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  • Federal Court clarifies the assessment of patent-eligible subject matter in Canada

    In Yves Choueifaty v. Attorney General of Canada1, the Federal Court of Canada has issued a significant decision concerning the assessment of patent-eligible subject matter, including the approach to be used for such assessment during the examination of Canadian patent applications. Historical perspective In keeping in step with advances in technology, the Canadian Courts have assessed and established certain principles in assessing patent-eligible subject matter. A key decision in this regard related to the patentability of Amazon.com’s “one-click” method for online purchasing. In the Amazon decision2, the Federal Court of Appeal in particular established that the assessment of patent-eligible subject matter requires a “purposive construction” of the claims, utilizing the criteria and approach long established by the Supreme Court3, and notably requiring the assessment as to whether or not a claim element is essential. As summarized by the Federal Court, two questions in particular are to be asked in this regard: Would it be obvious to a skilled reader that varying a particular element would not effect the way the invention works? If modifying or substituting the element changes the way the invention works, then that element is essential. Is it the intention of the inventor, considering the express language of the claim, or inferred from it, that the element was intended to be essential? If so, then it is an essential element. Importantly, the Supreme Court established that such an assessment should not be based on what is considered to be the “substance of the invention.” Subsequent to the Amazon decision, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) established examination guidelines to assess the patent-eligibility of subject matter in various technology areas. Such guidelines in particular followed a problem-solution approach to determine whether an element is essential and in turn the patent eligibility of a claim. Background The Choueifaty case concerns Canadian Patent Application No. 2,635,393 entitled “Method and Systems for Provision of an Anti-Benchmark Portfolio”, claiming a computer-implemented method for providing an anti-benchmark portfolio. Briefly, the method entails acquiring and processing data regarding securities in a portfolio via particular steps and calculations to generate an anti-benchmark portfolio, the various steps being carried out using a computer. During examination and appeal proceedings at CIPO, the assessment of patentable subject matter was performed via the problem-solution approach set forth in the examination guidelines relating to computer-implemented inventions. Using this approach, it was determined that the solution and in turn the essential elements of the claims were “directed to a scheme or rules involving mere calculations”, and that using a computer was not an essential element of the claims. The claims were thus rejected by CIPO on the basis that: When a claim’s essential elements are only the rules and steps of an abstract algorithm, however, that claim is non-statutory. The Court’s decision On appeal to the Federal Court, it was determined that CIPO did not apply the proper test, noting that the problem-solution approach of CIPO’s examination guidelines not only did not follow the purposive construction test of the Supreme Court, but further is an approach that the Supreme Court established should not be used: The Appellant submits, and I agree, that using the problem-solution approach to claims construction is akin to using the “substance of the invention” approach discredited by the Supreme Court of Canada ... Notably, the Court noted that CIPO’s approach failed to consider the second factor noted above, concerning the inventor’s intention, which is contrary to the test established by the Supreme Court. The Court thus allowed the appeal and set aside CIPO’s decision to reject the application, requesting that CIPO undertake a fresh assessment of this issue in accordance with the Court’s reasons. Future considerations This decision brings much needed clarity to the assessment of patentable subject matter in Canada and is a welcome development for patent applicants in a variety of technology areas. The Court’s clear instructions to use the criteria of purposive construction established by the Supreme Court will assist in the analyses of various issues of patentability during patent examination. It will be interesting to see how CIPO will proceed in light of the decision, in respect of its fresh assessment as directed by the Court and also the possibility of pursuing an appeal. Stay tuned and please do not hesitate to contact a professional of our Patents team for more information!   2020 FC 837. Canada (Attorney General) v. Amazon.com, Inc., 2011 FCA 328. Free World Trust v. Électro Santé Inc., 2000 SCC 66; Whirlpool Corp. v. Camco Inc., 2000 SCC 67

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  • Intellectual Property: New Options for Patent Ownership Disputes

    Since 1995, the Federal Court of Canada has refused to hear questions relating solely to patent ownership. In Lawther v. 424470 B.C. Ltd.1 the Federal Court declined jurisdiction, stating that “[t]his Court has no jurisdiction to entertain a dispute which is solely a matter of contract”, thereby deeming that such a dispute fell within the jurisdiction of the provincial superior courts of each province (hereinafter a “Provincial Court”). In Quebec, the provincial superior court is the Superior Court of Québec. Therefore, in patent ownership disputes, the inventor, or the person to whom the patent had been assigned, had to seek relief for these contractual issues in Provincial Court (typically, these issues would pertain to an assignment, an employment contract, an option to purchase, etc.). The Federal Court would then have to endorse the decision and ultimately order the Patent Office to change the name of the patent owner. At a time where the proportionality of proceedings in relation to the nature of disputes is a hot-button issue,2 the Federal Court’s adherence to this 20th century decision, which was the norm until recently, could leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. However, in Salt Canada Inc. v. Baker, 2020 FCA 127, in a unanimous decision rendered on July 28, 2020, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned a Federal Court decision that followed this precedent, thereby closing the door on a long-standing jurisprudential trend. Justice Stratas, in his reasons, relies on section 52 of the Patent Act, stating that “the Federal Court has jurisdiction, on the application of the Commissioner or of any person interested, to order that any entry in the records of the Patent Office relating to the title to a patent be varied or expunged.”  For Justice Stratas, the fact that even the Commissioner of Patents must refer any question of title to the Federal Court is important and demonstrates that Parliament intended to assign a judicial function, and not merely an administrative function, to the Federal Court. The Federal Court is a statutory court, such that it must derive its jurisdiction from a statute, unlike provincial superior courts, which are courts of original and general jurisdiction. There appears to have been a debate before the Court of Appeal on the enabling statutory provisions.  The respondent argued that the Federal Court’s jurisdiction in intellectual property matters is derived from section 20 of the Federal Courts Act: Industrial property, exclusive jurisdiction 20 (1) The Federal Court has exclusive original jurisdiction, between subject and subject, as well as otherwise, (…) (b) in all cases in which it is sought to impeach or annul any patent of invention or any certificate of supplementary protection issued under the Patent Act, or to have any entry in any register of copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs or topographies referred to in paragraph (a) made, expunged, varied or rectified. Industrial property, concurrent jurisdiction (2) The Federal Court has concurrent jurisdiction in all cases, other than those mentioned in subsection (1), in which a remedy is sought under the authority of an Act of Parliament or at law or in equity respecting any patent of invention, certificate of supplementary protection issued under the Patent Act, copyright, trademark, industrial design or topography referred to in paragraph (1)(a). Considering the title “Industrial property, (…) jurisdiction,” and the fact that the issue here is a question of jurisdiction, the following statement by Justice Stratas may seem surprising: “Arguably, it has no relevance whatsoever. This matter does not arise and has nothing to do with section 20 of the Federal Courts Act.” According to Justice Stratas, because the Patent Act is a federal statute, the Federal Court has jurisdiction by virtue of the combination of section 52 of the Patent Act and section 26 of the Federal Courts Act, which provides that the Federal Court has jurisdiction over any matter in respect of which jurisdiction has been conferred by an Act of Parliament. Justice Stratas goes on to review a series of decisions in which the Federal Court has agreed to interpret various contracts and legal documents as part of its jurisdiction in relation to various federal statutes, including federal tax laws, maritime law, and intellectual property disputes. Ultimately, Justice Stratas dismisses the respondent’s argument that the interpretation of contracts falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Provincial Courts. Finally, relying on a 1941 Supreme Court decision,3 Justice Stratas, at paragraph 24 of his decision, states the following: The rule in Kellogg is simple: the Exchequer Court (and now the Federal Court) can interpret contracts between private citizens as long as it is done under a sphere of valid federal jurisdiction vested in the Federal Court.It is true that, absent a specific statutory grant of jurisdiction to the Federal Court, parties cannot assert a contractual claim in the Federal Court against another private party to obtain a damages remedy.But Kellogg tells us that where such a grant is present, parties can claim a remedy even if their entitlement turns on a matter of interpretation of an agreement or other instrument—for example, the remedy of correcting the records in the Patent Office to recognize one’s title to a patent under section 52 of the Patent Act. Note that the Federal Court has jurisdiction only to amend the Register or to deal with matters relating to the Patent Act, such as patent infringement issues. It appears from this judgment that all other matters nevertheless remain matters of common law or civil law and fall within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Courts. In some cases, it may be advantageous to institute proceedings before the Federal Court rather than a Provincial Court such as the Superior Court of Québec. Among other things, the sums that a litigant can claim for reimbursing their attorney fees, if successful, are much higher in Federal Court than in some Provincial Courts. In addition, the time required to obtain a judgment is often shorter in Federal Court; furthermore, seeking relief in Federal Court makes it possible to avoid having to seek relief before both Federal and Provincial Courts4 in order to register rights with the Patent Office. On the other hand, if the issue doesn’t involve a strictly Canadian patent, but also corresponding patents in other jurisdictions (the United States, Europe, etc.) it is preferable to obtain a judgment before a competent Provincial Court in order to inter alia determine the full ownership of a patent family, obtain an injunction against a defendant to transfer titles, or have a judgment confirmed in each relevant jurisdiction. Conversely, the jurisdiction of the Federal Court is limited to the Canadian Patent Register and does not extend to other jurisdictions. It may also be preferable to institute proceedings in a provincial superior court if the goal is to claim damages for breach of contract or seek other remedies that fall under civil or common law. Regardless, the Salt Canada Inc. v. Baker decision provides a new strategic alternative for lawyers, meaning they now have more options to tailor procedures to the specific needs of litigants in patent ownership disputes.   Lawther v. 424470 B.C. Ltd., (1995) 95 F.T.R. 81 (TD) Hryniak v. Mauldin, 2014 SCC 7, [2014] 1 SCR 87 Kellogg Company v. Kellogg, [1941] SCR 242 Although it could be argued that a provincial superior court has jurisdiction to order a patent title entry to be changed, on reading sections 20 and 26 of the Federal Courts Act and sections 41 and 52 of the Patent Act.

