How to fight abuses of dominant position done by way of IP claims & denigration?

When a competitor which used to reign as a warlord in a particular market becomes challenged by a new player, this competitor may use tactics such as systematic and heavy-handed enforcement of alleged intellectual property rights, as well as aggressive smearing and denigration campaigns, to deter this new entrant. The situation may soon become untenable for the new kid on the block, as potential customers are scared away and dissuaded by the blows forcefully and repeatedly inflicted upon by the dominant player. What to do if you and your business are targeted by such hyper-aggressive competitor? How can you defend yourself against these abuses of dominant position?

abuses of dominant positionThe right balance between intellectual property rights (“IPRs“) and free competition is very difficult to strike, especially in markets and jurisdictions which are hyper protective of IPRs of right owners, like in Europe. When the right owner is manipulative, hyper-aggressive and unprepared to share his or her turf, they may use the so-called enforcement of IPRs to drive any new entrants in their specific market away; thus creating many abuses of dominant position.

1. What’s going on?

Nowhere as seriously have I witnessed such anti-competitive behaviour from a competitor occur, than in the automotive sector.

I was instructed to attend a trade show in the South of France, last year in September 2019, in order to assist a Chinese automotive company and its Spanish distributor on their stand, as they were systematically and repetitively subjected to court-ordered police raids and interim seizures, on any European trade fair that they had attended, and were attending, since the launch of their new automotive business two years’ prior.

As you might have guessed, it is their competitor, a German company in a monopolistic situation on that particular segment of the automotive sector, which was behind this constant derailing of each one of my clients’ trade exhibitions in Europe.

None of my clients’ trade shows in the USA were perturbed by these court-ordered seizures and police raids and court orders to immediately close down their stand on the tradeshows, based on the allegations of IPR counterfeiting made by such German competitor: no US court was accepting to grant the German competitor such overarching measures to stop free competition on a pretence of infringement of IPRs.

However, each one of the European courts to which such over-the-top interim and immediate measures were requested by such German competitor, in the context of European trade fairs held in Germany, Spain, France and Monaco, happily obliged and granted such court orders. As a result, these interim measures had forced my clients to close down their stand on each of these European trade shows prematurely, because my clients were deprived of their products and prototypes taken away during those police-led raids and seizures on their stands, as well as forced sales and seizures of their prototypes and products, ordered by some of these European courts.

Not only was the German competitor using its monopolistic status to manipulate European courts into driving its Spanish and Chinese competitors (my clients) away, alleging some IPRs infringements right and left, but it also conducted a vast, well-oiled and well-orchestrated denigration and smearing campaign against my clients, through the use of private eyes in various European locations, as well as through listening and taping the phone calls and text messages exchanged by my clients on their mobile phones. As a result, the German monopolist was able to always contact, before my clients, all the trade fair organisers, potential distributors and other third parties and business partners interested in my clients’ products, in order to denigrate my clients as “Chinese counterfeiters” who manufactured “dangerous and unfit automotive sea products” (sic). Consequently, European trade show organisers, potential European distributors and potential European end-consumers of my Chinese and Spanish clients were spooked, and took an enormous amount of convincing and cajoling, in order to establish, or re-establish, a rapport with my two clients.

Thanks to my intervention, during two of my clients’ trade fairs in Cannes, France, and Monaco, in September 2019, the humiliating option of having to close down their stand before the end of these trade shows was spared, since I efficiently liaised with the bailiff instructed by the French lawyers of the German competitor, in order to salvage some of my clients’ prototypes from a forced sale imposed by the Paris “tribunal de grande instance” on some quaint and unfounded allegations of patent and design infringement made by this German competitor.

I had seen some prior abuses of dominant position, in particular in the fashion sector and the fashion textile trade shows’ segment, perpetrated by luxury conglomerates and the largest fashion textile trade fair in the world, in the past. However, this first-hand experience of abuse of IPRs, abuse of dominant position and smearing and denigration campaigns against my automotive clients was on another level.

2. What can you do to protect yourself against some abuses of IPRs and of dominant position perpetrated by a competitor?

The enforcement of IPRs across the European Union (“EU“) has been harmonised, to some extent, by the Directive 2004/48/EC of 29 April 2004 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights (the “Enforcement directive”). However, nothing is set out, in the 21 articles of the Enforcement directive about any restrictions on the enforcement of IPRs due to a breach of competition law by the IPRs owner.

Consequently, and since France is extremely protective of IPRs owners, there are no restrictions on how IPRs may be enforced by right owners against third parties, in the French Intellectual property code; provided that any mandatory prior depositing and registration procedures (which are applicable to industrial IPRs such as design rights, trademarks and patents) have been complied with.

Under English law, there are some key restrictions on the ability to enforce IPRs, which include:

  • the risk of incurring liability for groundless threats of IPRs infringements, the law of which has been significantly reformed in the United Kingdom (UK) by the Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Act 2017, and
  • specific defences to infringement and restrictions on available remedies for each IPR.

Therefore, if your dominant competitor raises some alleged IPRs infringement claims against you and your business in the UK, then you may make the most of these legal tools offered to you, from the “actionable threats” defense, to the “unjustified threats” defense, via UK civil court proceedings.

When an IPRs owner abuses its dominant position, it starts with obtaining some interim IPRs measures, such as the seizures and force sales on my clients’ stands in their trade show, against its competitors. Then, the dominant abuser lodges some IPRs infringement proceedings in front of the competent civil – and sometimes criminal – courts, against its smaller competitors, to obtain some damages for the alleged acts of IPRs infringements.

In France, the Tribunaux judiciaires (district courts) have exclusive jurisdiction in hearing cases concerning copyright, national trademarks and national design rights; while the Paris Tribunal judiciaire has exclusive jurisdiction in hearing cases concerning patents and EU rights (i.e. EU trademark and design rights). For example, after the Cannes yachting trade show in September 2019, the German monopolist lodged a fully-fledged patent infringement lawsuit against the Spanish distributor of the Chinese manufacturer, with the Paris Tribunal judiciaire, within 30 days from the day of the seizure and forced sale which took place during the Cannes trade fair. Copyright holders can also take action in the French criminal courts for counterfeiting.

In the UK, IPRs are primarily enforced via civil court proceedings, and the English High Court is the most common venue. IPRs proceedings in the English High Court are heard in the Chancery division, and different specialist lists are available:

  • the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (“IPEC“) can hear any IPRs claim of relatively low complexity and value: the IPEC is suitable for claims which can be tried in two days or less, damages are capped at GBP500,000 and recoverable legal costs are subject to a cap of GBP50,000;
  • the Patent Court can hear claims relating to patents, registered designs, semiconductor rights and plant varieties. There is no cap on damages or recoverable legal costs; and
  • all other IPRs claims can be heard in the Intellectual Property List of the Chancery Division, of which the Patent Court and IPEC are sub-lists.

The problem, though, is that aside from the above-mentioned “actionable threats” and “unjustified threats” defenses, which can only be invoked in front of UK courts, neither the French Tribunaux judiciaires, nor the English High Court and its specialist lists, can review and decide on any anti-competitive behaviour and abuse of dominant position claims raised, as a counter-offensive, by the new entrant in a particular industrial sector, which is being subjected to IPRs infringement claims in front of these IP courts by the dominant player in that particular industry.

So, to continue with the example of my Spanish and Chinese clients, the Spanish distributor which is now the defendant in the patent infringement lawsuit lodged by the German monopolist in the automotive sector (the claimant), with the Paris Tribunal judiciaire, cannot make some counterclaims of abuse of dominant position and anti-competitive behaviour, as a counter-offensive, within the scope of that lawsuit with the Paris Tribunal judiciaire. Why? Because the Paris Tribunal judiciaire is not competent to review such claims relating to breaches of competition law: like the other French tribunaux judiciaires, it is only competent to review claims in relation to breaches of IPRs and laws on intellectual property.

So what is a quashed new entrant in this industrial sector to do then, under these circumstances? Well, the first priority is to find and retain expert and very aggressive legal counsel who will defend it against the wrongful allegations of IPRs infringement made by the monopolistic competitor. Such lawyer specialised in intellectual property matters shall also file some counterclaims against such abusive competitor, on behalf of its client, for like-for-like breaches of its client’s IPRs, invoking free riding and unfair competition (if in front of French courts) or passing off (if in front of UK courts).

The second priority, for the new entrant being wrongfully sued for alleged IPRs infringement by its dominant competitor, is to simultaneously file a claim against that abusive competitor with the national authorities responsible for reviewing and investigating the competitive effects of conduct related to the exercise of IPRs.

In France, the French Competition Authority (“FCA“) is the independent administrative body that specialises in analysing and regulating the operation of competition on markets to protect the economic public order. Its goal is to supervise the free play of competition in France. It can issue an opinion on the investigations it carries out, which can be subject to appeal only to the Paris Court of appeal. The rulings of the Court of appeal can also be the subject of recourse to the French Supreme court (“cour de cassation”). However, any judicial action relating to an infringement concerning the application of competition law can be taken before the Marseilles, Bordeaux, Lille, Fort-de-France, Lyon, Nancy, Paris and Rennes Commercial tribunals on the first instance jurisdictions.

