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Houston Business & Commercial Law Blog

Uber settles with drivers challenging contractor classification

Uber announced last week that the majority of the 60,000 arbitration demands filed by drivers have now settled. Drivers across the U.S. disputed their classification as independent contractors and demanded that the issue be resolved at arbitration. The settlement announcement came as part of Uber's regulatory filings for its upcoming IPO.

PMC files patent infringement suits against Google, Netflix

Personalized Media Communications LLC, the holder of nearly 100 patents relating to streaming media, filed suit in the Eastern District of Texas against several major media companies this spring - including Netflix and Google.

The complaints PMC filed against Netflix, Google and Akami primarily focused on six patents, all related to "signal processing apparatus and methods." From enabling users to request a list of programming, to controlling how programming displays, PMC alleges that their patents are the reason Netflix and other platforms can deliver quality streaming media to their customers.

What Elon Musk's disputes with the SEC can teach us

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently settled a case with securities regulators relating to tweets about projected sales numbers. Prior to this deal, the Securities and Exchange Commission demanded Musk be held in contempt over these tweets, alleging they violated a previous settlement agreement.

The long-running feud between Musk and the SEC serves as a cautionary tale for executives of publicly traded companies. While social media can provide a platform for companies to reach shareholders, potential investors, and prospective customers, Musk's feud with the SEC shows how it can also impact investment markets.

Apple and Qualcomm settle worldwide after two years in dispute

Tech giants Apple and Qualcomm had just begun trial last week when they announced an agreement to dismiss all lawsuits worldwide. Details of the settlement are scarce, but the deal includes Apple paying unspecified royalties for the use of Qualcomm's patented mobile chip technology for the next six years. Qualcomm will continue to supply Apple with mobile chips for its iPhone products.

Woody Allen sues Amazon for breach of contract

In the early 1990s, Woody Allen was accused of sexually molesting his adopted daughter. Allen vehemently denied the allegations at the time, and he now contends that Amazon.com was aware of the allegations against him when it offered him at least $68 million to make four films for its movie distribution and streaming division. Allen filed suit against Amazon after it declined to release the first of the four films and canceled the remaining three.

Amazon decided to distance itself from Allen after the director made what he later admitted were inappropriate comments about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Dozens of women, including successful actresses, have accused Weinstein of acts ranging from lewd behavior to rape. These accusations gave rise to what became known as the #MeToo movement, which has prompted an increased awareness of sexual harassment both in Hollywood and society as a whole.

Keeping proprietary information safe in business litigation

Discovery is the crucial stage in the litigation process where parties seek to obtain the evidence they need to support their positions. Since parties may generally obtain "discovery regarding any matter that is not privileged and is relevant to the subject matter of the pending action," broad swaths of documents and information are often requested.

But what happens if information that must remain confidential, such as trade secrets, is asked for in discovery? Today we discuss how trade secrets can be kept out of discovery.

Tex. R. Civ. P. 192.3(a).

January figures have made CRE investors cautious

Simmering trade disputes, volatility in equity markets and slowing growth are causes of concern for real estate investors, and there seems to be little consensus about how best to cope with these looming problems. Demand for commercial properties remains strong in Texas according to experts, but the market has cooled in recent months. These mixed signals have prompted many of the state's developers and investors to eschew speculative deals and remain loyal to conservative strategies that have served them well in the past.

Others are taking a far more aggressive approach. Northwestern Mutual believes that retail assets in the United States are undervalued, and the Wisconsin-based financial services giant is currently looking for an investment partner for a series of planned acquisitions. The company is also exploring commercial real estate opportunities in Mexico where regulations are not as strict and competition is not as fierce.

Handling risky commercial real estate markets

Investors in Texas who have commercial real estate assets or who are considering investing in commercial real estate may be interested to know how to successfully navigate in an uncertain market. There are many factors that can create anxiety and uncertainty in the commercial real estate industry. However, taking certain steps to remain agile enough to respond quickly to unexpected changes can help investors avoid being left behind.

One important step investors can make is to take a critical look at their mixture of tenants. Commercial leases that range from 10 to 15 years are no longer the norm. Corporations now favor short-term leases due to the uncertainties that can arise in the business market. Commercial real estate investors should respond in kind and revamp their long-term business models by focusing on short-term leases. While the short-term leases may change real estate valuation and financial forecasting, investors will experience an instant rise in their net operating income, which will compensate for any of the risk associated with having vacant space.

FMLA and employee family members

Many Texas companies are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act. FMLA allows leave from work not only for an employee's own health reasons, but also when an employee has a relative with a serious health condition. Intricacies in this aspect of the law can cause confusion for employers and potentially leave them open to charges of discrimination.

A family member as it pertains to FMLA means a spouse, parent, son or daughter. When an employee requests leave to take care of an ill relative, the employer is allowed to request documentation to prove the relationship, but it may not dictate the type of documentation. The employee can choose to submit a simple statement, a birth certificate, or other type of evidence of his or her relationship to the relative.

Commercial real estate attracts prominent investors

Commercial real estate in Houston and around the country can be a profitable investment, something that is reflected in the growing interest of high-net-worth investors in these projects. While commercial real estate projects have long been appealing for more local or smaller investors, a range of high-profile companies and individuals have become involved in an array of real estate ventures. Of course, urban real estate has long been an appealing investment, given the vast growth in value and the scope of many urban projects, which may be valued in the high millions of dollars.

Indeed, commercial real estate projects are also often appealing for global companies and individuals looking for a secure yet highly profitable investment. Cities like Seattle, Vancouver, and San Francisco have attracted a wide variety of firms with their highly valuable real estate and opportunities for development. While billionaires have become major players in the industry, less-wealthy people have also become major investors in both property development and private equity real estate firms. While publicly traded investments like REITs may have higher levels of vulnerability to changes in the stock market, commercial development projects often offer strong profitability with more limited risk profiles.

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