.  

If you are starting a business and will either be a majority or minority shareholder the language of a shareholder agreement plays a critical role in the relationship between shareholders and spells out their duties and responsibilities. If you have questions about business formation, shareholder agreement or and what your rights are as a shareholder, call Austin, Texas business law attorney Sanjeev Kumar at (512)323-6060 to schedule a consultation today.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Purchasing a Business

For some, owning a business is a lifelong dream.  While starting a business from the ground up can be difficult, buying an existing business can make this goal much more attainable.  Purchasing a business is a serious matter which should not be taken lightly.  It is important to do the appropriate leg work in order to be successful in this type of transaction and with the purchased business in the future.

The first step is deciding which industry you are interested in and what type of business you want to operate.  For example, if you are interested in the technology field, do you want to manufacture a good or provide a service or both?  Narrowing down your area of interest will greatly increase the chances of finding a business that suits your needs.  After you decide on a specific business type, the search for available businesses can begin.  This can be a drawn out affair and it is best to utilize contacts within your network to assist you in finding a good fit.

Once you find an appropriate business for sale, you can then begin your investigation into the businesses circumstances.  You want to know everything you can about the business before you make an offer to purchase it. You should obtain all financial information, including balance sheets, tax returns, and any other financial reports or documents that may help you assess the business’s past, present and future financial situation.  You also want to inquire as to the business’s liabilities, including current contracts and agreements for things such as real property, service providers and employees.  You might also want to take a look at its legal history and inquire about its reputation to get an idea about where this business stands in the community.  Please note, this is not an all encompassing list of inquiries and that depending upon the business you are interested in, different concerns can and will arise.

It is important to valuate the business as you want to know how much the business is worth before making an offer or entering into any agreement.  So you should use one of the various methods for valuation, including looking at the business’s capitalized earnings or tangible assets.  You should seek the advice of an experienced business law attorney and accountant to assist you with this as it can be a confusing assessment. 

After you determine how much the business is worth, you should make an offer.  Once the offer is accepted, you will be asked to enter into a sales agreement or contract.  The sales contract is the document that will govern the transaction from start to finish and it is therefore important that it is carefully negotiated and drafted.  It is imperative that your consult with a business law attorney during this stage.

If you are considering the purchase or sale of an existing business, you should retain a seasoned attorney to guide you through the process. Call Austin, Texas business law attorney Sanjeev Kumar at (512)323-6060 to schedule a consultation today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Texas Legislation Allowing Crowdfunding

The State of Texas is taking another step in the right direction when it comes to small businesses.  The state is expanding the mechanisms that a business startup can use to raise money.  

Texas laws currently limit private investments in business.  To comply with Texas law, contributions from venture capital and angel funds must be from investors with a certain amount of wealth or that are accredited.  This regulation seriously restricts the types of investments businesses are allowed to obtain.  But, in November, these rules are changing after the Texas Board of Securities approved crowdfunding in the state.  

Crowdfunding is a method of raising capital, usually from a large amount of investors who all make small contributions.  This process is completed mostly online and is popular in a variety of industries.  Crowdfunding will be allowed between investors and businesses in the state and investors will be able to contribute up to $5000 to a particular venture.  Businesses in Texas will now be allowed to utilize the internet to raise funds and private investors will no longer have to meet strict requirements.  The Texas Securities Board will continue to regulate the practice and will still request that businesses disclose certain investor information.  Businesses will also only be allowed to raise $1 million dollars per year.  

While some believe that this is a breakthrough for startups and small businesses in Texas, others are not as enthusiastic.  Critics highlight that crowdfunding is not the best choice for all businesses and that the decision to utilize this method should be made on a case by case basis.  They also point out that crowdfunding is much more difficult for larger businesses and even small startups might not want to deal with a large group of investors in the future. 

In any event, as we are still waiting for Federal regulation of crowdfunding, it is important to know and understand the state specific rules applicable to investments in your business.  If you are considering starting a business and using crowdfunding to raise capital, you should consult with a competent attorney. Call Austin, Texas business law attorney Sanjeev Kumar at (512)323-6060 for a consultation today.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Managing Risk in Your Small Business

While starting your own business can be one of the greatest things you ever do, it does not come without risk.  Risk can come in many forms including disaster, debt and legal liability. Successful business owners are cognizant of the risks involved in owning and operating their venture and must manage these risks at every juncture.    Fortunately, there are things that you can do to protect yourself in these situations.

First, you must think about risk even before forming your business.  A major part of how your business manages risks comes from your business structure.  Sole proprietorships and partnerships do not offer the personal asset protection that corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) do.  The corporation and LLC are considered separate legal entities and therefore their owners and managers are usually not personally liable for debts of the business, except in certain specific situations.  Overall, the structure of your business will have an impact on how you manage risk.

Once your business is formed, it is imperative that you obtain the appropriate insurance.  Some businesses are mandated by law to carry certain types of insurance.  Even if yours is not, you should always have some form of liability coverage.  General liability, errors and omissions insurance, specific coverage for corporations and many other types of insurance are available.  You should choose the insurance that is right for your business and stay up to date so that there is never a lapse in coverage.  

Even though you have taken steps to manage your risk, you should still act cautiously in your day to day operations. Do not to make statements in any forum that can be considered defamation.  It is also important that you pay attention to who you do business with as their reputation can and will be imputed to your business should a controversy arise.  In addition, do you best to avoid conflicts of interest as they can result in your business being viewed in a negative light and possibly expose you up to personal risk and liability.  

