Gimme hype, Jo-anna!

Gimme hype, Jo-anna!

*Disclaimer – of course, a legal document needs to start with a disclaimer: our firm has a Slack channel called the #unlawyerzone, where we post adventures that team members get up to that are slightly less serious. This blog post comes from the hidden ether of our #unlawyerzone and should be read in that context. Also, I couldn’t resist butchering the title of that most famous and brilliant song (with apologies to Eddy Grant) to sugar up this rant.

I’ve been working as a commercial attorney for about 10 years and something that we inevitably see a lot of is how most of the business world seems to go into crazy mode whenever a new hyped idea comes along.

Any honest lawyer will admit that hype in the business world is to lawyers’ what blood is to sharks (with apologies to sharks). Hype does create work for us, but like that hairstyle you were so proud of in varsity: you may just be investing time and money in something that will be redundant (at best) and scary (at worst) a couple of years down the line.

Remember when the new Companies Act came into effect and you just had to adopt a new MOI for your company by midnight or the world would go up in flames? It was long before I joined our firm, but I’m glad to see that my partner Adrian Dommisse put things into perspective for our clients at the time with a slightly less Armageddonesque view on the situation.

Our firm has always been hesitant on hyped subjects (without being stuck in the past), but we’ve found that even if you don’t run towards the noise whenever there is an air of excitement in the business world, the party inevitably tends to move to your doorstep after a while.

I’m thinking of all the queries from people who wanted to put everything they ever owned into a Section 12J fund and how hyped that was a few years ago. People with no investment experience at all wanted to start Section 12J funds on every corner, until they learned about all the rules and red tape!

When every millennial with an online Python course in the bag started their own crypto fund from their garage, the queries took a different shape (often the misplaced shape of pyramids). Then there was the period when it was almost frowned upon not to refer to your start-up company as “the Uber of this or that…” or “the Spotify of organic vegetables”, but I see that we’re (mostly) past that now.

My goal is not to be the Grinch who stole hype – I have just been reflecting a lot over the years about what the best position is to take when the next best thing arrives. Our approach as a firm is simple: use hype to learn, but only spend your time and exert your energy on ideas or businesses that have substance.

For example, I think some of the hype around Section 12J has died down a bit over the last few years, with mostly only the serious players (who genuinely want to invest in exciting scalable businesses in the way that the Tax Man intended) still plying their trade in this way. Similarly, with the crypto world having come down to earth over the last year or two (read: the quick buck barbarians have left town), we can now focus on the amazing possibilities offered by blockchain technology.

Even though the dust has settled on the hype around topics like these, we are wiser on these topics now than we were before the circus came to town, so we can now use our tricks for real-world solutions. And how fulfilling it is to work with clients who are using blockchain technology to build or invest in real-world businesses that will improve the lives of people and take the friction out of exchanging and growing value.

So, you created some IP, now what?

So, you created some IP, now what?

Irrespective of whether you support the overzealous protection of intellectual property (“IP“) or believe in a more open-source world, one thing is certain in the world of technology and IP – the greatest economic value of IP stems from its use in licensing arrangements. Whether for commercial or development reasons, the concepts remain the same. The registration of IP is only your first step in a long and complex dance with any entrepreneur, service provider or developer who you wish to collaborate with.

The unique thing about IP is that it is subject to constant development. This means that new stand-alone IP can develop from base IP, thereby attracting unique and new avenues to attract its own separate IP.

This starts to blur the lines of ownership when more than one party is involved and the failure to properly regulate these relationships can mean the death of innovation; as the once exciting venture is distilled down to a playground battle with the participants’ crying over sand in their eyes.

This blog post serves to touch on the basic legal concepts which form part of standard commercial agreements involving IP. It also highlights what you need to start thinking about to ensure that the boundaries of ownership and use are clearly set out from the get-go.