Therefore, our Spanish and Chinese clients should not only fight the patent infringement allegations lodged by their German dominant competitor in front of the Paris Tribunal judiciaire, but also file some claims against that German competitor with either the FCA, or the Paris Commercial tribunal, for abuse of dominant position and anti-competitive behaviour. The claimants will try to obtain a judgment against these anti-competitive practices, as well as some paid damages for the prejudice suffered.

In the UK, the competition authority is the Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA“), which reviews and investigates compliance with competition law. The CMA’s remit includes the review and control of the exercise of IPRs insofar as they affect competition. The Competition Appeal Tribunal (“CAT“) is a specialist competition tribunal and hears appeals against the decisions of the CMA. An appeal from the CAT can be made to the Court of Appeal. Follow-on and standalone claims for competition law damages can be raised in the High court and in the CAT.

As you might have inferred from the above, the new entrant who is subjected to these various IPRs infringement claims by the abusive and dominant competitor, better have very deep pockets and unlimited wells of patience and resilience, in order to not only fight off an IPRs infringement lawsuit against its monopolistic competitor, but also drive through to completion some well-evidenced abuse of dominant position and anti-competitive behaviour claims in front of the competent competition authorities or courts, in either France or the UK.

It may all be worth it in the long term, though, as the recent high-profile cases dealing with the intersection of competition law and IPRs detailed below attest.

In 2014, the FCA ruled against Nespresso, the market leader for machines and capsules. Nespresso linked the purchase of its capsules with that of its coffee machines, thereby excluding manufacturers of competing capsules. Such exclusionary practices were reported by its competitors DEMB and Ethical Coffee to the FCA, as abuse of dominant position. In the decision issued by the FCA dated 4 September 2014, Nespresso was required to make several commitments intended to remove the obstacles to the entry and development of other manufacturers of capsules that would work with the brands’ coffee machines.

In 2016, the CMA fined GSK and two other pharmaceutical companies (the generic companies) in relation to anticompetitive patent settlement agreements. The CMA also found that GSK abused its dominant position in the UK market, by seeking to delay the generic companies’ entry into the market.

3. What can you do to protect yourself against some the acts of denigration and smearing perpetrated by a competitor?

A new form of abusive conduct has been identified, namely the practice of dominant companies excluding or reducing competition from competitors, by identifying exactly what non-price parameters are important for competition, and setting up some strategic campaigns to influence the purchasing behaviour of customers, typically by portraying competing products or services as unsafe and/or inefficient or of significantly lower quality.

These practices are usually referred to as “denigration” and “smearing campaigns”. Denigration means to criticize a competitor’s products or services in a derogatory manner, ultimately with a view to influencing customers purchasing patterns.

While such practices are usually dealt with under the unfair marketing rules in national legislations, some very serious cases found their way into the competition law arena.

Indeed, in several cases, the denigrating conduct has been part of dominant companies’ communication strategies with the clear object of disseminating information to customers about a competitor in order to create an air of uncertainty and/or doubt regarding either the competitor’s ability to carry out certain activities or putting a question mark on the quality, safety or efficacy of their products and services.

Denigrating conduct is most often seen in the form of dissemination of negative information based on false or misleading assertions in regard to competing products with the intention of having an impact on customers’ purchasing decisions.

Denigration of competitors’ products have long-lasting effects in the market because the unjustified doubts or fears can only be overcome with a significant effort by the target company to (re)educate and (dis)prove the denigrating statements in front of end-customers, distributors, etc.

Whilst at the European level, the European Commission has not yet had the opportunity to take a decision on a dominant company denigrating competitor products, there is considerable body of law at national level under article 102 TFEU, in particular in France.

The French cases have covered not only the pharmaceutical sector, but also the telecoms, electricity and pay-TV industries. Common to all these cases is that the dominant player has attempted to hinder market entry and product switch through denigrating competitor products in a number of different ways. Typically, the dominant company conducted a consistent, widespread strategy of misinformation to people who took or influenced purchasing decisions.

For example, in the matter with my Chinese and Spanish clients, their German dominant competitor would spread the word, before each trade show, that they had been sentenced to paying some counterfeiting damages to such German competitor, by a German court, and that their China-made sea scooters were of inferior quality and breaking all the time. This false information was diffused to the trade fair organisers, by the German competitor, in order to push the trade fairs to refuse access to their show to my clients, who were branded “counterfeiters” by their German competitor. But this denigration was also done with each one of the European potential distributors my clients, with threats made by the German competitor that it would stop trading with the distributor if the latter started any business with the Chinese manufacturer and its Spanish representative.

In France, the FCA has thus in its more than 10 denigration cases consistently held that denigration of competitors or their products, does not constitute competition on the merits and as as result, denigration can constitute an abuse of dominant position in certain circumstances. In French case law, for denigration to infringe article 102 TFEU, four clear elements have to be proven:

  • there is denigration of a competitor’s product with a view to obtaining a commercial advantage;
  • a link between the dominance and the practice of denigration has to be established;
  • it has to be verified whether the statements put forward in the market by the dominant company are based on objective findings or assertions that are not verified, and
  • whether the commercial statements are liable to influence the structure of the market.

The denigration cases assessed by the FCA and other European competition authorities have so far turned on the dominant company identifying the most important non-price parameters to be able to compete in a market and concluding that the relevant customer decision process could be influenced by instilling fears or concerns that are then conveyed to decision makers and stakeholders in a systematic and consistent smearing campaign.

Therefore, it seems that abuse of a dominant position as a consequence of denigrating conduct is more likely to be sanctioned in sectors where non-price competition parameters are more relevant than price. The more important a given parameter is, the more critical it is when a dominant company tries to exclude competitors through either false or misleading information, or tries to make information credible in a covert manner.

To conclude, a new entrant in a market, which is subjected to an abuse of IPRs and/or a smearing campaign to systematically denigrate its products, by the dominant player in that particular industry, has more than one string to its bow in order to fight back. However, such new kid on the block must brace himself or herself for lengthy, draining and expensive legal battles, both as a defendant against the wrongful alleged claims of counterfeiting of its IPRs, raised by the dominant and abusive competitor, and as a claimant in front of the competent European competition authority, through which it will have raised some claims against such competitor for abuse of dominant position, in particular by way of denigration and smearing campaign.

These various legal battles will eventually neutralise the dominant competitor, while having a rigorous and well-organised IPR registration and maintenance strategy in place, for the new entrant in the market, is essential. All new models, products, brands, services should have their respective IPR registered, and then listed in a catalogue of IPRs maintained by the legal counsel of the new entrant. All evidence, and certificates, of registration should be kept and archived meticulously, to anticipate any IPRs infringement claim that the dominant competitor may bring. Non-disclosure and confidentiality clauses should be set out in all the contracts entered into with new employees, distributors, service providers who will assist the new entrant before and during the trade shows (PR agencies, hostesses’ agencies, logistics companies, etc).

Our law firm Crefovi specialises in dealing with these types of IPRs claims and IP antitrust claims, so don’t hesitate to give us a buzz.


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How to restructure your creative business in France | Restructuring & insolvency law firm Crefovi

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Almost any medium-sized and large creative business has overseas operations, in order to maximise distribution opportunities and take advantage of economies of scale. This is especially true for fashion & luxury businesses, which need strategically-located brick & mortar retail outlets to thrive. However, such overseas boutiques may need to be restructured, from time to time, in view of their annual turnover results, compared to their fixed costs. What to do, then, when you want to either reduce, or even close down, your operations set up in France? How to proceed, in the most time and cost efficient manner, to restructure your creative business in France? [hr]

restructure your creative business in FranceOne thing that needs to be clear from the outset is that you must follow French rules, when you proceed onto scaling back or even winding up your operations set up in France.

Indeed, in case you have incorporated a French limited liability company for your business operations in France, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of  your foreign parent-company, there is a risk that the financial liability of the French subsidiary be passed onto the foreign parent-company. This is because the corporate veil is very thin in France. Unlike in the UK or the US for example, it is very common, for French judges who are assessing each matter on its merits, to decide that a director and/or shareholder of a French limited liability company should become jointly liable for the loss suffered by a third party. The judge only has to declare that all the following conditions are cumulatively met, in order to pierce the corporate veil and hold its directors and/or shareholders liable for the wrongful acts they have committed:

  • the loss has been caused by the wrongful act of a director or a shareholder;
  • the wrongful act is intentional;
  • the wrongful act is gross misconduct and
  • the wrongful act is not intrinsically linked to the performance of the duties of a director or is incompatible with the normal exercise of the prerogatives attached to the status of the shareholder.