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  • Important Changes to the CEWS announced: will you now be eligible, and what should you consider?

    The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (the “CEWS”) is a key component of the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 economic response plan. The purpose of the CEWS, adopted on April 11, 2020, is to help Canadians keep their jobs during the crisis and help companies maintain an employment relationship with their employees in order to recover more quickly when the economy returns to normal. On July 13, 2020, when the Canada Revenue Agency had already approved 667,400 applications, the Prime Minister of Canada confirmed that the CEWS will be extended until December 2020. A few days later, on July 17, the Minister of Finance of Canada announced that the CEWS will be extended until December 19, 2020. He also announced major changes to the structure of the CEWS, which, for the time being, should apply until November 21, 2020. Details are expected to follow for the eligibility period from November 22 to December 19, 2020. Summary of changes As the draft legislative proposal has not yet been adopted, the proposed changes may be modified. Duration of the CEWS Pursuant to the legislative proposal, the CEWS would now be available until November 21, 2020, and CEWS applications may be accepted until February 2021. Eligibility The concept of eligible entity remains the same, except that trusts would now be eligible for the CEWS. The changes to the CEWS are intended to make the eligibility criteria more flexible to enable more employers to benefit from the subsidy. Businesses that do not meet the 30% drop in revenue test would now be eligible to the CEWS. The base rate of the CEWS would now vary depending on the revenue decline’s level, and its application would be extended to employers with a revenue decline of less than 30%. However, despite being more flexible, the criteria would be more complex than those applicable to initial eligibility periods. CEWS’s “base” and “top-up” subsidy The amount of the CEWS for each employee would now vary according to the employer’s drop in revenue, expressed as a percentage. The CEWS would consist of two parts: a “base” subsidy and a “top-up” subsidy. During an eligibility period, the CEWS amount would be calculated by adding the base and top-up percentages, as defined in Appendix A below. Base subsidy: The maximum base CEWS rate would be gradually reduced from 60% in eligibility periods 51 and 6 to 20% for the last period (Period 9). The maximum base CEWS rate would be available for eligible entities that have experienced a revenue drop of more than 50%. It would then be gradually reduced by the percentage of the eligible entity’s revenue decline from the maximum base rate for the relevant eligibility period to zero. For example, for a revenue drop of 50% or more, the maximum CEWS amount would now be 60% for Periods 5 and 6, to be reduced to 50% for Period 7. Top-up subsidy: A maximum top-up subsidy of 25% would be offered in certain cases to provide additional support to companies particularly affected by the crisis. The top-up subsidy would be available to eligible entities that have experienced a revenue drop of more than 50% for a given eligibility period. To be eligible for the maximum top-up subsidy, a revenue drop of 70% or more must be registered for the three months preceding the relevant period. A transitional rule is provided for Periods 5 and 6 to allow eligible employers to elect the most advantageous subsidy, that is, the CEWS rate of 75% under the initial structure with a threshold of 30% or one of 60% (+ potentially 25%) under the new structure. In addition, the special rule providing for automatic eligibility forthe subsequent period would also be modified. Thus, an entity that qualified for Period 3 would automatically qualify for Period 4. However, for subsequent periods, the revenue reduction percentage from the previous qualifying period could be applied if the revenue reduction percentage for the current qualifying period is lower. For example, if an eligible entity had a 45% revenue reduction for Period 6 but its revenue reduction for Period 7 fell to 25%, the entity could benefit from the Period 6 percentage, that is, 45%. The base and top-up CEWS would apply to the remuneration of active employees. A separate CEWS rate structure would apply to furloughed employees. For furloughed employees, for Periods 5 and 6, the CEWS calculation would remain the same as it is now, but would be adjusted for Periods 7 to 9 to harmonize with income support through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”) and/or Employment Insurance. Calculating the CEWS In order to calculate the CEWS, the proposed legislation introduces three new definitions that are further described in Appendix A below. These definitions are used to calculate the base and top-up subsidies. Base percentage (if revenue decline < 50 %) Base percentage (if revenue decline = 50 %) Top-up percentage (if revenue decline > 50 %) CEWS Period 5: July 5 to August 1st, 2020 CEWS Period 6: Period 6 : August 2 to August 29, 2020 1.2 x % decline 60 % 1.25 x (% of revenue decline on preceding three-month average – 50 %) Max 25 % CEWS Period 7: August 30 to September 26, 2020 1 x % decline 50 % 1.25 x (% of revenue decline on preceding three-month average – 50 %) Max 25 % CEWS Period 8: 27 septembre au 24 octobre 2020 0.8 x % decline 40 % 1.25 x (% of revenue decline on preceding three-month average – 50 %)Max 25 % CEWS Period 9: October 25 to November 21, 2020 0.4 x % decline 20 % 1.25 x (% of revenue decline on preceding three-month average – 50 %)Max 25 % CEWS amount The maximum weekly amount per employee would be increased from $847 to a maximum percentage of 85% (maximum base and top-up subsidies) of the lesser of the weekly remuneration paid and $1,129, for a maximum of $960 per week, per employee. This percentage would be reduced according to an eligible employer’s revenue decline. The concept of eligible remuneration would remain the same, but the concept of basic remuneration would no longer apply as of Period 5, except in the case of employees that do not deal at arm’s length with the employer. Other significant changes to the CEWS A variety of other changes were announced, including: An appeal process based on the existing Notice of Determination procedure to make it possible to appeal to the Tax Court of Canada. For example, an employer denied the CEWS in whole or in part could avail itself of the objection and appeal process under the Income Tax Act to challenge the CRA decision in this regard. On June 17, 2020, as part of the economic response plan, the CRA announced that it would begin post-payment audits of CEWS claims as early as September 2020. Employers whose employees are paid through a payroll service provider would now be able to claim CEWS for the salaries of their eligible employees; For reference periods beginning July 5, employees who have not received remuneration for 14 consecutive days would still be granted eligible status; New optional reference periods have been added to each qualifying period to account for the particularities of seasonal businesses; Corporations formed on an amalgamation would be deemed to be the same corporation and a continuation of each of the corporations existing immediately before the amalgamation; Trusts would now be eligible entities; Continuity rules would be introduced to make it possible for employers who have purchased all or substantially all the assets of a business to calculate their drop in revenues for the purposes of CEWS. Labour and employment law considerations As in the previous version of CEWS, an employer would not be required to pay employees the pre-crisis remuneration they were receiving in order to be eligible to the CEWS2. However, it is important to remember that a substantial change in an employee’s working conditions, especially one lasting for an extended period of time, may give rise to allegations of constructive dismissal. An analysis of the employment contract of employees affected by a change in their working hours, remuneration, position or duties is recommended, as well as obtaining legal advice. Considering the elimination of the requirement that an employee should not be “without remuneration from the eligible employer in respect of a period of 14 or more consecutive days in the claim period,” employers will now have more flexibility in terms of call-back dates and employee schedules. Caution is still advised when calling employees back to work. While employer eligibility for CEWS is no longer dependent on the “14-day rule,” employees may still be required to reimburse the CERB benefits received, depending on their income level during the applicable eligibility period. Currently, an employee must reimburse the CERB in the following cases: 1st1 CERB eligibility period Other CERB eligibility periods An employee will be required to reimburse the sum of $2,000 if they have earned or will earn, for at least 14 consecutive days during that period, , more than $1,000 (before deductions) in employment or