It’s a Battlefield Out There

By Heather Baldwin

There’s a scene in the movie The English Patient where two sappers holler to actress Juliette Binoche to stop and stand absolutely still. “You’re walking in a minefield!” they cry. The same could be said for anyone planning meetings these days. Take even one wrong step in the planning of your next sales meeting and you, too, could be walking in a minefield – a legal one.

Jonathan Howe, president and senior partner of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., a law firm with offices in Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., calls intellectual property (IP) the new legal trouble spot for meeting planners. Though IP has always been an issue, he says, “Suddenly it has taken on a life of its own.” Anyone planning meetings must be aware of potential legal pitfalls. Here, says Howe, are some of the biggest landmines sales managers need to be aware of when planning their next meeting.

Online Reservations Do you intend to use a software registration package? If so, you need to make sure you don’t choose a package with claims against it that software or technologies have been improperly included, thereby infringing on another patent, trademark or copyright, he advises. “Last time I looked there were about 27 patent applications for software registration packages,” says Howe. Before you make any software decisions, he recommends you check to the status of the package to make sure there isn’t a claim against it.

Speakers Do you have contractual protection against those involved in your meeting? There are several issues here. First, you must have written authority to use a speaker’s likeness in your meeting materials and to record the presentation. Second, your contract should address who owns the IP that comes out of the speech. Third, Howe recommends you get a written agreement from the speaker that he or she isn’t infringing on anyone else’s IP. Howe advises that you take these steps for every speaker, whether paid or unpaid, even if they’re company employees.

Music If you have live or recorded music at your meetings, do you have the appropriate rights to play it? When you include music, you need licenses from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC in order to play it, says Howe. Sure, it’s a pain, but the licenses are easy to get and you need to do it to protect yourself from hefty fines later. It gets more complicated if you play a video montage of your meeting at a closing banquet and incorporate music into the video. In that case, you need a synchronization license.

Confused? Overwhelmed? You’re not alone, says Howe. Talk to your lawyer to help you through the meeting planning process and you’ll ensure you’re not among the growing number of organizations against which IP claims are being made. Although the minefield is big, says Howe, “It can be avoided if you know where to step.”

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