When Justice Is Blind -- And Computer Literate
Pop quiz: Which U.S. state is the most business-friendly? You probably answered "Delaware." Part of what renders Delaware magnetic to corporations is its Court of Chancery, a separate court for business cases that dates back to 1792.
Since then, about a dozen Delaware-wanna-be states have established business courts -- or at least separate tracks for business cases. Now some states are kicking the competition up a notch by creating so-called technology courts. Tech courts promise speedy adjudication of gnarly licensing, security, privacy, noncompete, and trade-secret cases. Experts say courts get bogged down with those kinds of lawsuits, and that spells disaster for small companies. "Having one of these cases hanging over you has a negative impact on your ability to raise funding and hire key employees," says Jay Hachigian, who represents venture-backed start-ups at the law firm he cofounded, Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, in Waltham, Mass.
In Maryland, judges, lawyers, and businesspeople are gaveling out the details of tech court. Their plan: urge litigants to skip expensive trials and to settle out of court with the help of mediators. When trials do go forward, tech-friendly judges will hear them on an expedited schedule. Bring it on, say CEOs like Larry Fiorino of G1440, a three-year-old Internet software company based in Columbia, Md. "Internet and technology businesses move at a faster rate," he says. "We need decisions in days and weeks, not months and years."
So what do you do if you're involved in a sticky suit in a state with no special tech court -- and therefore few, if any, tech-savvy judges? "Use an attorney who can explain complicated technology issues in very simple terms," says Hachigian. "Those that have the greatest success are the ones that are able to make points in a crisp way, often drawing analogies to everyday life. And use pictures," he adds. "I wouldn't use PowerPoint and lasers. Avoid high-tech gadgetry, in other words. Create very simple pictures or graphs and present them in hard copy as opposed to on a monitor. Those can be quite useful."
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