Chatbot Contracts: Enforcing TOS Agreements in Computer-Generated Conversations

[Originally published by Lily Li in the Spring 2017 Orange County ABTL Report]

Humanity has long imagined self-aware computers that can pilot our vehicles, purchase goods, and even sing songs for us, whether as the malevolent Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the spunky Samantha in Her. Though fully sentient artificial intelligence is still science fiction (as far as we know), computer software has become “smart” enough to converse with us through text-based services like Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, or WeChat, or voice-operated services like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. As more e-commerce transactions are completed via these “chatbots” or “chatterbots” and away from browser-based websites, this begs the question: Will courts enforce the Terms of Service for chatbot contracts when the terms no longer appear on the same page – or even the same medium – as the transaction itself?

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Help! What Are My (Immediate) Defenses to a Federal Trade Secret Claim?

[Originally published as Help! What Are My (Immediate) Defenses to a Federal Trade Secret Claim?, by Lily Li and Andrea Paris, in Orange County Lawyer Magazine, September 2016, Vol. 58 No.9 on page 52.]

The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA), signed into law by President Obama on May 11, 2016 creates a new federal cause of action for trade secret theft. Not only does the DTSA open the doors of the U.S. district courts to trade secret plaintiffs, it weaponizes complaints. Now, upon a showing of immediate and irreparable injury, plaintiffs in trade secret cases can request extraordinary relief: court-ordered seizure of the misappropriated trade secrets without notice to the defendant. This relief is above and beyond what is provided for by the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA), the trade secret law adopted by most states, including California, and copies many of the civil seizure remedies previously available to copyright, trademark, and patent plaintiffs for infringing and counterfeit goods.

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RFAs: The Underutilized Strategy for Recovering Attorney’s Fees

[Originally published as RFAs: The Underutilized Strategy for Recovering Attorney’s Fees, by Lily Li, in Orange County Lawyer Magazine, December 2015, Vol. 57 No.12 on page 40.]

A successful motion for attorney’s fees can be just as important as winning at trial, especially when it comes to your client’s satisfaction with the outcome of litigation. What are your options, however, when there are no obvious attorney fee-shifting provisions in your case? A recent decision out of the Fourth Appellate District bolstered the use of a “costs of proof” motion under Code of Civil Procedure § 2033.420, based on defendants’ unreasonable denials of various requests for admissions. Grace v. Mansourian, No. G0495 at 6-7 (9th Cir. filed Aug. 17, 2015) (certified for publication on Sep. 15, 2015), available at http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/nonpub/G049590.PDF.

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Robot Price Wars: Minimum Advertised Pricing (“MAP”) Policies and the Colgate Doctrine in the Era of Smart Web Crawlers

[Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of the Federal Bar Association/Orange County Chapter Newsletter. See the original article here.]

A growing number of manufacturers and wholesalers are using minimum advertised pricing (“MAP”) policies to control how retailers showcase the price of their goods. Whether the products are smartphones, luxury handbags, or golf clubs, manufacturers use MAP policies to protect brand integrity, to encourage retail investment in product display, customer service, and sales, and to avoid the ever-present “free-rider” problem that results when retailers who do not expend resources on brand promotion take advantage of those who do by out-pricing them. In contrast with a resale price maintenance (“RPM”) policy, which controls downstream pricing, a MAP policy places restrictions on the price at which downstream retailers display prices in fliers, store windows – and with increasing importance, on their websites. A thoughtfully drafted—and consistently enforced—MAP policy may avoid some of the antitrust pitfalls in state and federal law that would otherwise apply to agreements on price.

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