In most licensing agreements there is a distinction between ‘Background IP’ and ‘Foreground IP’. Background IP is the term used to define that IP which the respective parties own prior to performing under an agreement, or IP that is developed or conceived independently of the agreement. ‘Foreground IP’, on the other hand, is usually used to define new IP developed in terms, and during the subsistence, of an agreement. An important element of these distinctions is that not only does Background IP lead to the creation of Foreground IP, but Background IP is often linked to Foreground IP and the ability to exercise it.

These concepts exist to protect and regulate one of our most basic human tendencies derived from those even our most primary of conquerors practiced, think “Veni, Vidi, vici”. Basically, what’s mine is mine and in some cases (especially where you fail to regulate your IP properly) what’s yours is mine too.

So to avoid being the subject of someone’s Odyssey, standard agreements usually start off with a definition of these two terms, thereby creating a split between each party’s IP prior to entering the agreement and the IP created from the agreement. This allows for the protection of each party’s previously developed IP and ensuring that any new IP is regulated by the terms of the agreement.

Regarding ownership of Foreground IP, different models will be appropriate in different sets of circumstances. For example, where an agreement opts for Foreground IP to be jointly owned, administration becomes a problem as every party must be consulted and agree on any further use, development or commercial exploitation of such IP. Further frustration can be present where an agreement doesn’t regulate a breakdown, as this could in effect mean that one party could potentially hold ransom the further exploitation and commercialisation of the IP.

Another ownership option could be that such IP is rather outrightly owned by one of the parties (by means of assigning the IP rights over to one party) and for that party to grant access to the other, which may include terms of use, extent of exploitation, as well as compensation. For the more seasoned entrepreneur, the possibility exists that this model could be used to strategically transfer IP into a new entity, by means of building and developing Foreground IP in a newly established entity, based on a Background IP licencing agreement with an older entity. This, however, is a topic for another day.

This second aspect in the above examples highlights the use component of IP licensing. Irrespective of whether you are licensing your Background IP to a partner or joint venture so as to create the Foreground IP, or whether you agree that one of the parties owns the Foreground IP so as to licence it to the other, the extent of a party’s use or participation in the particular IP is regulated by a use license.

The most renowned types of licenses which you should start to become familiar with include exclusive and non-exclusive licenses. From a high level, a non-exclusive licence will potentially grant a licensor the unfettered freedom to exploit the IP without giving the other party any say, as well as the ability to allow other licensees to exploit the same IP. Whereas an exclusive licence could potentially limit both licensor and licensee from exploiting the IP.

It is crucial to understand that your unique circumstances will guide which licence is the best option for you and the onus will be on you to ensure that you are aware of the effects of such a license. Inevitably, you will have to ensure that the licence reflects what was in fact agreed to and that you are not the recipient of a very attractively constructed Trojan Horse.

This blog post was only intended to open your mind to concepts tied to the complex nature of IP. It also provided some insight into how various commercial and licensing arrangements can impact on both ownership and use of your own Background IP, as well as any Foreground IP, which you may have had a hand in creating. A competent practitioner who can truly understand your offering and your vision for the future can make this process a breeze. With years of academic and practical experience in both IP and commercial law, our team here at Dommisse Attorneys is well placed to assist you with developing your IP strategy and to translate this into a clear and succinct agreement, thereby avoiding the exchange of any unruly phrases like “Et Tu, Brute?”.

Key-man insurance policies vs buy and sell agreements: Which is more appropriate for your business?

Key-man insurance policies vs buy and sell agreements: Which is more appropriate for your business?

INTRODUCTION

There is an important distinction between a key-man insurance policy and a buy and sell agreement. While they are both used in the context of ensuring the ongoing profitability and sustainability of a business in the event of the untimely death, severe disability or critical illness of a key business partner, their underlying purpose is different. We briefly unpack these differences below.