self-employment income. An employee will be required to reimburse the sum of $2,000 if they have earned or will earn more than $1,000 (before deductions) in employment or self-employment income during this period. Finally, despite CEWS’s rules being more flexible, some employers will have to consider permanently laying off part of their workforce. Legal advice should be obtained in order to assess an employer’s obligations under the employment contracts’ terms and applicable law. Particular considerations also apply to notice and severance pay for an employer benefiting from the CEWS, as the amounts paid generally cannot be subsidized through the CEWS. Lavery’s tax and labour law teams are available to answer all your questions regarding the application of the CEWS and to support in the case of audits by tax authorities. APPENDIX A “Revenue reduction percentage” means the percentage of revenue reduction for the qualifying period relative to revenue for the reference period used to determine eligibility. For qualifying periods beginning July 5, 2020, employers would now have the option of calculating their revenue reduction percentage by electing the greater of: The revenue reduction obtained by comparing the current month with the same month in 2019; and The revenue reduction obtained by comparing the previous month with the same month in 2019. Otherwise, an eligible employer would have the possibility of electing to calculate the revenue reduction percentage by comparing either: The current month and the average of January and February 2020; or The previous month and the average of January and February 2020. Employers would be able to decide which calculation method they wish to use for the qualifying period beginning July 5, regardless of the election they made for qualifying periods prior to that date. The method chosen for the eligibility period beginning July 5 would become mandatory for all subsequent qualifying periods. The reference periods for the purposes of calculating the revenue reduction percentage of an eligible employer would thus be as follows: Reference period (revenue reduction percentage) Optional reference period (revenue reduction percentage) Qualifying period 5: July 5 to August 1, 2020 July 2020 compared to July 2019 or June 2020 compared to June 2019 July or June 2020 compared to the average of January and February 2020 Qualifying period 6: August 2 to August 29, 2020 August 2020 compared to August 2019 or July 2020 compared to July 2019 August or June 2020 compared to the average of January and February 2020 Qualifying period 7 : August 30 to September 26, 2020 September 2020 compared to September 2019 or août 2020 comparé à août 2019 September or August 2020 compared to the average of January and February 2020 Qualifying period 8: September 27 to October 24, 2020 October 2020 compared to October 2019 or September 2020 compared to September 2019 October or September 2020 compared to the average of January and February 2020 Qualifying period 9: October 25 to November 21, 2020 November 2020 compared to November 2019 or October 2020 compared to October 2019 November or October 2020 compared to the average of January and February 2020 “Top-up percentage” is the percentage equal to the lesser of: 25%; 1.25 multiplied by the result of the following subtraction: The average monthly revenue for the last three calendar months divided by the average decrease in revenue compared to their respective reference period; minus 50% The qualifying periods and their corresponding reference periods for the purpose of calculating the top-up percentage are set out in the table below: Qualifying period Reference period (top-up percentage) July 5 to August 1, 2020(Period 5) Average of April to June 2020 compared to the average of April to June 2019 or January and February 2020 August 2 to August 29, 2020(Period 6) Average of May to July 2020 compared to the average of May to July 2019 or January and February 2020 August 30 to September 26, 2020 (Period 7) Average of June to August 2020 compared to the average of June to August 2019 or January and February 2020 September 27 to October 24, 2020(Period 8) Average of July to September 2020 compared to the average of July to September 2019 or January and February 2020 October 25 to November 21, 2020(Period 9) Average of August to October 2020 compared to the average of August to October 2019 or January and February 2020 “Base percentage” means the percentage calculated based on the base percentage defined above and the qualifying period, as set out in the table below: Reference period (base percentage) Base percentage if the revenue reduction percentage exceeds 50% Base percentage if the revenue reduction percentage does not exceed 50% Qualifying period 4: June 7 to July 4, 2020 June 2020 compared to June 2019 or the average of January and February 2020 N/A N/A Qualifying period 5: July 5 to August 1, 2020 July 2020 compared to July 2019 or the average of January and February 2020 60 % 1.2 x revenue reduction percentage Qualifying period 6: August 2 to August 29, 2020 August 2020 compared to August 2019 or the average of January and February 2020 60 % 1.2 x revenue reduction percentage Qualifying period 7: August 30 to September 26, 2020 September 2020 compared to September 2019 or the average of January and February 2020 50 % 1 x revenue reduction percentage Qualifying period 8: September 27 to October 24, 2020 October 2020 compared to October 2019 or the average of January and February 2020 40 % 0.8 x revenue reduction percentage Qualifying period 9: October 25 to November 21, 2020 November 2020 compared to November 2019 or the average of January and February 2020 20 % 0.4 x revenue reduction percentage As set out in the table above, the base percentage rate, and therefore the total amount of CEWS paid relative to an employee’s salary, would gradually decrease over the qualifying periods. The maximum CEWS for an employee’s salary for a given week in the last qualifying period beginning October 25, 2020, would be $508. New CEWS calculation For qualifying periods beginning August 30, the amount of the CEWS that may be claimed for each employee would be calculated as follows: If the employee deals at arm’s length with the employer and is not on paid leave in a particular week: The percentage obtained by adding the base percentage and the top-up percentage for the qualifying period multiplied by the lesser of: The remuneration paid in respect of that week; and $1,129.00. If the employee does not deal at arm’s length with the employer and is not on paid leave for a particular week: The lesser of: The eligible amount of remuneration paid in respect of that week; An amount prescribed by regulation; and $0 if both the revenue reduction percentage and the top-up percentage are 0%. Eligibility periods: March 15, 2020, to April 11, 2020 (Period 1), April 12, 2020, to May 9, 2020 (Period 2), May 10, 2020, to June 6, 2020 (Period 3), June 7, 2020, to July 4, 2020 (Period 4), July 5, 2020, to August1, 2020 (Period 5), August 2, 2020, to August 29, 2020 (Period 6), August 30, 2020, to September 26, 2020 (Period 7), September 27, 2020, to October 24, 2020 (Period 8), and October 25, 2020, to November 21, 2020 (Period 9). It should be noted that the government strongly encouraged businesses to supplement employee remuneration to bring it back to pre-crisis levels wherever possible.

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  • Further COVID-19 Update on Canadian IP

    The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) has now made a further announcement concerning the extension of deadlines, to the effect that  deadlines falling within March 16 to August 7, 2020, are extended to August 10, 2020. CIPO is otherwise still open for business and our IP team members have been continuing operations and transacting with CIPO on a regular basis, in a remote and secure manner. Please do not hesitate to contact a member of our IP group should you have any questions. In addition, the Canadian government has enacted the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, which, inter alia, has amended the Canadian Patent Act to add new section 19.4. This amendment provides a type of temporary compulsory licensing regime for patented technologies necessary to respond to a public health emergency. This is a temporary measure, since (1) if such authorization is granted, it will not last longer than 1 year (or may end sooner if the Minister of Health determines that such authorization is no longer necessary), and (2) no such authorization will be granted after Sept. 30, 2020. Under this provision, the authorized party may make, construct, use and sell the patented invention to the extent necessary to respond to public the health emergency. In return, the authorized party must pay the patentee what the Commissioner of Patents considers to be adequate remuneration under the circumstances. Rest assured that we remain at your service for all your legal needs, including those required to manage this pandemic, and that we will keep you informed as the situation evolves. We would like to offer our thoughts and support during these challenging times.