All small business owners should develop a relationship with an experienced attorney early on.  It is essential to the success of a small business to retain someone to advise you on risk management.  Austin, Texas business law attorney Sanjeev Kumar can help.  Call (512)323-6060 for a consultation today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cottage Food Law Reform Has Increased Entrepreneurship in Texas

There is a new movement among Americans- people are earning a living from food made in their home kitchens.  Bakers, canners and gardeners are starting their own businesses and selling their cottage foods to consumers.

Texas has recently passed and reformed the Cottage Food Law legalizing this activity in the Lone Star State.  
The Cottage Food Law was originally passed in 2011 and allowed individuals to sell baked goods, preserves and dried herbs out of their homes.  Then in 2013, the Texas legislature expanded the law to include many different kinds of foods, including but not limited to, candy, coffee and popcorn at craft fairs and other venues.  The revision of the law has also stopped municipalities from using their zoning laws to prohibit the production of cottage foods.  While they could once stop individuals from conducting this type of business out of their residential kitchens, they are now barred from doing so.  While the law has opened up a variety of doors for those wishing to sell homemade foods, there are a number of restrictions.  Cottage food makers cannot produce foods that have the potential to be hazardous to consumers.  They must also complete a food handling course and obtain a certificate of completion.  These courses are readily accessible and affordable.  In addition, all products must be appropriately packaged and accurately labeled in order to be sold.  

Cottage food laws have allowed and inspired many entrepreneurs to start their own businesses out of their homes.  While statistics on the number of businesses started are not available, over one thousand individuals have taken courses specifically related to cottage food handling over the last year.  These laws are enabling businesses to operate with low or no overhead costs and are therefore giving individuals an option that was not available before.  

Although the cottage food business is one that you can engage in out of your home kitchen it is still important to adhere to all of the formalities applicable to any other business.  An experienced business law attorney can assist you with legal concerns associated with formation and operation of a business.  If you are considering starting a cottage food business, or any other type of venture, call Austin, Texas business law attorney Sanjeev Kumar at (512)323-6060 for a consultation today.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What Type of Business is Right For You?

You want to go into business for yourself.  You have developed a business plan, secured the necessary funds and are ready to invest in formation and get your business off the ground.  The first thing you need to do is decide how your business will be organized.  There are many different types of structures available depending upon the size and nature of your business.  The main factors to consider are ownership, taxes and personal liability.

You must consider ownership when choosing a business form.  If you are going to own the business yourself, or with a limited number of other individuals, a sole proprietorship or partnership might be a good fit.  These types of businesses are usually fairly easy and inexpensive to start and maintain.  If your business will be owned by more than a few and/or an indefinite number of individuals, a corporation or limited liability company might be right for you.  Corporations and LLC’s, depending on their structure, allow for a business to have many owners.  These types of businesses are subject to more technical requirements than their counterparts to become established, but they are a good choice for many entrepreneurs.

We all have to pay taxes on our income and the same rules apply to businesses. The business form you choose has an effect on the taxes that you pay.  For example, corporations and LLC’s are usually eligible for more tax benefits than sole proprietorships and partnerships.  When it comes to corporations, the tax treatment depends upon the type (S or C corporation).

Individuals are held responsible for the liabilities of their businesses on a regular basis.  Some business forms can prevent your personal assets from being factored into the equation.  Corporations and LLC’s shield business owners from being personally responsible for business liabilities in most situations.  Sole proprietorships and partnerships do not offer this protection, so if you are likely to be involved in litigation or are taking considerable business loans, you might want to think twice before using these business forms.

It is essential at this point to think about where your business is starting and where you see it going.  Do not worry, if you need to change the business structure to suit your needs in the future, it can be done.  If you are considering starting your own business and need advice as to the structure, call Austin, Texas business formation attorney Sanjeev Kumar at (512)323-6060 for a consultation today.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tips for Obtaining Venture Capital

You have a great idea and you want to start a business, or you have a thriving business and are looking to expand. Either way, you need money.  Most new companies get the funds they need to get off the ground though venture capital.  Venture capital is an investment in a new business or start-up that involves a significant amount of risk. Although you should speak to a qualified business law attorney before attempting to obtain venture capital, if you think it is the right option you should have everything in order before starting your quest for an investor or investors.  In this tough economy only the businesses with an organized approach with get the funding they need.

In order to obtain venture capital you must have a solid business plan.  Investors want to fund businesses that are going to be successful and a well thought out business plan is the first step towards that goal.  Your plan should be as detailed as possible and include an overview of the business and the industry it will operate in.  You should contemplate and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the business as well as any obstacles that it may face.  Most importantly, you must include financial information.  Investors want to know how your business performed in the past (if it did) and what the finances might look like in the future.  A business law attorney can help you put together a comprehensive business plan that includes all of the necessary elements.

After you have a business plan in place, you can start your search for funds.  You should take advantage of the internet and all of the social and professional networking opportunities it has to offer in order to connect with and possibly hook an investor.  You might also want to look into crowd funding.  Crowd funding refers to raising money to start a business using small amounts from a large number of people.  There are websites devoted to just this process which you can easily exploit.

Finally, don’t be afraid to go right to the source.  Venture capitalists know best what other venture capitalists want in an investment.  Talk to anyone that will see you and present them with your business plan.  Then ask for and listen to their advice.

If you are in need of advice with regard to venture capital, call Austin, Texas business law attorney Sanjeev Kumar at (512)323-6060 for a consultation today.

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