The specific action of liability for shortfall of assets is generally the route that is chosen, to pierce the corporate veil and trigger the director and/or shareholder liability of a French limited liability company. However, there is numerous French case law, showing that French courts do not hesitate to hold French and foreign parent companies liable for the debts of French subsidiaries, especially in case of abuse of corporate veil, by way of intermingling of estates, either by intermingling of accounts or abnormal financial relations. This usually leads to the extension of insolvency proceedings, in case of intermingling of estates, but could also trigger the director and/or shareholder liability in tort for gross misconduct.

Indeed, if a shareholder has committed a fault or gross negligence that contributed to the insolvency of, and subsequent redundancies in, the French subsidiary, that shareholder may be liable to the employees directly. Pursuant to recent French case law, the shareholder could be held liable in the event its decisions:

  • hurt the subsidiary;
  • aggravate the already difficult financial situation of the subsidiary;
  • have no usefulness for the subsidiary, or
  • benefit exclusively to the shareholder.

Of course, any French court decisions are relatively easily enforceable in any other European Union (“EU“) member-state, such as the UK, thanks to the EU regulation 1215/2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. This regulation allows the enforcement of any court decision published in a EU member-state without any prior exequatur process. Therefore, the foreign parent-company will not be protected by the mere fact that it is located in the UK, for example, as opposed to France: it will be liable anyway, and the French courts’ judgments will be enforceable in the UK against it. Moreover, a new international convention, the Hague convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil or commercial matters was concluded, on 2 July 2019, which will become a ‘game changer’ once it becomes ratified by many countries around the world, included the EU. It will therefore become even easier to enforce French court decisions in third-party states, even those located outside the EU.

So what is the best route to restructure or wind up the French operations of your creative business, if so much is at stake?

 

1. How to lawfully terminate your French lease

Most French commercial operations are conducted from commercial premises, be it a retail outlet or some offices. Therefore, leases of such commercial spaces were entered into with French landlords, at the inception of the French operations.

How do you lawfully terminate such French leases?

Well, it is not easy, since the practice of “locking commercial tenants in” has become increasingly common in France, through the use of pre-formulated standard lease agreements which impose some onerous obligations on commercial tenants, that were not subject to any negotiation or discussion between the parties.

This evolution is rather surprising since France has a default regime for commercial leases, set out in articles L. 145-1 and seq. of the French commercial code, which is rather protective of commercial tenants (the “Default regime”). It defines the framework, as well as boundaries between, the landlord and its commercial tenant, as well as their contractual relationship.

For example, article L. 145-4 of the French commercial code sets out that, in the Default regime, the term of the lease cannot be lower than nine years. Meanwhile, articles L. 145-8 and seq. of the French commercial code describe with minutia the Default regime to renew the lease after its termination, declaring null and void any clause, set out in the lease agreement, which withdraws the renewal right of the tenant, to the lease agreement.

But what does the Default regime say about the right of a tenant to terminate the lease? Nothing, really, except from articles L. 145-41 and seq. of the French commercial code, which provide that any clause set out in the lease agreement in relation to the termination of the lease will only apply after one month from the date on which a party to the lease agreement informed the other party that the latter had to comply with all its obligations under the lease agreement and, should such request to comply with its contractual obligations be ignored, the former party will exercise its right to terminate the lease agreement within a month. However, in practice, it is very difficult for French commercial tenants to invoke such articles from the French commercial code, and subsequently prove that their landlords have not complied with their contractual obligations under the lease. This is because such French lease agreements often set out clauses that exonerate the landlords from any liability in case the premises are defective, obsolete, suffer from force majeure cases, etc.

To summarise, the Default regime does not provide for any automatic right for a commercial tenant to terminate the lease agreement, for any reason. It is therefore advisable, when you negotiate the clauses set out in such lease agreement, to ensure that your French entity (be it a branch or a French limited liability company) has an easy way out of the 9 years’ lease. However, since the balance of power is heavily skewed in favour of commercial landlords – especially for sought-after retail locations such as Paris, Cannes, Nice, and other touristic destinations – there is a very high probability that the landlord will dismiss any attempts made by the prospective commercial tenant to insert a clause allowing such tenant to terminate the lease on notice, for any reason (i.e. even in instances when the commercial landlord has complied with all its obligations under the lease).

Still included in the Default regime, on the topic of termination of leases, is article L. 145-45 of the French commercial code, which sets out that the institutionalised receivership or liquidation (i.e. “redressement ou liquidation judiciaires”) do not trigger, in their own right, the termination of the lease relating to the buildings/premises affected to the business of the debtor (i.e. the tenant). Any clause, set out in the lease agreement, which is contradictory to this principle, is null and void, under the Default regime. While this article sounds protective for commercial tenants, it also infers that there is no point in placing the tenant’s business in receivership or liquidation, to automatically trigger the termination of the lease. Such a situation of court-led receivership or liquidation of the French entity will not automatically terminate the lease of its premises.

Consequently, the most conservative way out may be to wait the end of the nine years’ term, for a commercial tenant.

In order to have more flexibility, many foreign clients that set up French commercial operations prefer to opt out of the Default regime, which imposes a nine years’ term, and instead enter into a dispensatory lease (“bail dérogatoire”) which is not covered by the Default regime.

Indeed, article L. 145-5 of the French commercial code sets out that “the parties can (…) override” the Default regime, provided that the overall duration of the commercial lease is not longer than three years. Dispensatory leases, which have an overall duration no longer than 3 years, are therefore excluded from, and not governed by, the Default regime set out in articles L. 145-1 and seq. of the French commercial code, and are instead classified in the category of “contrats de louage de droit commun” i.e. civil law ordinary law contracts of lease, which are governed by the provisions set out in the French civil code, relating, in particular, to non-commercial leases (article 1709 and seq. of the French civil code).

Therefore, if a foreign parent negotiates a dispensatory lease for its French operations, it will be in a position to call it a day after three years, instead of nine years. However, it will not be able to benefit from the tenants’ protections set out in the Default regime and will therefore need to negotiate very astutely the terms of the commercial lease with the French landlord. It is therefore essential to seek appropriate legal advice, prior to signing any lease agreement with any French landlord, in order to ensure that such lease agreement offers options, in particular, for the tenant to terminate it, in case of contractual breaches made by the landlord, and, in any case, upon the end of the three years’ term.

The tenant should keep a paper trail and evidence of any contractual breaches made by the landlord during the execution of the lease, as potential “ammunition” in case it decides to later trigger the termination clause under the lease agreement, for unremedied breach of contract.

2. How to lawfully terminate your French staff

Once the termination of the lease agreement is agreed, it is time for the management of the French operations to focus their attention on termination the employment agreements of French staff members (the “Staff“), which can be a lengthy process.

An audit of all the employment agreements in place with the Staff  should be conducted, confidentially, before making a move, in order to assess whether such agreements are “contrats à durée indéterminée”, or “CDI” (i.e. indeterminate duration employment agreements) or “contrats à durée déterminée”, or “CDD” (i.e. fixed term employment agreements).

As part of this audit, the legal and management team should clarify the amount of the sums due to each member of the Staff, relating to:

  • any paid leave period owed to her;
  • in case of CDDs, if no express agreement is signed by the member of Staff and the employer upon termination, all outstanding remunerations due during the minimum duration of the CDD;;
  • in case of CDDs, an end of contract indemnity at a rate of 10% of the total gross remuneration;
  • in case of CDIs, any notice period salary owed to her;
  • in case of CDIs, any severance pay owed to her and
  • any outstanding social contributions on salary.

This audit will therefore enable the French business, and its foreign parent-company, to assess how much this Staff termination process may cost.

In France, you cannot terminate Staff at will: you must have a “lawful” reason to do so.

Justifying the termination of a CDD ahead of its term may be pretty complex and risky, in France, especially if the relevant members of Staff have behaved in a normal manner during the execution of such CDD, so far. It may therefore be worth for the employer to pay all outstanding remunerations due during the minimum duration of the CDD, in order to avoid any risk of being dragged to any employment tribunal, by such members of Staff.

As far as CDIs are concerned, there are three types of termination of CDIs, as follows:

  • “licenciement pour motif économique” (i.e. layoff for economic reasons);
  • “rupture conventionnelle du CDI” (i.e. mutually agreed termination of the employment agreement);
  • “rupture conventionnelle collective” (i.e. collective mutually agreed termination of the employment agreement).

A “licenciement pour motif économique” must occur due to a real and serious economic cause, such as job cuts, economic difficulties of the employer or the end of the activity of the employer.

This option would therefore be a good fit for any French entity that wants to stop operating in France. It does come with strings attached, though, as follows:

  • the employer must inform and consult the “représentant du personnel”, or the “Comité d’entreprise”;
  • the employer asks the relevant Staff to attend a preliminary meeting and notifies them of the termination of their CDIs as well as the reasons for such termination;
  • the employer sends a termination letter to the relevant Staff, at least 7 business days from the date of the preliminary meeting, or at least 15 business days from the date of the preliminary meeting if such member of Staff is a “cadre” (i.e. executive), which sets out the economic reason which caused the suppression of the job occupied by the employee, the efforts made by the employer to reclassify the employee internally, the option for the employee to benefit from reclassification leave and
  • the employer informs the French administration, i.e. the relevant ‘Direction régionale des entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l’emploi’ (“DIRECCTE“) of the redundancies.