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  • Sale of a Business: New Tax Planning Option

    The sale of a business is often the most significant business transaction in an entrepreneur’s life. In addition, the net proceeds from such a sale often represent an entrepreneur’s only retirement fund. Therefore, it is crucial to maximize such proceeds by reducing or deferring the taxes resulting from the transaction as much as possible. The Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) recently reversed an administrative position that it had expressed in 2002 with respect to beneficial tax planning as part of the sale of a business. This change in its rather technical administrative position opens the door to very effective tax planning that offers real tax deferral opportunities to business owners wishing to sell their business. Consider the following example: Sale of 100% of shares to a third party without prior planning Ms. Tremblay wishes to sell 100% of the shares of her company (“Opco”) to a third party for their fair market value (“FMV”) of $10 million. These shares have an adjusted cost base of $1.00. Ms. Tremblay’s direct sale of 100% of Opco shares to a third party would result in a capital gain of approximately $10 million and total income taxes of approximately $2.7 million, assuming that her capital gain is not eligible for the capital gains exemption. In this scenario, Ms. Tremblay would be left with a sum of approximately $7.3 million after taxes. Sale of shares with the newly approved prior tax planning In the second scenario, prior to the sale to the third party, Ms. Tremblay would create a management company (“Gesco”) and transfer 50% of Opco shares to it on a rollover basis, with no immediate tax consequences. Gesco would then internally exchange Opco shares in order to realize a $5 million capital gain within Gesco, resulting in income taxes of approximately $1.26 million for Gesco, a portion of which would later be refunded through the use of a non-eligible refundable dividend tax on hand account. Subsequently, Ms. Tremblay would sell her remaining 50% of Opco shares to Gesco in two transactions of 25% each, both payable by a promissory note equal to the FMV of the shares—in our example, $2.5 million per transaction. Ms. Tremblay would then be deemed to have received two dividends of $2.5 million each. The first would be designated as a capital dividend by Gesco and would therefore be tax-free for Ms. Tremblay. The second would be designated as an ordinary (non-eligible) dividend, resulting in total income taxes of approximately $1.18 million for Ms. Tremblay. The designation of the second dividend as an ordinary dividend would result in a refundable dividend tax on hand for Gesco of approximately $766,000. Gesco, owning 100% of Opco shares having an adjusted cost base equal to their FMV, would sell them to a third party for a sum of $10 million, generating no additional capital gain within Gesco. By using the tax mechanisms of a capital dividend account and a non-eligible refundable dividend tax on hand account, the sale of Opco shares would result in total income taxes of approximately $1.67 million, split between Ms. Tremblay and Gesco. Ms. Tremblay would then be left with proceeds of $3.82 million after taxes, while Gesco would be left with $4.51 million after taxes. Given that Ms.Tremblay would keep funds within Gesco, she would be able to defer the time at which she would be taxed on them, that is, when Gesco would pay her a dividend. In the meantime, she could make investments through Gesco. This type of planning would result in a tax deferral of almost 38% of the income taxes that, without prior planning, would have been payable on the sale of the shares. Our taxation team will be happy to answer all your questions and advise you on the most appropriate tax planning for your business. The information and comments contained herein do not constitute legal advice. They are intended solely to enable readers, who assume full responsibility, to use them for their own purposes.

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  • Resumption of Mergers and Acquisitions: What May Change After the Crisis

    The COVID-19 crisis has significantly slowed economic activity in all respects. The area of corporate mergers and acquisitions is no exception, and the level of activity, which was high before the crisis, has dropped significantly because of it.   It is difficult to predict when and at what pace such activity will resume, but we expect that, like many other sectors of the economy, this market will be different from what it was before the crisis. Among other things, we expect that the uncertainty regarding economic recovery will see vendors and purchasers increasingly rely on earnout clauses to reach agreements on the value of a business. Opportunities to obtain financing for the acquisition of a competitor or a complementary business are also likely to be limited, which will change how such transactions are financed. The new behaviours made necessary by the post-crisis economic environment will certainly have considerable fiscal impacts. The tax rules applicable to earnout clauses can be complex, and parties to such transactions should learn about them before signing a letter of intent for a potential transaction. Those wishing to sell could get an unpleasant surprise in terms of the net result of the sale of their business if they aren’t properly advised from the outset. In some cases, the sale of a business that would normally be expected to generate a capital gain with only 50% of such gain being included as taxable income could instead be 100% taxable as business income. Earnout clauses offer very interesting tax planning possibilities in some cases, such as the maximization of capital dividend accounts that corporations can use to pay tax-free dividends to their shareholders. The same care should be applied by those wishing to acquire or sell a business with regard to the different methods of financing transactions that are likely to become popular after the crisis, such as partial financing by the vendor. Poor tax planning in this regard could result in liquidity problems for vendors if payment of the balance of the sale price is spread out over too long a period. Purchasers will also want to maximize the tax benefits of this type of financing. The main way to do so involves banking on interest costs resulting from the financing of the purchase price, but to reap such benefits and others, the commercial agreements relating to the purchase must be carefully structured. Tax complexities are numerous in M&A transactions, and those mentioned above are just two examples. The tax incidence of such transactions should be analysed as soon as they are contemplated. Parties to M&A transactions often wait too long before analyzing tax aspects. They thus greatly limit their opportunities to benefit from optimal tax planning.  For more information, our taxation team is available to help you.

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  • COVID-19: Support for Agriculture and Agri-Food Businesses in Quebec and Canada

