New York’s Blue Sky Securities Laws – A Primer for Startups and Other Issuers by Michael Stanczyk

3d blue sky bookAs a younger lawyer I was regularly working on securities offerings.  For the bulk of the offerings they were private placements to accredited investors under SEC Rule 506(b), which involved filing a Form D and state notice filings.  In most states it was pretty straightforward. New York, however, was not straightforward then, and still remains a mystery to many people.  Over the years I searched for a book that covered the basics of New York’s Martin Act (the law covering securities offerings in the State), but never found exactly what I was looking for.  I kept working on deals and writing posts for this blog (in addition to memos and white papers, etc.), and over time I compiled a decent amount of information and knowledge of the subject and decided to put it all into one place.  Next thing you know I had the beginnings of a book.  Link to see it on Amazon here.

Now I don’t profess to being a specialist in the field of securities, as there are many complexities and rabbit holes to go down if you get outside the more “vanilla” type offerings. Startups, emerging companies and even investment funds, however, generally are raising money through private placements under SEC Rule 506(b). This book gives the basics and is, like its titled, a primer.  I tried to walk a fine line to allow it to be read by non-lawyers, with enough citations to assist legal practitioners.

Admittedly, this book is a niche product.  The prospective audience is those whose companies are looking to raise money, or individuals otherwise involved in some aspect of companies raising money.  I hope it can be helpful to such individuals, including younger attorneys just getting started in the field.

In any event, the book is for sale in paperback and e-book on Amazon.   I personally feel the paperback is easier to read and to flip back and forth to things, and to view the exhibits and addenda, which should be consulted. I have a number of copies of the book, and if any readers of this blog or friends and colleagues of mine would like a free copy, feel free to reach out.  Thanks for the support.

Clickwrap License Cases: Patterson v. Compuserve

Compuserve v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257 (6th Cir. 1996).

Patterson, a resident of Texas (a lawyer and software programmer), sold his own software to third parties over Compuserve’s system, pursuant to the terms of a clickwrap agreement (where he had to type “I Agree” into various sections of the agreement).

Compuserve began to sell its own software that was similar to Patterson’s and Patterson demanded Compuserve pay him $100,000 as a settlement.  Compuserve then filed a declaratory judgment action in Federal court in Ohio.

Patterson moved to dismiss the action due to alleged lack of personal jurisdiction, claiming he never visited, did business in, or consented to suit in Ohio.

The Sixth Circuit found that making Patterson subject to suit in Ohio due to his acceptance of the clickwrap agreement, a Shareware Registration Agreement, did not violate the due process clause of the United States Constitution.

The Court reasoned that Patterson personally availed himself to do business with Compuserve, and made money doing so, and could therefore have reasonably expected he’d have to defend himself in Ohio due to the terms of the agreement.

Best Practices for Drafting Browsewrap and Clickwrap Agreements

There’s still some hostility from the court system, and the public at times, on the enforceability of browsewrap and clickwrap agreements. Having an enforceable license for your website, software or mobile application is of the utmost importance.

The ABA Committee on Cyberspace Law provided general rules to ensure your online agreement is enforceable:

  1. The user must have adequate notice that the proposed terms exist;
  2. The user must have a meaningful opportunity to review the terms;
  3. The user must have adequate notice that taking a specified, optional action manifests assent to the terms; and
  4. The user must, in fact, take that action.

I fully agree with the above.  Notice, notice, notice is so important. But not just any notice.  You need to ensure that the notice is reasonable, that is that a reasonable person using your software/website/application would understand that by taking a certain action (clicking or continuing use of the site) it renders the agreement binding on them. My reading of the case law on shrinkwrap, browsewrap and clickwrap agreements made me come up with my own list in addition to the ABA Committee’s pointers:

  1. Create an easy to read, reasonable license that follows industry norms;
  2. Give the user reasonable notice that the license exists;
    • Make sure the notice is CLEAR AND CONSPICUOUS
    • Colors, size, font, placement, timing, etc. all relevant. Don’t “bury” it.  Get it in front of the user’s faces.
  3. Let the user read the full license if he or she so chooses (scrollable pop-up being preferred), prior to acceptance (click or use);
  4. Opt for clickwrap over browsewrap if possible.

 

 

Clickwrap and Browsewrap Agreements Kickoff

I’ve been involved in drafting numerous versions of online agreements, including privacy policies, service agreements, pricing policies, various other policies and last but not least both browsewrap and clickwrap agreements.  I’ve done a quick post on case law with respect to browsewrap and clickwrap agreements in the past, and was recently asked to speak for a webinar entitled Drafting Clickwrap and Browsewrap Agreements: Advanced Strategies for Enforceable Online Contracts held by Strafford.  If you’d like to listen to the webinar email me or contact them.

I feel that more and more contracting is going to be done over the Internet in the future and I am going to start a series of blog posts on drafting these types of browsewrap and clickwrap agreements as well as case law in the area, which serves to let corporate lawyers know how they have to draft the agreement, and have the users accept it. Read more

Use your Retirement Plan to Fund your Startup

First of all, I won’t advise anyone to withdraw their 401(k) funds early as the tax hit the IRS enacts is insane.  If you are thinking about doing that, please don’t, or at least don’t do so until you’ve spoken to your accountant.

This post will, however, detail how to use your qualified retirement plan or IRA to start a new, or buy an existing, business.  This name given to the process I’ll discuss is rollovers as business startups (“ROBS”).  The main gist is that an individual’s current retirement plan is rolled over into a newly established 401(k) plan sponsored by a startup company and then used to purchase the startup company’s stock.  The ROBS arrangement allows income taxes and penalties (see IRC Section 72(t))to be avoided because it is a rollover from one qualified plan to another. Read more

New York’s STARTUP-NY Program

Starting at the beginning of 2014, New York’s STARTUP-NY Program went live.  Here is the official website for the initiative.  Its goals are laudable but its only available to a small niche of companies.  If your company qualifies, however, the benefits are rather nice.

In summary, the Program provides eligible companies with free office space (at certain locations) for a period of time and the employees of the company pay no state income tax on their income (at least for the first five years, with a small amount possibly paid in years 5 through ten).  The Program is attempting to lure out-of-state companies into New York, while encouraging sprouting of new startups that otherwise may not have started without these benefits.  Overall New York is looking to add more jobs in the state, and the more jobs now (even with tax breaks) the more taxes the state can collect in teh future.  Read more

Domestic International Sales Corporations

If you export products for sale of any type and don’t know what an IC-DISC (or simply a DISC) is, or think it’s a round piece of plastic you put in your computer’s drive, then keep reading.  Any United States business with qualifying export sales can save a large amount of money with the use of a Interest Charge Domestic International Sales Corporation (referred to hereinafter as a “DISC”). Read more

Intrastate Securities Offering Exemption

I wanted to blog on some of the lesser known and relied on securities exemptions.  In certain situations they can be very helpful.  One of these is the federal Intrastate Securities Offering Exemption.  Simply, if you offer and sell in one state and one state only, and some other factors are met, the issuer is exempt from the federal registration requirement.  Blue sky laws will still apply but some states have limited offering exemptions or other exemptions the issuer can rely on. Read more