Another route to lawfully terminate the Staff is via a “rupture conventionnelle du CDI”, i.e. mutually agreed termination of the employment agreement. This is only open to French operations where the Staff is ready to cooperate and mutually agree to the termination of its employment agreements. This situation is hard to come by, in reality, to be honest, by why not?

If the French entity manages to pull this off, with its Staff, then the “convention de rupture conventionnelle” must be signed, then homologated by the DIRECCTE, before any employment agreement is officially terminated.

If the DIRECCTE refuses to homologate the convention, the relevant Staff must keep on working under normal conditions, until the employer makes a new request for homologation of the convention and … obtains it!

Finally, in case an “accord collectif”, also called “accord d’entreprise”, was concluded in the French company, then a “rupture conventionnelle collective” can be organised. If so, only the Staff who has agreed in writing to the “accord collectif” can participate to this collective mutually agreed termination of its employment agreements.

It’s worth noting that French employees are rather belligerent and often file claims with employment tribunals, upon termination of their employment agreements. However, the Macron ordinances, which entered into force in September 2017, have set up a scale that limits the maximum allowances which could be potentially be paid to employees with minimal seniority, in such employment court cases. Thus, employees having less than one year’s seniority are allowed to collect a maximum of one month of salary as compensation. Afterwards, this threshold is grossed up by more or less one month per year of seniority up to eight years. However, such scale does not apply to unlawful dismissals (those related to discrimination or harassment) or to dismissals which occurred in violation of fundamental freedoms. While many French lower courts have published judgments rejecting such Macron scale, the “Cour de cassation” (i.e. the French supreme court) validated such Macron scale in July 2019, forcing French employment tribunals to comply with such scale.

While this should come as a relief to foreign parent companies, it is worth noting that the more orderly and negotiated the departure of the Staff, the better. Having to fight employment lawsuits in France is no fun, and can be cost and time intensive. They therefore must be avoided at all cost.

 

3. How to restructure your creative business in France: terminate other contracts with third parties and clean the slate with French authorities

Of course, other contracts with third parties, such as suppliers, local service providers, must be lawfully terminated before the French operations are shut down. The takeaway is that the French entity and its foreign parent company cannot leave a chaotic and unresolved situation behind them, in France.

They must terminate and lawfully sever all their contractual ties with French companies and professionals, before closing shop, in compliance with the terms of any contracts entered into with such French third parties.

Additionally, French companies must pay off any outstanding balances due to French authorities, such as the French social security organisations, the URSSAF, and the French tax administration, before permanently closing down.

 

4. How to restructure your creative business in France: you must properly wind up your business

Once all the ongoing obligations of the French operations are met, by lawfully terminating all existing agreements such as the commercial lease, the employment agreements, the suppliers’ agreements and the service providers’ agreements, as discussed above, it is time to wind up your business in France.

French limited liability companies have two options to terminate their business as an ongoing concern due to economic grounds, i.e. proceed to a “cessation d’activité”.

The first branch of the alternative is to execute a voluntary and early termination of the French business as an ongoing concern. It can be exercised by the French company, its shareholders and its board of directors, when it can still exercise its activity and pay back its debts. If the articles of association of such French company provide for the various cases in which the company may be wound up, such as the end of the term of the French company, or upon the common decision made by its shareholders, then it is possible for the French limited liability company and its directors to execute a voluntary and early termination of the business as an ongoing concern.

The second branch to the alternative, opened to French limited liability companies, occurs when a company cannot pay its debts anymore, and is in a situation of “cessation de paiements” i.e. it cannot pay its debts with its assets, in cessation of payments. In this instance, the French company must file a notification of cessation of payments with the competent commercial courts within 45 days from the date on which it stopped to make payments. Also, within that time frame of 45 days, the board of directors of the French company must open a “procédure de redressement ou de liquidation judiciaire” (i.e. receivership or liquidation institutionalised process, monitored by French courts) with the competent commercial court. This court will decide, further to examining the various documents filed with the “déclaration de cessation des paiements”, which institutionalised process (receivership? liquidation?) is the most appropriate, in view of all the interests that need being taken into account (debts, safeguarding employments, etc.).

If you want to exit the French territory in a graceful manner, you do not want to find yourself in a situation of cessation of payments, and then receivership or liquidation monitored by French courts. Not only this guarantees a protracted and painful judiciary process to terminate your French operations, but this may lead to situations where the money claims made against the French company would be escalated to its shareholders, directors and/or parent company, as explained in our introduction above.

Not only the parent company, and any other shareholder, could be dragged in the mud and found liable, but its directors, and in particular its managing director, too. French commercial courts have no patience for sloppy and irresponsible management, and many managing directors (“associes gerants”) have seen their civil liability triggered because their actions had caused some prejudices to the French company or a third party. Even criminal liability of an “associe gerant” can be triggered, in case the French court discovers fraud. In particular, it is frequent that in collective insolvency proceedings, if the judicial liquidation of a French limited liability company shows an asset shortfall (“insuffisance d’actif”), the courts order its managing director to pay, personally, for the company’s social liability, if she has committed a management error.

 

To conclude, the French company acts as a shield for its managing director, except if such director commits a personal mistake detachable from her mandate, in case the company is still solvent. However, if the company is in receivership, both the shareholders’, and the directors’ liability may be triggered in many ways, by French courts, the French social security contributions entity URSSAF and the French tax administration.

It is therefore essential to leave France with a clean slate, because any unfinished business left to fester may hit your foreign company and the management like a boomerang, by way of enforceable and very onerous French court decisions.

Don’t worry, though, we are here, at Crefovi, to service you to achieve this, and you can tap into our expertise to leave French territories unscathed and victorious.

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Brexit: How to protect your creative business when the UK will crash out of the EU on 30 March 2019

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On 30 March 2019, the UK will crash out of the EU without a withdrawal deal in place, and without a request for an extension of the 2 years’ notification period of its decision to withdraw. No second referendum will be organised by the current UK government. Therefore, what’s in the cards, for the creative industries, in order to do fruitful business with, and from, the UK in the near future? [hr]

Brexit: How to protect your creative businessMy previous article on the road less travelled & Brexit legal implications, published just after the Brexit vote, on Saturday 25 June 2016, delivered the main message that it was worth monitoring the negotiation process that would ensue the notification made by the United Kingdom (UK) to the European Union (EU) of its intention to withdraw from the EU within 2 years.

We have therefore been monitoring those negotiations for you, in the last couple of years, and came to the following predictions, which will empower your creative business to brace itself for, and make the most of the imminent changes triggered by, the crashing of the UK out of the EU, on 30 March 2019. 

1. End of freedom of movement of UK and EU citizens coming in and out of the UK

On 30 March 2019, UK citizens will lose their EU citizenship, i.e. the citizenship, subsidiary to UK citizenship, that provide rights such as the right to vote in European elections, the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU, and the right to consular protection by other EU states’ embassies when a person’s country of citizenship does not maintain an embassy or consulate in the country in which they require protection.

Since no withdrawal agreement will be signed by 29 March 2019, between the EU and the UK, UK nationals living in one of the 27 EU member-states will be on their own, as no reciprocal arrangements will have been put in place, in particular in relation to reciprocal healthcare and social security coordination, work permits, right to stand and vote in local elections.

UK nationals living in one of the states which are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), i.e. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, will also have no safety net, as the UK will also crash out of the EU bilateral agreements with EFTA members, such as the EEA Agreement which ties Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and the EU together, on 29 March 2019. Meanwhile, “the UK is seeking citizens’ rights agreement with the EFTA states to protect the rights of citizens“, as set out on the policy paper published by the UK Department for exiting the EU.

It therefore makes sense for UK nationals living in a EU member-state, or in one of the EFTA states, to reach out to the equivalent of the UK Home Office in such country, and inquire how they can secure either a visa or national citizenship in this country. Since negotiating some new bilateral agreements with EU member-states and EFTA states will take years, for the UK to finalise such negotiations, UK nationals cannot rely on these protracted talks to get any leverage and obtain permanent right to remain in a EU member-state or an EFTA state.

For example, France is ready to pass a decree after 30 March 2019, to organise the requirement to present a visa to enter French territory, and to obtain a residency permit (“carte de séjour”) to justify staying here, for UK citizens already living, or planning to live for more than three months, in France. Therefore, soon after 30 March 2019, British nationals and their families who do not have residency permits may have an “irregular status” in France.

While applying for a “carte de séjour” is free in France, and applying for French citizenship triggers only a 55 euros stamp duty to pay, EU nationals living in the UK, or planning to live in the UK, won’t be so lucky.