    It goes without saying that the economic upheavals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are posing countless challenges for all companies, whether or not they are pursuing their activities within the limits imposed by the governments of Canada and Quebec. Food producers such as agricultural and food processing businesses, considered by the Quebec government to be essential services, are not exempt from this harsh reality. In this context, different levels of government and certain key economic actors have taken critical measures to support and protect businesses in the agriculture and agri-food industry, which are vital to both the health of individuals and that of the Canadian and Quebec economies. This bulletin presents the various support measures specific to agri-food industry businesses, which may also be eligible for general tax and economic support measures announced in response to COVID-19, including the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). Canadian measures Recruitment support Many food producers depend on the additional input of foreign labour during the summer months. To offset the impact of the mandatory 14-day isolation period for anyone arriving from abroad, the Canadian government is providing financial assistance of $1,500 to such producers for each temporary foreign agricultural worker arriving in Canada to work. This financial assistance is conditional on compliance with the mandatory isolation period or other public health guidelines. Financial support The Government of Canada has also increased Farm Credit Canada’s (FCC) capital base by $5 billion in order to increase its lending capacity for agribusinesses and food producers and processors. For existing borrowers, FCC offers: Deferral of principal and interest payments for up to 6 months or deferral of principal payments for up to 12 months; and Access to an additional secured line of credit up to a maximum of $500,000 (for Quebec borrowers only). FCC offers term loans of up to $2.5 million,with no fees, to any Canadian agriculture and agri-food business whose working capital or production is impacted by COVID-19. Borrowers have the option of paying interest only for 18 months and benefit from a 10-year amortization period. The Government of Canada additionally announced support measures for farm producers, agri-food businesses and the food supply chain, which consist of the following: A sum of $77.5 million to help food processors purchase protective equipment and adapt work areas; A $125 million injection into the AgriRecovery program to cover additional costs to meat producers; A budget of $50 million to buy back certain surpluses, including potatoes and poultry; An increase of $200 million in the Canadian Dairy Commission’s borrowing limit to support temporary storage costs for butter and cheese; Financial assistance of $62.5 million for the fish and seafood processing industry; and Income support for fishers who are not eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, in the form of benefits and subsidies. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy On May 15, 2020, the Government of Canada announced its intention to amend the legislation on the CEWS to include measures to increase support for employers that hire seasonal employees. These new provisions, once they are passed, will give employers that are eligible for the CEWS two options for the calculation of their eligible employees’ average “baseline remuneration”: (1) the period from January 1 to March 15, 2020, or (2) the period from March 1 to May 31, 2019. In both cases, any period lasting seven days or more without remuneration will be excluded from the calculation. To be eligible, the employees must not be residents of Canada. Quebec measures The reality of COVID-19 is demonstrating that the success of the agriculture and agri-food industry is one of the Government of Quebec’s top priorities, as it is for the population in general. Recruitment support On April 17, 2020, the Government of Quebec announced that it will pay a premium of $100 per week to anyone taking on work for farmers between April 15 and October 31, 2020. As of April 22, 2020, close to 2,300 Quebecers had applied for such positions, the government’s goal being to encourage 8,500 people to get involved. Financial support La Financière agricole du Québec (FAQ), a government organization serving the agricultural and agri-food industry, has also implemented exceptional measures: Loans of up to $50,000 to support farm producers experiencing liquidity problems related to COVID-19; A six-month moratorium on loan repayments; Interim payments increased to 75% under the AgriStability program to ensure that program benefits are quickly available; Notices of assessment for the Farm Income Stabilization Insurance Program deferred to July 1, 2020; Deadline to enrol in the Crop Insurance Program extended from April 30 to May 21, 2020. Deadline to apply for the Agristability Program extended from April 30 to July 3, 2020. Notices of assessment for the Crop Insurance Program deferred from June 1 to July 1, 2020;  Investment grant payments under many FAQ programs moved up from June1 to May 1, 2020. Finally, the investment company Fondaction, whose mission is to practice socially responsible development, has undertaken to allocate $40 million to Quebec SMEs in the agricultural and agri-food industry over the next year. In addition, Fondaction has made its financing offer more flexible in order to provide support to industry businesses that are solid and growing, provided that they were profitable before COVID-19. Such businesses can apply for assistance from Fondaction to finance any project of $500,000 or more requiring development capital.   The Lavery team is committed to supporting your agricultural and agri-food business. We are available to answer all your questions regarding the announced measures, how they affect your business and any aspect relating thereto. The information and comments contained herein do not constitute legal advice. They are intended solely to enable readers, who assume full responsibility, to use them for their own purposes. The information and comments contained in this document are limited to measures in Quebec or Canada announced or made public on or before June 4, 2020.

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  • Improving Cybersecurity with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

    New challenges The appearance of COVID-19 disrupted the operations of many companies. Some had to initiate work from home. Others were forced to quickly set up online services. This accelerated transition has made cybersecurity vitally important, particularly considering the personal information and trade secrets that might be accidentally disclosed. Cybersecurity risks can stem not only from hackers, but also from software configuration errors and negligent users. One of the best strategies for managing cybersecurity risks is to try to find weak spots in the system before an attack occurs, by conducting a penetration test, for example. This type of testing has really evolved over the past few years, going from targeted trial and error to larger and more systematic approaches. What machine learning can bring to companies Machine learning, and artificial intelligence in general, is able to simulate human behaviour and can therefore function as a hypothetical negligent user or hacker for testing purposes. As a result, penetration tests involving artificial intelligence can be a good deal more effective. One example of relatively simple machine learning is Arachni: open-source software that assesses the security of web applications. It is one of the tools in the Kali Linux distribution, which is well-known for its penetration testing. Arachni uses a variety of advanced techniques, but it can also be trained to be more effective at discovering attack vectors-vulnerabilities where the applications are the most exposed.1 Many other cybersecurity software programs now have similar learning capabilities. Artificial intelligence can go even further. Possible uses for artificial intelligence in the cybersecurity field include2: A faster reaction time during malware attacks More effective detection of phishing attempts A contextualized understanding of abnormal user behaviour IBM has recently created a document explaining how its QRadar suite, which incorporates artificial intelligence, can reduce managers’ cybersecurity burden.3 What it means: Human beings remain central to cybersecurity issues. Managers must not only understand those issues, including the ones created by artificial intelligence, but they must also give users clear directives and ensure compliance. When considering which cybersecurity measures to impose on users, it is important for IT managers to be aware of the legal concerns involved: Avoid overly intrusive or constant employee surveillance. It may be wise to consult a lawyer with experience in labour law to ensure that the cybersecurity measures are compatible with applicable laws. It is important to understand the legal ramifications of a data or security breach. Some personal information (such as medical data) is more sensitive, and the consequences of a security breach involving this type of information are more severe. It may be useful for those responsible for IT security to talk to a lawyer having experience in personal information laws. Finally, a company’s trade secrets sometimes require greater protective measures than other company information. It may be wise to include IT security measures in the company’s intellectual property strategy.   https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/web-application-testing-with-arachni/#gref https://www.zdnet.com/article/ai-is-changing-everything-about-cybersecurity-for-better-and-for-worse-heres-what-you-need-to-know/; https://towardsdatascience.com/cyber-security-ai-defined-explained-and-explored-79fd25c10bfa Beyond the Hype, AI in your SOC, published by IBM; see also: https://www.ibm.com/ca-en/marketplace/cognitive-security-analytics/resources

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  • Travel and Immigration: Update on Restrictions in Canada

    If you have any questions about this publication, please contact Nicolas Joubert. Thanks to David Nachfolger for his contribution to this article. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has imposed a series of travel and immigration restrictions for all travelers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents. These regulations govern both commercial airline carriers transporting foreign nationals to Canada and immigration processes and procedures for those seeking to visit, study, or work in Canada. For ease of reference, we have summarized these restrictions as follows: Visitors For foreign nationals seeking to visit Canada from outside the United States, travel will not be permitted save for individuals who, among other criteria, are: Immediate family members (spouse or common-law partner, dependent child or dependent child of a dependent child, parent or step-parent, guardian or tutor) of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. Travelling for a non-discretionary purpose. It is important to note that officers of the Canada Border Service Agency make the final determination on admission into Canada at a Canadian port of entry. Recently, officers have been interpreting the entry into Canada of immediate family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents narrowly and refusing admission to some family members. Foreign nationals seeking to visit Canada from the United States must demonstrate that their reason for entering Canada is essential and non-discretionary (reasons include critical infrastructure support, certain types of work, and economic services and supply chains). Students International students who have a valid study permit or who were approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020, can travel to Canada. Temporary Foreign Workers Workers who hold valid Canadian work permits and normally live in Canada (even if they have been laid off) can enter Canada. This also applies to workers who have applied for work permits from outside of Canada and have a work permit approval letter from Canadian authorities. Foreign workers who have received work permit approval letters for jobs at Canadian businesses that have closed because of Covid-19 will not be admitted, along with individuals who have received work permit approval letters for open work permits (with no contract of employment). For foreign nationals who do not hold Canadian work authorizations, only those with offers of employment in critical industries such as agriculture, food processing, health, transportation and emergency services will be processed. For foreign nationals whose objective in travelling to Canada is to perform work normally exempt from the requirements of a work permit (such as urgent aftersales service or emergency repair work), they can self-identify to commercial air carriers with a letter of support from the their Canadian employer and documentation outlining the urgency of their entry, which will also be needed to persuade a CBSA officer of the non-discretionary and non-optional purpose of their entry. General Information Airline officials will conduct a health check, and anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to board their flight to Canada. All travelers must have a plan to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in Canada. This is mandatory, even if they have no symptoms. Travelers without a plan should not travel to Canada. All travelers should wear a non-medical mask during travel. Restrictions apply to individuals travelling to Canada by private and commercial operators. Canadian authorities have announced that Canadian visa application centres that collect biometrics are temporarily closed further to the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, any applicants who are required to undergo a medical exam with an approved panel physician will be unable to do so given that most, if not all, panel physicians are not currently performing medical examinations because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The inability to give biometrics or undergo a medical examination effectively prevents many foreign nationals from applying to enter Canada at this time, even if they are exempt from the travel restrictions. Canadian authorities have also confirmed that work permit applicants who are currently outside Canada must confirm that their employer is not subject to the mandatory closure of non-essential businesses and that they will be able to start their employment after the 14-day self-isolation period before making any travel arrangements. Workers should not travel to Canada if their employer is no longer offering them a job. CBSA officers may ask if the offer of employment still stands or if the employer is still operating. If not, CBSA may refuse the work permit as the foreign national no longer meets the applicable eligibility requirements. The members of our Business Immigration team are available to answer any questions you may have about measures you are considering or the solutions you are seeking given the realities of your organization and its activities.-->

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  • Natural Products and Pharmaceutical Innovations: What are the Patent Options?

    Natural products play an important role in pharmaceutical innovation. They are active components in many medicines. For example, nearly half of the small molecules used to treat cancer are natural products or directly derived from natural products.1 They are also components of vaccines. The pharmaceutical industry is constantly seeking access to natural products and the traditional knowledge associated with them. These include plants (roots, bark, leaves), micro-organisms (terrestrial and marine), toxins, venoms and other natural biological agents.  In the current race to develop a drug and/or vaccine against COVID-19, natural products or derivatives are surely worth considering as a starting point. The harvesting of natural resources for use by the pharmaceutical industry is usually carried out by partners such as traditional healers, farmers, academics or businesses. Thus, the process usually involves several stakeholders, including providers and users of natural resources and associated traditional knowledge, which are often located in different parts of the world. Fair and equitable collaboration in such a context requires well-developed collaboration agreements and access and benefit-sharing agreements. Various instruments of international law encourage the signing of such agreements, including: The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which recognizes the sovereignty of states over their natural resources. The CBD sets out fundamental principles to regulate access and benefit-sharing, including that access to natural resources, their use and the sharing of benefits arising from them should be based on “mutually agreed terms.”2 The Nagoya Protocol covers the sharing of the results of research and development, the payment of royalties and joint ownership of intellectual property (IP) rights.3 The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has developed a guide to assist providers and users of natural resources and associated traditional knowledge in the negotiation and establishment of IP clauses in access and benefit-sharing agreements. The guide describes how IP rights can be exploited and managed to achieve the desired objectives, and how the benefits arising from the use can be created and shared in a fair and equitable manner, thereby promoting the conservation and use of biodiversity.4 Furthermore, research and development activities in the pharmaceutical industry are known to be associated with high risk and high investment costs. Indeed, it is widely recognized that the process to develop a drug can take up to 15 years, only about 16% of molecules entering the clinical phase will be approved, and only 1 in 5 marketed drugs generates revenues equal to or greater than the research and development costs involved.5  In the pharmaceutical industry, intellectual property, especially patents and data protection, is thus considered an essential instrument for securing the economic benefits of an innovation. Efforts in this intense period of development of a drug/vaccine against COVID-19 are of course focused on the technical aspects directly related to research and development. Nevertheless, those involved should not lose sight of the importance of collaboration agreements and access and benefit-sharing agreements.  When it comes to natural products in particular, concluding agreements with solid clauses on possible innovations and patents is key for providers of natural resources and traditional knowledge. The same applies to users of these resources and knowledge. We explore some of these clauses below. Initial consideration – deciding whether or not to patent Factors to be considered include the nature and purpose of the project, the expected value of the project results, business objectives, and the ability to manage acquired patents. The decision to apply for a patent, or not to do so, depends largely on whether the benefits of patent protection will outweigh the cost of obtaining it. Confidentiality What information must be kept confidential to ensure that its disclosure does not jeopardize the chances of obtaining patent protection? Agreements should include clear clauses on information management (publication of scientific articles, presentations at conferences, press releases, etc.). The parties may agree to make public disclosures only after mutual approval and the filing of a patent application. Some jurisdictions (Canada, United States, Japan) offer a grace period after a disclosure of the innovation, but for other jurisdictions (Europe, China) there is virtually no such grace period. Where patent protection is desired, the US Provisional Patent Application is a key tool for managing the confidentiality of an innovation under development. Patentability of research and development results While a natural substance as such generally cannot be patented, some results derived from the use of natural resource and associated traditional knowledge can be protected by patent, provided that the innovation is new, useful and not obvious. Parties obtaining the patents Should a general principle applicable to all innovations resulting from the use of natural resources obtained from providers be adopted? Should users have the obligation of reporting all developed innovations? Should they have the obligation of agreeing on the terms for obtaining a patent? Countries where patent protection can be obtained Countries where patents can be obtained are determined by taking into account key markets, strategic locations for drug manufacturing and other considerations, such as the country of origin of natural resources and the traditional knowledge associated to them. Depending on the number of countries ultimately chosen, a strategy involving a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) international application could be considered.  Inventors It is important to name the “real” inventors in a patent application—the validity of the future patent could depend on this. Those who participated only in collecting natural resources or verifying use results may not qualify as inventors. The extent of scientific contribution is one of the main factors to consider. Ownership of future patents The Nagoya Protocol mentions joint (provider-user) ownership of patents as a possible benefit-sharing mechanism. However, companies in the pharmaceutical industry are not keen on this practice. They try to avoid the complications and legal uncertainties associated with joint ownership. Although most countries, including Canada, require the co-owner of a patent to obtain the consent of the other co-owner in order to grant a license, this is not the case in the United States, where a co-owner can grant a license without the consent of the other party and without having to give any justification with respect to royalties or other payments. One commonly adopted solution allows the user to retain ownership of the patent while the provider is granted a royalty-free license. However, some providers consider this option unfair because the patent is not co-owned. In cases of joint ownership, it will of course be necessary to determine how responsibilities will be divided between the provider and user. The parties must decide who will be responsible for filing the patent application and for maintaining the continuing effect of the patent, and who will provide the resources necessary for performing these actions. Patent exploitation What is the most appropriate model for exploiting a patent and disseminating innovation? Which among a license, assignment or joint venture is preferable? Who will negotiate and approve the terms of any subsequent patent exploitation agreement? Should licenses be granted free of charge, or should preferential conditions be granted to entities in the provider’s country or to other partners? Benefit-sharing How, when and between whom will the monetary or non-monetary benefits arising from the commercial exploitation of a patent be distributed? What benefit-sharing mechanisms can be applied in this case? Management of conflicts between provider and user It is important to determine what jurisdiction will apply and how possible conflicts will be resolved (mediation, binding or non-binding arbitration, civil action, etc.). Disputes Only a patent owner can sue for infringement. If the patent is owned only by either the provider or the user, the other party’s cooperation can be negotiated. End of collaboration A collaboration can end for a number of reasons, for example, as a result of problems with the flow of natural resources (volume, quality). What happens to acquired patents then? Conclusion Providers and users of natural resources and associated traditional knowledge should carefully consider their relationship ahead of time. It is very likely that research and development using natural resources will lead to patentable innovations. If there are no plans for patent co-ownership, it is important to include relevant clauses in agreements that ensure a fair and equitable distribution of monetary or non-monetary benefits resulting from the commercial exploitation of patents.   Newman D. et Cragg G., “Natural products as sources of new drugs over 30 years from 1981 to 2014”, Journal of Natural Products (2016), 79.3, 629-661. Convention on Biological Diversity. Nagoya Protocol. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) (2018), A Guide to Intellectual Property Issues in Access and Benefit-sharing Agreements. Report of the Meeting of the Group of Legal and Technical Experts on Concepts, Terms, Working Definitions and Sectoral Approaches (UNEP/CBD/WG-ABS/7/2).

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  • Return to Work After COVID-19: What Plans Should You Make?