Indeed, it will set EU nationals back GBP1,330 per person, from 6 April 2018, to obtain UK citizenship, including the citizenship ceremony fee. However, there may be no fee to enrol into the EU Settlement Scheme, which will open fully by 30 March 2019, in particular if a EU citizen already has a valid “UK permanent residence document or indefinite leave to remain in or enter the UK”. The deadline for applying in the EU Settlement Scheme will be 31 December 2020, when the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal deal on 30 March 2019.

Business owners and creative companies working in and from the UK will be impacted too, if they have some employees and staff. It will be their responsibility to ensure and be able to prove that their staff who are EU citizens, have all obtained a settled status: in a display of largesse, the UK government has therefore published an employer toolkit, to “support EU citizens and their families to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme“.

For short term stays of less than three months per entry, the UK government currently promises that “arrangements for tourists and business visitors will not look any different“. “EU citizens coming for short visits will be able to enter the UK as they can now, and stay for up to three months from each entry“.

To conclude, leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement is going to create a lot of red tape, and be a massive time and energy hassle for EU citizens living in the UK, their UK employers who need to ensure that their staff are all enrolled into the EU Settlement Scheme, and for UK citizens living in one of the remaining 27 EU member-states. There will be no certainty of obtaining settled status from the UK Home Office, until EU citizens have actually obtained it further to enrolling into the EU Settlement Scheme. This is going to be a very anxiety-inducing process for EU citizens living in the UK, and for their UK employers who rely on these members of their staff to get the job done.

Contingency plans should therefore be put in place by UK employers who have EU citizens on their payroll, in particular by setting up offices and subsidiaries in one of the remaining 27 EU member-states, so that EU citizens whose settled status was refused by the UK Home Office may keep on working for their UK employers by relocating to this EU member-state where they will have freedom of movement thanks to their EU citizenships. Besides the Home Office and immigration lawyers’ fees, UK employers need to take into account the legal, accounting, IT and real estate costs of setting up additional offices and subsidiaries in a EU member-state, after 30 March 2019.

2. Removal of free movement of goods, services and capital

The EU internal market, or single market, is a single market that seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services and people – the “four freedoms” – between the EU 28 member-states.

After 30 March 2019, the single market will no longer count the UK, as it will cease to be a EU member-state.

While it was an option for the internal market to remain in place, between the UK and the EU, as such market has been extended to EFTA states Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA), and to EFTA state Switzerland through bilateral treaties, this alternative was not pursued by the UK government. Indeed, the EEA Agreement and EU-Swiss bilateral agreements are both viewed by most as very asymmetric (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are essentially obliged to accept the internal single market rules without having much if any say in what they are, while Switzerland does not have full or automatic access but still has free movement of workers). The UK, as well as EFTA members who were less than keen to have the UK join their EFTA club, ruled out such option, not seeing the point of still contributing to the EU budget while not having a seat at the table to take any decisions in relation to how the single market is governed and managed.

2.1. Removal of free movement of goods and new custom duties and tariffs

As far as the removal of the free movement of goods is concerned, it will be a – hopefully temporary – hassle, since the UK does not have any bilateral customs and trade agreements in place with the EU (because no withdrawal agreement will be entered into between the EU and the UK by 30 March 2019) and with non-EU countries (because the 53 trade agreements with non-EU countries were secured by the EU directly, on behalf of its then 28 member-states, including with Canada, Singapore, South Korea).

On 30 March 2019, the UK will regain its right to conclude binding trade agreements with non-EU countries, and with the EU of course.

While the UK government laboriously launches itself into the negotiation of at least 54 trade agreements, including with the EU, customs duties will be reinstated between the UK and all other European countries, including the UK. This is going to lead to a very disadvantageous situation for UK businesses, as the cost of trading goods and products with foreign countries will substantially increase, both for imports and exports.

Creative companies headquartered in the UK, which export and import goods and products, such as fashion, design and tech companies, are going to be especially at risk, here, with the cost of imported raw material increasing, and the rise or appearance of custom duties on exports of their products to the EU and non-EU countries. Fashion and luxury businesses, in particular, are at risk, since they export more than seventy percent of their production overseas.

Since the UK has most of its trade (57% of exports and 66% of imports in 2016) done with countries bound by EU trade agreements, both UK companies and UK consumers must brace themselves for a shock, when they will start trading after 30 March 2019. The cost of life is going to become more expensive in the UK (since most products and goods are imported, in particular from EU member-states), and operating costs are also going to increase for UK businesses.

While some Brexiters claim that the UK will be fine, by reverting to trading with the “rest of the world” under the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it is important to note that right now, only 24 countries are trading with the UK on WTO rules (like any one of the 28 member-states of the EU because no EU trade deal was concluded with these non-EU countries). After 30 March 2019, the UK will trade with the rest of the world under WTO rules, as long as the other state is also a member of the WTO (for example, Algeria, Serbia and North Korea are not WTO members). Moreover, some tariffs will apply to all UK exports, under those WTO rules.

It definitely does not look like a panacea to trade under WTO rules, so the UK government and its Bank of England will weaken the pound sterling as much as possible, to set off the financial burden represented by these custom duties and taxes.

Creative companies headquartered in the UK, which export goods and products, such as fashion and design companies, should now relocate their manufacturing operations to the EU or low wages and low tax territories, such as South East Asia, as soon as possible, to avoid the new customs duties and taxation of goods and products which will inevitably arise, after 30 March 2019.

While a cynical example, since James Dyson was a fervent Brexiter who called on the UK government to walk away from the EU without a withdrawal deal, UK creative businesses manufacturing goods and products must emulate vacuum cleaner and hair dryer technology company Dyson, that will be moving its headquarters from Wiltshire to Singapore this year.

Moreover, the UK will face non-tariff barriers, in the same way that China and the US trade with the EU. Non-tariff barriers are any measure, other than a customs tariff, that acts as a barrier to international trade, such as regulations, rules of origin or quotas. In particular, regulatory divergence from the EU will make it harder to trade goods, introducing non-tariff barriers: when the UK will leave the EU customs union, on 30 March 2019, any goods crossing the border will have to meet rules of origin requirements, to prove that they did indeed come from the UK – introducing paperwork and non-tariff barriers.

2.2. Removal of free movement of services and VAT changes

On 30 March 2019, UK services – accounting for eighty percent of the UK economy – will lose their preferential access to the EU single market, which will constitute another non-tariff barrier. 

The free movement of services and of establishment allows self-employed persons to move between member-states in order to provide services on a temporary or permanent basis. While services account for between sixty and seventy percent of GDP, on average, in all 28 EU member-states, most legislation in this area is not as developed as in other areas.

There are no customs duties and taxation on services, therefore UK creative industries which mainly provide services (such as the tech and internet sector, marketing, PR and communication services, etc) are less at risk of being detrimentally impacted by the exit of the UK from the EU without a withdrawal agreement.

However, since the UK will become a non-EU country from 30 March 2019 onwards, EU businesses and UK business alike will no longer be able to apply the EU rules relating to VAT, and in particular to intra-community VAT, when they trade with UK and EU businesses respectively. This therefore means that, from 30 March 2019 onwards, a EU business will no longer charge VAT to a UK company, but will keep on charging VAT to its UK client who is a natural person. Also, a UK business will no longer charge VAT to a EU company, but will keep on charging VAT to its EU client who is a natural person.

Positive changes on VAT are also in the works, because the UK will no longer have to comply with EU VAT law (on rates of VAT, scope of exemptions, zero-rating, etc.): the UK will have more flexibility in those areas.

However, there will no doubt be disputes between taxpayers and HMRC over the VAT treatment of transactions that predate 30 March 2019, where EU law may still be in point. Because the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will cease completely in relation to UK matters on 30 March 2019, any such questions of EU law will be dealt with entirely by the UK courts. Indeed, UK courts have stopped referring new cases to the CJEU in any event, since last year.

2.3. Removal of free movement of capital and loss of passporting rights for the UK financial services industry

Since the UK will leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement, free movement of capital, which is intended to permit movement of investments such as property purchases and buying of shares between EU member-states, will cease to apply between the EU and the UK on 30 March 2019.

Capital within the EU may be transferred in any amount from one country to another (except that Greece currently has capital controls restricting outflows) and all intra-EU transfers in euro are considered as domestic payments and bear the corresponding domestic transfer costs. This EU central payments infrastructure is based around TARGET2 and the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). This includes all member-states of the EU, even those outside the eurozone, provided the transactions are carried out in euros. Credit/debit card charging and ATM withdrawals within the Eurozone are also charged as domestic.

Since the UK has always kept the pound sterling during its 43 years’ stint in the EU, absolutely refusing to ditch it for the euro, transfer costs on capital movements – from euros to pound sterling and vice versa – have always been fairly high in the UK anyway.