    As an employer, you are probably preparing for the reopening of the workplace in a pandemic setting and actively planning for your employees’ return to work. To help you in your thought process and preparations, we have prepared a list of items that you should address or consider in order to make the return to work as safe and effective as possible. While we don’t claim that ours is an exhaustive list, it does provide a general overview of things to consider before you resume your activities. Note that each business and industry is different and will need a specifically tailored plan. Our professionals are available to help you implement your return-to-work plan. Key planning steps Risk Assessment Before your employees return to work, conduct a site inspection to identify potential COVID-19 transmission or contamination risks. Implement measures to prevent and control identified risks with the collaboration of your employees, to the extent possible, and their union representatives, if any. Make sure that work methods comply with guidelines issued by the CNESST, the government and public health officials. Develop a plan to gradually reopen your workplace and share this plan with your employees. Encourage your employees to participate in identifying workplace risks and provide them with a forum or mechanism to make it easy for them to participate. Prevention Develop a procedure for checking employee and visitor health to avoid contagion in the workplace as much as possible. This may be done through a questionnaire, screening or self-reporting. Issue a directive that all workers and visitors must be vigilant and notify the employer if they experience COVID-19-like symptoms such as a fever or cough, difficulty breathing or sudden loss of smell or taste, or any other symptoms that government authorities may add, before reporting to the workplace.1 Set rules regarding hygiene, including hand washing, and respiratory etiquette at work2. Develop an environmental hygiene procedure involving daily disinfection of workplaces, objects and surfaces.3 Establish a procedure for isolating and managing employees or visitors who have symptoms in the workplace, as well as a procedure for disinfecting the premises. Encourage employees at higher risk of developing serious or severe complications from COVID-19 infection to follow appropriate prevention measures. Stay abreast of updates and guidelines issued by government, public health or occupational health and safety authorities, and follow them. Physical Distancing Issue clear guidelines regarding the physical distancing rules4 and how employees and visitors are responsible for respecting them. Inform employees and others such as customers, suppliers and business partners of these rules through the use of posters, memos, etc. Encourage telework for all employees wherever possible in order to reduce the number of employees on-site. Take steps to ensure that physical distancing is respected, and make certain that everyone can do so every day by rearranging workstations and work schedules, installing physical barriers, closing common areas, arranging or coordinating access to workplaces, installing contactless equipment, using technological means, holding virtual meetings, arranging for flexible hours, changing work methods, and so forth.  Revisit the organization of any in-person events or gatherings and consider holding these virtually or postponing them. Prohibit social practices that violate distancing rules, such as shaking hands. Develop protocols for the use of elevators or common areas. Policies Review your telework policies or procedures. Check your workplace civility or harassment prevention policies and update them to include virtual communications. Review your policies relative to attendance and leave for family or medical reasons in preparation for possible COVID-19-related absences. Create a policy or procedure for the return to work of employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, who think they may have COVID-19 or who have been exposed to someone who has contracted the disease5. Develop procedures to monitor for positive COVID-19 cases in order to notify persons who have been exposed and prevent further spread. Review your occupational health and safety policies in light of these COVID-19 contamination prevention measures. Communication Before employees return to work, inform them of the risks related to their work, including those related to COVID-19, and the preventive measures put in place to prevent and control these risks. Provide training on each employee’s role and responsibility in preventing the risk of COVID-19 transmission and contamination and guidelines to be followed. If you provide or recommend protective equipment, make sure that employees are trained to use such equipment in a safe and optimal manner. Inform employees of any revised or updated policies and explain the practical aspects of these policies to them, where necessary. Maintain training logs and have employees acknowledge that they have read updated policies with a signature. Train supervisors and managers to help them monitor compliance and enforcement of new occupational health and safety rules and procedures. Stay abreast of updates and guidelines issued by the CNESST and government and public health authorities. Inform your employees of any important updates. Be respectful of employee privacy. Do not tolerate any violation of your occupational health and safety guidelines, policies and procedures. Other Considerations Assess the psychosocial risks inherent to a pandemic context, such as balancing telework and family, providing support for loved ones, working in a different work climate, etc. Prepare what your response will be should some employees refuse to return to work for various reasons, whether or not they can do so legally. Be aware of tax legislation or legislation regarding unemployment insurance or emergency benefits—for example, the need to update an employee’s Record of Employment if work is available but they refuse to return to work for a reason deemed invalid. Be familiar with laws involving labour standards, discrimination, privacy, occupational health and safety and industrial accidents. Develop an emergency response plan now to deal with a possible second wave of the pandemic or a spike in infections following the reopening of workplaces or the lifting of the lockdown. Start to consider a future plan to resume pre-pandemic activities such as business travel, client visits, team meetings, events, etc. Encourage employees to raise questions or concerns and designate a contact person to dialogue with them. The professionals of our Labour and Employment team can assist you in implementing these measures, and others, as you resume your activities.   For more information on the exclusion or isolation of workers during a pandemic, consult the CNESST reference document. For more details on respiratory etiquette, consult the CNESST reference document. For more details on maintaining a hygienic environment during a pandemic, consult the CNESST reference document. For more details on physical distancing in the workplace, consult the CNESST reference document. See the INSPQ’s recommendations [French only] on the rules to follow when isolation is lifted.

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  • E-commerce: Protecting Your Work

    As distribution channels with a global reach, websites are a powerful tool for doing business, and during the pandemic, they even play a critical role. A website consists of a set of webpages accessible from an address hosted on a server through the internet or an intranet. A website is a collection of various elements protected by intellectual property laws. We will focus on the following: Copyright It protects an original work (i.e., the author’s own creative work), insofar as it involves the exercise of skill and judgment. This exclusive right allows the owner to produce or reproduce the work in any material form, to perform, represent or publish it, and to exercise other exclusive rights. A website may include the following works: the content of screen page, graphic designs, animation, texts, still and animated images, sounds, databases (which comprise a collection of works, data or other independent elements), software, as for example the ones relating to the creation, operation and launch of the website, computer programs, photographs, cartoons, videos. Ownership of Copyright Copyright is the author’s property, unless the author (i) has assigned his or her right, or (ii) has created the work in the course of his or her employment, in which case the copyright belongs to the employer. It is important to identify the various copyright owners of the works appearing on a website. If a company mandates an external firm to develop a website (website developer), the company will not immediately own the copyright to the website. A development contract entered into with a website developer will usually include a provision regarding the ownership of copyright. It is often provided that the assignment of intellectual property rights to the client who has commissioned a website will take place after payment for said website has been made in full. This poses a problem when the website developer does not complete the website or when a dispute arises over the course of the mandate. Stock Photos Generally speaking, websites that offer photographs do not transfer the copyright of the photographs to the users. They grant a licence to use (a right to use) for a limited time and for a specific purpose. The conditions of these licences must therefore be read carefully. Assignment of Rights An assignment must be in writing in order to transfer the copyright to the company that commissioned the website. Moral Rights Moral rights allow the author or performer (even if he or she is not the copyright owner) to: Claim authorship of the work; Claim respect for the integrity of the work (to protect the work against distortion, mutilation or modification or to prevent use that prejudice the honour or reputation of the author or performer or if the work is associated with a product or service without the consent of the author or performer). Recognition of Copyright in Other Countries Given that Canada is a party to the Berne Convention, copyright owned by a Canadian national, such as a company incorporated in Canada or a Canadian citizen, is recognized in other countries members of the Convention , and said copyright need not be registered in those other countries to acquire rights. In Canada, copyright registration is not mandatory, but it does give rise to a presumption of law that it is advisable to register, at the very least, for works that are important to the business, in order to more effectively  act against  infringement. Copyright infringement is the reproduction of an entire protected work or any substantial part of it without permission. In the same manner that website contents owned by the copyright owner may not be copied without permission, one must ensure that he or she does not import or publish on his or her website any work protected by copyright without first obtaining permission. Domain Name Some domain names are protected by trademark laws, and some are not. This depends on the nature of the domain name and the use made of it. Merely registering a domain name does not create a right that could prohibit the use of a conflicting domain name or trademark. Using a distinctive domain name could confer upon its owner the right to oppose the subsequent use by third parties of a confusing domain name, trademark or trade name. Effective domain name arbitration mechanisms exist for .com and for .ca in the event of misappropriation of a conflicting domain name. Trademark A website owner using a trademark on his or her website in order to identify his or her products or services should protect said trademark by registration. Without listing all the benefits of registering a trademark, suffice it to say that registering one’s rights is significantly less costly than trying to recover said rights once they have been appropriated by a third party. The trademark owner may oppose any confusing third party’s trademark, trade name or domain name (the test of confusion takes into account various factors) if his or her rights precede those of the other. In the case of unauthorized appropriation of a third party’s logo or figurative mark, the owner may, in many cases, not only invoke trademark infringement but also copyright infringement. Right to One’s Image and Privacy The Civil Code of Québec provides that every person is the holder of personality rights, such as the right to life, the right to the inviolability and integrity of his person, and the right to the respect of his name, reputation and privacy. Similar provisions exist in other legislation, such as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law is similar in other Canadian provinces, and comparable legislation exists in various countries around the world. Thus, as a general rule, a website owner may not: (i) Publish, for example, a photograph or image of a person without that person’s consent. This rule must be weighed against the rule relating to public interest in the right to freedom of expression and the right to information; (ii) Damage a person’s reputation; (iii) Imply or suggest that a person endorses a product or service without that person’s consent. The Civil Code of Québec further provides that the use of a person’s correspondence, manuscripts or other documents without his or her consent constitutes an invasion of his or her privacy. Trade Secret Various components of a website may be protected by trade secret if a confidentiality agreement was signed and the information remains secret. This could be the case with the website coding.   Many people have preconceived ideas about intellectual property in the world of e-commerce. Often, they wrongly assume that since they commissioned their website, they own its intellectual property rights or that they can post a photo of a product copied from another website without authorization because they sell the product. Although it is easy, fast and free to access, a website is governed by a legal framework regarding intellectual property, with which website operators must comply. We did not cover the wide array of rights that are involved in a website in just a few lines. For example, for some websites, there may be patent and industrial design issues to deal with. All these legal considerations are not self-evident. Several rules must be followed to avoid engaging in illegal practices, to avoid the unpleasant surprise of discovering that you do not own the intellectual property rights to parts or all of the website, and to avoid facing threats of legal action for violating the rights of third parties. Furthermore, all the work invested in the creation and operation of the website may not provide any additional value to your company if the intellectual property rights have been neglected, even though in many cases it is a significant asset to the company. It is important to become familiar with these rules, protect your rights and resolve legal pitfalls-ideally before launching a website. If the issue of intellectual property rights is only addressed after launching the website, there may still be time to seek protection or to attempt to overcome legal problems.  Whether the website is already online or is about to be launched, an audit should be carried out to determine the situation and, if necessary, obtain protection, sign contracts and find solutions to problems that could lead to illegal or disadvantageous situations.