However, as the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal on 30 March 2019, such transfer costs, as well as new controls on capital movements, will be put in place and impact creative businesses and professionals when they want to transfer money from the UK to EU member-states and vice-versa. While the UK government is looking to align payments legislation to maximise the likelihood of remaining a member of SEPA as a third country, the fact that it has decided not to sign the withdrawal agreement with the EU will not help such alignment process.

The cost of card payments between the UK and EU will increase, and these cross-border payments will no longer be covered by the surcharging ban (which prevents businesses from being able to charge consumers for using a specific payment method).

It is therefore advisable for UK creative companies to open business bank accounts, in euros, either in EU countries which are strategic to them, or online through financial services providers such as Transferwise’s borderless account. UK businesses and professionals will hence avoid being narrowly limited to their UK pound sterling denominated bank accounts and being tributary to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats attempting to negotiate new trade agreements on freedom of capital movements between the UK and the EU, and other non-EU countries.

Also, forging ties with banking, insurance and other financial services providers in one of the remaining 27 member-states of the EU may be really useful to UK creative industries, after 30 March 2019, because the UK will no longer be able to carry out any banking, insurance and other financial services activities through the EU passporting process. Indeed, financial services is a highly regulated sector, and the EU internal market for financial services is highly integrated, underpinned by common rules and standards, and extensive supervisory cooperation between regulatory authorities at an EU and member-state level. Firms, financial market infrastructures, and funds authorised in any EU member-state can carry out many activities in any other EU member-state, through a process known as “passporting”, as a direct result of their EU authorisation. This means that if these entities are authorised in one member-state, they can provide services to customers in all other EU member-states, without requiring authorisation or supervision from the local regulator.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will transfer EU law, including that relating to financial services, into UK statutes on 30 March 2019. It will also give the UK government powers to amend UK law, to ensure that there is a fully functioning financial services regulatory framework on 30 March 2019.

However, on 30 March 2019, UK financial services firms’ position in relation to the EU will be determined by any applicable EU rules that apply to non-EU countries at that time. Therefore, UK financial services firms and funds will lose their passporting rights into the EU: this means that their UK customers will no longer be able to use the EU services of UK firms that used to passport into the EU, but also that their EU customers will no longer be able to use the UK services of such UK firms.

For example, the UK is a major centre for investment banking in Europe, with UK investment banks providing investment services and funding through capital markets to business clients across the EU. On 30 March 2019, EU clients may no longer be able to use the services of UK-based investment banks, and UK-based investment banks may be unable to service existing cross-border contracts.

3. Legal implications of Brexit in the UK

On 30 March 2019, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (the “Act“) will take effect, repeal the European Communities Act 1972 (the “ECA“) and retain in effect almost all UK laws which have been derived from the EU membership of the UK since 1 January 1973. The Act will therefore continue enforce all EU-derived domestic legislation, which is principally delegated legislation passed under the ECA to implement directives, and convert all direct EU legislation, i.e. EU regulations and decisions, into UK domestic law. 

Consequently, the content of EU law as it stands on 30 March 2019 is going to be a critical piece of legal history for the purpose of UK law for decades to come.

Some of the legal practices which are going to be strongly impacted by the UK crashing out of the EU are intellectual property law, dispute resolution, financial services law, franchising, employment law, product compliance and liability, as well as tax.

In particular, there is no clarity from the UK government, at this stage, on how EU trademarks, registered with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) are going to apply in the UK, if at all, after 30 March 2019. The same goes for Registered Community Designs (RCD), which are also issued by the EUIPO.

At least, some clarity exists in relation to European patents: the UK exit from the EU should not affect the current European patent system, which is governed by the (non-EU) European Patent Convention. Therefore, UK businesses will be able to apply to the European Patent Office (EPO) for patent protection which will include the UK. Existing European patents covering the UK will also be unaffected. European patent attorneys based in the UK will continue to be able to represent applicants before the EPO.

Similarly, and since the UK is a member of a number of international treaties and agreements protecting copyright, the majority of UK copyright works (such as music, films, books and photographs) are protected around the world. This will continue to be the case, following the UK exit from the EU. However, certain cross-border copyright mechanisms, especially those relating to collecting societies and rights management societies, and those relating to the EU digital single market, are going to cease applying in the UK.

Enforcement of IP rights, as well as commercial and civil rights, is also going to be uncertain for some time: the UK will cease to be part of the EU Observatory, and of bodies such as Europol and the EU customs’ databases to register intellectual property rights against counterfeiting, on 30 March 2019. 

The EU regulation n. 1215/2012 of 12 December 2012, on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, will cease to apply in the UK once it is no longer an EU member-state. Therefore, after 30 March 2019, no enforcement system will be in place, to enforce an English judgment in a EU member-state, and vice-versa. Creative businesses will have to rely on domestic recognition regimes in the UK and each EU member-state, if in existence. This will likely introduce additional procedural steps before a foreign judgment is recognised, which will make enforcement more time-consuming and expensive.

 

To conclude, the UK government seems comfortable with the fact that mayhem is going to happen, from 30 March 2019 onwards, in the UK, in a very large number of industrial sectors, legal practices, and cross-border administrative systems such as immigration and customs, for the mere reason than no agreed and negotiated planning was put in place, on a wide scale, by the UK and the EU upon exit of the UK from the EU. This approach makes no economic, social and financial sense but this is besides the point. Right now, what creative businesses and professionals need to focus on is to prepare contingency plans, as explained above, and to keep on monitoring new harmonisation processes that will undoubtedly be put in place, in a few years, by the UK and its trading partners outside and inside the EU, once they manage to find common ground and enter into bilateral agreements organising this new business era for the UK. 

 

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Brexit legal implications: the road less travelled

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On 23 June 2016, during an epic day of flooding in London and South East England, which did not deter a record 72.2 percent of voters to turn out, Little Britain decided to terminate its 43-year membership with the European Union (EU). What are Brexit legal implications that creative industries need to know about?[hr]

Brexit legal implicationsNow, the United Kingdom (UK) – or possibly, only England and Wales if Northern Ireland and Scotland successfully each hold a referendum to stay in the EU in the near future – will join the ranks of the nine other European countries which are not part of the EU, i.e. Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Albania, Switzerland, Turkey, Russia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Of these, two countries, Russia and Turkey, straddle Europe and Asia.

What are the short-term and long-term consequences, from a legal and business standpoint, for the creative industries based in the UK or in commercial relationships with UK creatives?

The two main treaties of the European Union, which are a set of international treaties between the EU member states and which set out the EU’s constitutional basis, are the Treaty on European Union (TEU, signed in Maastricht in 1992) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU, signed in Rome in 1958 to establish the European Economic Community).

The TFEU in particular sets out some important policies which guide the EU, such as:

  • Citizenship of the EU;
  • The internal market;
  • Free movement of people, services and capital;
  • Free movement of goods, including the customs union;
  • Competition;
  • Area of freedom, justice and security, including police and justice co-operation;
  • Economic and monetary policy;
  • EU foreign policy, etc.

How is the ending of those policies, in the UK, going to change and affect UK creative professionals and companies, as well as foreign citizens and companies doing business in the UK?

1. Brexit legal implications: removal of EU citizenship for UK citizens and of freedom of movement of people coming in and out of the UK

Citizenship of the EU was introduced by the TEU and has been in force since 1993.

EU citizenship is subsidiary to national citizenship and affords rights such as the right to vote in European elections, the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU, and the right to consular protection by other EU states’ embassies when a person’s country of citizenship does not maintain an embassy or a consulate in the country in which they require protection.

By voting out of the EU, Little Britain has made it difficult for EU citizens to come to the UK, as a visa or work permit may be required in the future, depending on the agreement that the UK will strike with the EU. However, it will also be much more difficult for UK citizens to travel to EU member states, for work, studies or leisure.

Probably, the majority of people in the UK who voted out of the EU do not travel much out of the UK, either for work or leisure, so there was definitely a class battle going on there, during that Brexit referendum, as high flyers and Londoners (who have to be quite wealthy to live in such an expensive city) wanted to remain in the EU, while the working class population and English & Welsh regions were firmly on the Leave side. That’s democracy for you: one individual, one vote and the majority of votes always has the upper hand!

If we look at the example set by some of the other nine European states which are not part of the EU, we see that several options are available. Although Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are not members of the EU, they have bilateral agreements with the EU that allow their citizens to live and work in EU-member countries without work permits, and vice versa. Switzerland has a similar bilateral agreement, though its agreement is slightly more limited. At the other end of the spectrum, the decision about whether to permit Turkish citizens to live and work within member countries of the EU is left to the individual member nations, and vice versa.

So what’s it going to be like, for the UK?

Time will tell but as we now know that David Cameron, a relatively “mild” member of the conservative party, will step down as the UK prime minister in October 2016, we are under the impression that his leadership will be replaced with an atypical and highly-strung right-wing and nationalistic team, probably led by hard-core conservatives such as Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson not being renowned for his subtlety and impeccable political flair, we think that negotiations for new bilateral agreements between the UK and EU as well as non-EU countries will be a difficult, protracted and ego-tripped process which may take years to finalise.