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  • E-commerce: Your Obligations regarding Consumer Protection and Competition Matters

    Before selling your products and services online, you will need to determine the form and content of your contract, and ensure that you comply with the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act (the “CPA”). The CPA applies to any contract between a consumer and a merchant entered into in Quebec, including online contracts of sale, which are known as “distance contracts.” Rules applicable to contracts entered into on the internet Form Contracts concluded on the internet must be in writing and must contain the name and address of the merchant, as well as the date of the transaction. In addition, certain information must be provided to consumers before a contract is concluded, in particular: information identifying your business; a detailed description of the goods or services you are selling, including their characteristics and technical specifications; the price of each item or the terms of payment; all the applicable fees, whether required by law or charged by the merchant; the delivery date or the date on which the service will be provided; and other details regarding delivery, cancellation policies and any other applicable restrictions or conditions. This mandatory information must be presented prominently and in a comprehensible manner, and be expressly brought to the consumer’s attention. This could be done through a web page containing said information, which must appear on the screen before the consumer pays for the items in the shopping cart. It is good practice to ensure that the information is easy to print or save in PDF format. Acceptance Before the contract is entered into, the merchant must provide the consumer with an express opportunity to accept or decline the offer and to correct any errors. Copy The merchant must provide the consumer with a copy of the contract within 15 days after the contract is entered into, in a manner that ensures that the consumer may easily retain it and print it. Delivery A consumer may cancel a contract if the goods are not received (or the service is not performed) within 30 days after the date specified in the contract or within 30 days after the contract is entered into in the case of a contract that does not specify a delivery date. Note that goods for which delivery was attempted on the agreed date will be considered delivered. Cancellation The CPA allows consumers to cancel the contract in a number of cases, in particular when the merchant does not comply with the provisions set out above. Each merchant is free to establish a cancellation policy and set its conditions, so long as these are in accordance with laws of public order. The consumer must be informed of said policy before entering into the contract, which must include the cancellation policy. Warranties Legal warranty The Consumer Protection Act provides for a legal warranty that automatically applies to a good, whether purchased in store or remotely. Under said legal warranty, goods must be fit for the purposes for which goods of the kind are ordinarily used, durable for a reasonable length of time, having regard to their price, the terms of the contract and the conditions of their use. Goods must also match their description under the contract. Finally, a consumer is also entitled to a recourse against the merchant should there be a latent defect in the good. Additional warranty A merchant may offer consumers an additional online warranty, provided that said warranty complies with the relevant provisions of the CPA. Application and exceptions It is noteworthy that the aforementioned rules are the consumer protection rules which generally apply to the sale of goods and services, but they may not apply in certain instances, such as in the case of contracts for the sale of goods which are likely to deteriorate rapidly, such as food. One must be mindful that the Consumer Protection Act contains exceptions or provisions that are specific to certain commercial sectors. Different laws and regulations may also apply to certain types of goods and services that are sold. Competition law issues The CPA contains competition-related obligations that are specific to Quebec. All merchants in Quebec must also comply with the provisions of the Canadian Competition Act. The purpose of the Competition Act is to (i) maintain and encourage competition between businesses in Canada, (ii) provide consumers with competitive prices and product choices, and (iii) to protect consumers from fraudulent or prohibited practices. Prohibited business practices Misleading price display Under the CPA, when you advertise the price of a product or service, you are required to advertise an “all-inclusive” price, which includes all amounts that the consumer will have to pay for the product or service. The all-inclusive price should be more prominent than the sums of which it consists. Taxes (GST/QST), among other things, may be excluded from the advertised price, but must be added at the time of payment. Price-related representations and price display are also subject to specific rules under the Competition Act. False or misleading representations Advertising that contains false or misleading representations, or fails to mention an important fact is prohibited under the CPA. The Competition Act prohibits the making of materially false or misleading representations to the public. The provisions of the Competition Act dealing with false and misleading representations apply to a number of cases, including the following: Performance representations not based on adequate and proper tests: The making of representations to the public about the performance, efficacy or longevity of a product, which is not based on an adequate and proper test, is prohibited. Untrue or unauthorized use of tests and testimonials: The unauthorized use of product performance tests and testimonials (e.g., scientific tests, consumer testimonials, etc.) is prohibited. Needless to say, these cannot be distorted. Misleading warranties: Giving a consumer a warranty containing materially misleading representations that could influence the consumer’s decision to purchase goods or services is prohibited. The overall impression conveyed by a representation and the literal meaning of said representation is used to determine whether the warranty is misleading. Misleading promotional contests: Certain information related to the holding of promotional contests must be disclosed to the public. In addition, the sending of any documentation that would mislead the recipient into believing that he or she has won a prize or other benefit is prohibited. It is noteworthy that in Quebec, there are specific rules related to promotional contests. Other prohibited practices The Competition Act aims to prevent abuse of a dominant position and therefore provides stricter standards that apply to businesses holding a dominant position in a market. Conspiracy provisions aim to prevent a business from unduly reducing competition or unreasonably increasing the price of a product. This law also prohibits the refusal to sell a product, insofar as a business has no right to harm a customer by refusing to supply it sufficiently under normal market conditions. Finally, vertical restraints, that is, practices such as exclusive dealing, tied selling and market restriction, are prohibited, as they generally impose conditions that restrict the freedom of consumers. The CPA prohibits making use of commercial advertising directed at persons under thirteen years of age. Penalties Both the Consumer Protection Act and the Competition Act provide for penalties for prohibited practices. Judges can order punitive damages for certain violations of the CPA. Under the Competition Act, certain acts are considered criminal if a person does them knowingly or recklessly, regardless of the consequences they may have on the public.

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