The UK will try to reduce immigration from the EU, probably with a points-based system such as the one in place in Australia. It means giving priority to high-skilled workers and blocking entry to low-skilled ones. But first, the UK will have to clarify the status of the nearly 2.2 million EU workers living in the UK. The rules for family reunions may get tougher. Also, 2 million UK nationals also live abroad in EU countries – so any British measures targeting EU workers could trigger retaliation against UK nationals abroad.

This, of course, may have an extremely negative impact on the freedom of movement of people, in and out of the UK, which may have a catastrophic impact on trade, human rights and political relationships with other states, for the UK.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, another treaty from the set of international treaties between the EU member states and which sets out the EU’s constitutional basis, relates to the rules for exit from the EU and provides that:

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the EU in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the EU shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the EU. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the TFEU. It shall be concluded on behalf of the EU by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the TFEU.

5. If a State which has withdrawn from the EU asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49″.

Therefore, the UK nows needs to notify its intention to withdraw from the EU to the European Council. We understand that such notification will be handed over by the new prime minister in the UK, therefore after October 2016.

The UK will have, at the latest, a period of two years from such notification date to negotiate and conclude with the EU an agreement setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking out of the framework for its future relationship with the EU. After this period of two years or, if earlier, the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement, the EU Treaties will cease to apply to the UK.

Let’s hope that the new UK government will have the ability and gravitas to strike a withdrawal agreement with the EU, in particular in relation to free movement of people coming in and out of the UK, which will be balanced and ensure fluid and constructive relationships with its fellow neighbours and main import partners.

Companies which have – or plan to have – employees in the UK, or which staff often travels to the UK for business reasons, should monitor the negotiation of the bilateral agreements relating to the freedom of movement of people, between the UK and EU member-states, as well as non-EU countries, very closely, as costs, energy and time to secure visas and work permits could become a significant burden to doing business in and with the UK, in the next two years.

2. Brexit legal implications: removal of free movement of goods, services and capital?

The EU’s internal market, or single market, is a single market that seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services and people – the “four freedoms” – between the EU’s 28 member states.

The internal market is intended to be conducive to increased competition, increased specialisation, larger economies of scale, allowing goods and factors of production to move to the area where they are most valued, thus improving the efficiency of the allocation of resources.

It is also intended to drive economic integration whereby the once separate economies of the member states become integrated within a single EU wide economy. Half of the trade in goods within the EU is covered by legislation harmonised by the EU.

Clearly, the internal market and its wider repercussions have gone totally over the head of Little Britain, who wiped out 43 years of hard-won progress towards economic integration in 12 hours on 23 June 2016! “Put Britain first”, which was what the mentally ill racist and right-wing extremist shouted when he murdered Jo Cox, a Labour politician and campaigner for the rights of refugees, a week and a half ago, summarises what Little Britain had in mind, when they voted out of the EU.

Having said that, it is possible that the internal market remains in place, between the UK and the EU, as such market has been extended to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) and to Switzerland through bilateral treaties.

Indeed, the EEA is the area in which the agreement on the EEA provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the internal market of the EU. The EEA was established on 1 January 1994 upon entry into force of the EEA Agreement.

The EEA Agreement specifies that membership is open to member states of either the EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA). EFTA states, i.e. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are party to the EEA Agreement participate in the EU’s internal market. One EFTA state, Switzerland, has not joined the EEA, but has a series of bilateral agreements with the EU which allow it to participate in the internal market. The EEA Agreement in respect of these states, and the EU-Swiss treaties have exceptions, notably on agriculture and fisheries.

2.1. Free movement of goods?

Thanks to the internal market, there is a guarantee to free movement of goods.

If the UK decides, during its withdrawal negotiations with the EU, to become a party to the EEA Agreement, then such freedom of movement of goods will be guaranteed.

If the UK decides, during its withdrawal negotiations with the EU, to put in place a series of bilateral agreements with the EU, then such freedom of movement of goods may be guaranteed.

Otherwise, there will be no freedom of movement of goods, between the UK and the EU, and non-EU countries, which would be an extremely perilous commercial situation for the UK. The EU is also a customs union. This means that member-states have removed customs barriers between themselves and introduced a common customs policy towards other countries. The overall purpose of the duties is “to ensure normal conditions of competition and to remove all restrictions of a fiscal nature capable of hindering the free movement of goods within the Common Market“.

Article 30 TFEU prohibits EU member-states from levying any duties on goods crossing a border, both goods produced within the EU and those produced outside. Once a good has been imported into the EU from a third country and the appropriate customs duty paid, Article 29 TFEU dictates that it shall then be considered to be in free circulation between the EU member-states.

Neither the purpose of the charge, nor its name in domestic law, is relevant.

Since the Single European Act, there can be no systematic customs controls at the borders of EU member-states. The emphasis is on post-import audit controls and risk analysis. Physical controls of imports and exports now occur at traders’ premises, rather than at the territorial borders.

Again, if the UK becomes a party to the EEA Agreement, or signs appropriate bilateral agreements with the EU and other countries party to the internal market, customs duties will be prohibited between the UK, the EU, the EEA states and Switzerland. Otherwise, customs duties will be reinstated between the UK and all other European countries, including the EU, which would be again a very disadvantageous situation for UK businesses as the cost of trading goods with foreign countries will substantially increase.

The same goes for taxation of goods and products which will be reinstated if the UK does not manage to become a party to the EEA Agreement or to sign appropriate bilateral agreements with the EU.

This is going to become a major headache for the UK’s new leadership: goods exports of the EU, not including the UK, to the rest of the world, including the UK, are about 1,800bn euros; to the UK, about 295bn euros, or a little under 16 percent. So, in 2015, the UK accounted for 16 percent of the EU’s exports, while the US and China accounted for 15 percent and 8 percent respectively.

The UK would, indeed, become the EU’s single largest trading partner for trade in goods. However, this would probably not be the case for trade overall. Including services would probably reduce the UK’s share somewhat (the EU ex UK exports over 600bn euros in services, while the UK imports only about 40-45bn euros in services from the rest of the EU). Moreover, the US will very probably overtake the UK as the EU ex UK’s largest single export market.

What does this tell us about the UK’s bargaining power with the EU after a Brexit?

It certainly confirms that the UK would become one of the EU’s largest export markets, even if not necessarily the largest. But the UK would still be far less important to the EU than they are to the UK – the EU still takes about 45 percent of UK’s exports, down from 55 percent at the turn of the century. And, if you treat the EU as one country, as this analysis does, “exports” become considerably less important overall (intra-EU trade is far more important to almost all EU countries). Indeed, as this Eurostat table shows, only for Ireland and Cyprus does the UK represent more than 10 percent of total (including intra-EU) exports. Brexit legal implications

So how important will exporting to the UK be to the EU economy after Brexit? EU exports to the UK would represent about 3 percent of EU GDP; not negligible by any means, but equally perhaps not as dramatic as one might think. The EU, and even more so the UK, would certainly have a strong incentive to negotiate a sensible trading arrangement post-Brexit. But no-one should imagine the UK holds all the cards here.

Bearing in mind that the EEA Agreement and EU-Swiss bilateral agreements are both viewed by most as very asymmetric (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are essentially obliged to accept the internal single market rules without having much if any say in what they are, while Switzerland does not have full or automatic access but still has free movement of workers), we strongly doubt that currently feisty UK and its dubious future leadership (wasn’t Boris Johnson lambasted for being a womanising buffoon by both the press and members of the public until recently?) are cut from the right cloth to pull off a constructive, seamless and peaceful exit from the EU.

Creative companies headquartered in the UK, which export goods and products, such as fashion and design companies, should monitor the UK negotiations of the withdrawal agreement with the EU extremely closely and, if need be, relocate their operations to the EU within the next 2 years, should new customs duties and taxation of goods and products become inevitable, due to a lack of successful negotiations with the EU.

The alternative would be to face high prices both inside the UK (as UK retailers and end-consumers will have to pay customs duties and taxes on all imported products) and while exporting from the UK (as buyers of UK manufacturers’ goods will have to pay customs duties and taxes on all exported products). Moreover, the UK will face non-tariff barriers, in the same way that China and the US trade with the EU. UK services – accounting for eighty percent of the UK economy – would lose their preferential access to the EU single market.

While an inevitably weaker pound sterling may set off some of the financial burden represented by these customs duties and taxes, it may still very much be necessary to relocate operations to another country member of the EU or EEA, to balance out the effect of the Brexit, and its aftermath, for creative businesses which produce goods and products and export the vast majority of their productions.

Fashion and luxury businesses, in particular, are at risk, since they export more than seventy percent of their production overseas. Analysts think that the most important consequence of Brexit is “a dent to global GDP prospects and damage to confidence. This is likely to develop on the back of downward asset markets adjustments. Hence, more than ever, the fashion industry will have to work on moderating costs and capital expenditures“.

2.2. Free movement of services and capital?

The free movement of services and of establishment allows self-employed persons to move between member-states in order to provide services on a temporary or permanent basis. While services account for between sixty and seventy percent of GDP, legislation in the area is not as developed as in other areas.

There are no customs duties and taxation on services therefore UK creative industries which mainly provide services (such as the tech and internet sector, marketing, PR and communication services, etc) are less at risk of being detrimentally impacted by the potentially disastrous effects of unsuccessful negotiations between the EU and the UK, during the withdrawal period.

Free movement of capital is intended to permit movement of investments such as property purchases and buying of shares between countries. Capital within the EU may be transferred in any amount from one country to another (except that Greece currently has capital controls restricting outflows) and all intra-EU transfers in euro are considered as domestic payments and bear the corresponding domestic transfer costs. This includes all member-states of the EU, even those outside the eurozone, provided the transactions are carried out in euro. Credit/debit card charging and ATM withdrawals within the Eurozone are also charged as domestic.

Since the UK has always kept the pound sterling during its 43 years’ stint in the EU, absolutely refusing to ditch it for the euro, transfer costs on capital movements – from euros to pound sterling and vice versa – have always been fairly high in the UK anyway.

Should the withdrawal negotiations between the EU and the UK not be successful, in the next two years, it is possible that such transfer costs, as well as some new controls on capital movements, be put in place when creative businesses and professionals want to transfer money across European territories.

It is advisable for creative companies to open business bank accounts, in euros, in strategic EU countries for them, in order to avoid being narrowly limited to their UK pound sterling denominated bank accounts and being tributary to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats attempting to negotiate new trade agreements on freedom of capital movements between the UK and the EU.

To conclude, we think that it is going to be difficult for creative businesses to do fruitful and high growth business in the UK and from the UK for at least the next two years, as UK politicians and bureaucrats now have to not only negotiate their way out of the EU through a withdrawal agreement, but also to negotiate bilateral free trade deals that the EU negotiated on behalf of its 28 member-states with 53 countries, including Canada, Singapore, South Korea. Moreover, it would require highly-skilled, seasoned, non-emotional and consensual UK leadership to pull off successful trade negotiations with the EU and, in view of the populist campaign lead by a now victorious significant majority of conservative politicians in the UK up to Brexit, we think that such exceptional and innovative UK leaders are either not yet identified or not in existence, at this point in time. The pains and travails of the UK economy may last far longer than just two years and, for now, there is no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel that all this fuss will be worth it, from a business and trade standpoint. Did Little Britain think about all that, when it went out to vote on 23 June 2016? We certainly do not think so.

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ialci and Tranoï become official partners for 2016 trade shows worldwide | London fashion and luxury law firm Crefovi

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ialci, the international association of lawyers for creative industries, and Tranoï, fashion and luxury trade shows’ organiser and platform, partner up on all trade shows for 2016 worldwide.[hr]

ialci, the international association of lawyers for creative industriestranoï, ialci, crefovi, new york, paris, was founded by Crefovi’s founding partner, Annabelle Gauberti, in 2013.

Today, ialci is a dynamic association, which members are currently drafting a book on the law of luxury goods and fashion (to be released in 2016) and which organises several high-profile seminars from the law of luxury goods and fashion series.

ialci’s president, Annabelle Gauberti, struck a partnership with fashion and luxury goods platform and trade shows’ organiser, Tranoï.

Tranoï is a series of international fashion trade shows as well as an artistic platform with a stern selection of more than 1000 premium designers from all over the world, created for them to meet the most influential fashion ambassadors. As set out on its website, Tranoï is more than trade shows. “It also includes artistic installations, designers exhibitions, catwalk shows, fashion parties and all sorts of events which arouse the dreams and desires inherent to fashion“.

It was founded by the Hadida family, renowned for establishing multi-labels concept stores L’Eclaireur. L’Eclaireur founder, Mr Armand Hadida, is its creative director while his son, Mr David Hadida, is its general director. 

The objectives of Tranoï are to:

  • Facilitate connections between fashion businesses and the right professionals to support them with their challenges;
  • Present highly curated fashion products, sold by the exhibitors, to the most high-profile and sought after multi-label stores, department stores, online stores in the world;
  • Showcase the French and international innovations that serve the fashion industry.

ialci’s lawyers will attend all trade shows in 2016, worldwide, in order to provide free legal advice, short one-to-one introductory meetings as well as workshops on hot topics pertaining to the law of luxury goods and fashion, to all Tranoï’s exhibitors and visitors.

With more than 80% of exhibitors at Tranoï New York and Paris coming from Europe, and most visitors to New York and Paris trade shows coming from the US, Japan, Italy, France, Germany and the UK, Tranoï’s clients will benefit from responsive, international and expert legal advice and services provided by several member lawyers of ialci, qualified under English law, French law, New York law, Brazilian law, Belgium law, Italian law and German law.

Already, in September 2015, the lawyers from ialci, including Crefovi’s founding partner Annabelle Gauberti, had a booth at New York trade show at the Tunnel in Chelsea. During that September trade show, ialci lawyers were delighted to have their booth visited by numerous exhibitors and visitors, who asked them many legal questions relating to fashion law and their business affairs and/or were simply curious to know more about ialci.

Exhibitors and visitors also attended with great curiosity and interest ialci’s workshops held at Tranoï New York Show, on 19 and 20 September. These 40 minutes’ seminars focused on which types of intellectual property rights are worth protecting for a luxury and fashion brand, as well as tips to negotiate well an agency or distribution agreement in the fashion sector.

The presence of ialci on the trade show in New York, in September 2015, was duly noticed and even got press coverage! 

Now that an official partnership has been signed between ialci and Tranoï, ialci will attend and participate to all trade shows worldwide in 2016, as follows:

  • Tranoï Homme and Preview, from 23 to 25 January 2016, at Cité de la Mode et du Design and Palais de la Bourse in Paris ;
  • Tranoï New York, from 21 to 23 February 2016, at the Tunnel, Chelsea, in New York City;
  • Tranoï Femme, from 4 to 7 March 2016, at Cité de la Mode et du Design, Palais de la Bourse and Carrousel du Louvre in Paris.

In order to organise an appointment with ialci lawyers, please fill out and send us an online contact form

Crefovi and ialci will revert back to you in due course, with some suggested appointment times, in order to meet up during the trade shows, and with some questions and points about your legal enquiries in order to address them adequately during those appointments.

In addition to being present at ialci booth during the whole duration of each trade show, for free advice and consultations to Tranoï’s exhibitors and visitors,  ialci lawyers will also organise various workshops on legal topics of particular interest to the exhibitors and visitors of Tranoï’s trade shows, on intellectual property, fashion finance, agency and distribution agreements, lawful use of social media, etc.

Annabelle Gauberti, founding partner of London fashion and luxury law firm Crefovi, will coordinate ialci’s and her law firm’s presence at Tranoï. She will be present on ialci’s booth at all times. 

Tranoï’s goal is to welcome more than 4,000 visitors over three days at its multiple sites in Paris, and more than 1,000 visitors over three days at the Tunnel, Chelsea, in New York.

One of the USPs of Tranoï events is the focus on creating a real dialogue between attendees and speakers, so if you happen to attend some panel discussions or workshops Annabelle is participating in, or if you see ialci’s booths on Tranoï Paris and New York, please don’t hesitate to ask her a question! You can also catch her afterwards if you have anything specific you would like to discuss. See you there!

crefovi, ialci, annabelle gauberti, fashion law
Annabelle Gauberti on ialci’s stand in Paris fashion week in March 2016

Tranoi, Crefovi, ialci, Amy Goldsmith, Annabelle Gauberti
Amy Goldsmith and Annabelle Gauberti in NYC in February 2016

Tranoi, ialci, Crefovi, Annabelle Gauberti, Amy Goldsmith
Amy Goldsmith and Annabelle Gauberti in NYC in February 2016

Tranoi, ialci, Crefovi, Amy Goldsmith
Amy Goldsmith during her presentation on “Social media and online marketing: best conduct guidelines for fashion and luxury businesses” at Tranoï NYC in February 2016

 

Tranoi NYC 0216 AG
Annabelle Gauberti during her presentation on “Social media and online marketing: best conduct guidelines for fashion and luxury businesses” in NYC in February 2016

 

Highlight trailer of ialci and Tranoi partnership during Paris and New York fashion weeks, in January, February and March 2016

crefovi, ialci, annabelle gauberti, fashion law, paolo gelato
Paola Gelato in Paris in January 2016

 

crefovi, ialci, annabelle gauberti, fashion law
Adarsh Ramanujan and Annabelle Gauberti, lawyers members of ialci, in Paris in January 2016

ialci, crefovi, tranoi, tranoi NYC
Annabelle Gauberti, Amy Goldsmith, Holger Alt and Philippe Laurent in NYC in September 2015

 

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