KEY-MAN INSURANCE

The value of a business is largely dependent on the input of key employees or partners in the business. The sudden loss of a key individual may put the business at serious risk. As such, a key person can be seen as someone whose absence (through death, disability or critical illness) will have a material adverse effect on the future of the business. What a key-man insurance policy seeks to do, is to protect the business in the event of the premature death of a key individual or if such key individual becomes disabled or critically ill. Such a policy is taken out and paid for by the company and upon the death, disability or critical illness of the key individual (who may or may not be a shareholder), the policy proceeds are paid to the company (rather than to the deceased estate in the case of a death of the individual). This provides the company with cash flow to enable the business to continue operations while a suitable replacement is found.

BUY AND SELL AGREEMENTS

A buy and sell insurance policy is typically used to fund a buy and sell agreement. The buy and sell agreement itself contains several important provisions to facilitate the orderly transition of ownership of the business, should one of the owners die prematurely, become disabled or critically ill, which provisions may include (amongst others):

  • What events may trigger a buy-out by the remaining shareholders – will it only be the death, disability or critical illness of the shareholder concerned, or will it include other events such as retirement or bankruptcy?
  • What shares each of the remaining shareholders are entitled or required to purchase – all shares or only shares of a specific class?
  • In what proportions the remaining shareholders will purchase the shares – pro rata or in a specified proportion?
  • How the buy and sell agreement will be funded – by way of an insurance policy or other method?
  • How the shares of the company will be valued.

Where a company has numerous shareholders, a buy and sell agreement provides the mechanism to provide for the funds that the remaining shareholders will need to acquire the deceased shareholder’s shares. This has an important bearing on the sustainability of the business as it may not always be a good idea for these shares to be passed on to the heirs – they may not necessarily have the skill set nor the desire to work in the business.

TAX IMPLICATIONS OF KEY-MAN POLICIES

The tax implications relating to the treatment of premiums paid and the proceeds received from a key-man policy are often overlooked. We discuss the various tax consequences briefly below.

Income Tax:

In terms of the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962 (ITA), a company may be able to claim certain insurance premiums paid on the life of the key-person as a deduction. Whether the premiums could be deducted, will depend on whether the conditions and requirements as set out in the ITA have been met and in each case the particular policy wording will need to be reviewed in order to determine whether it is likely that a deduction will be allowed.

Estate Duty:

Section 3(3)(a) of the Estate Duty Act, Act 45 of 1955 (Estate Duty Act), includes the proceeds from a life insurance policy on the life of the deceased as “deemed property” of the deceased estate, if it meets the requirements of this section, irrespective of who the owner of the policy was or who paid the premiums. However, the full proceeds are not always included in terms of these deeming provisions. The section further provides that where the policy proceeds are not recoverable by the estate, but by the company, and the company also paid the premiums, only the amount by which the proceeds exceeds the total premiums paid plus interest thereon, is deemed to be the property of the deceased estate. However, section 3(3)(a)(ii) of the Estate Duty Act contains an estate duty exemption for these policies, resulting in them not being included as the deemed property of the deceased estate, provided all the requirements listed for the exemption to apply, have been met. If this is the case, no estate duty will be payable on the policy proceeds.

Capital Gains Tax (CGT):

In terms of paragraph 55 of the 8th Schedule to the ITA, the proceeds of key-man policies are exempt from CGT in the following instances:

  • where the person is the original beneficial owner of the policy;
  • where the person, whose life is insured, is or was an employee or director and any premiums paid by the person’s employer were deducted in terms of section 11(w) of the ITA;
  • where the policy is a risk policy with no cash or surrender value;
  • where the policy’s proceeds are exempt from income tax under section 10(1) of the ITA.

TAX IMPLICATIONS OF BUY AND SELL AGREEMENTS

Income Tax:

If the policy to fund a buy and sell agreement meets the requirements of section 11(w) of the ITA, the premiums payable may be deductible and the proceeds may be subject to income tax, again depending on the nature of the receipt.

Estate Duty:

The insurance policy to fund a buy and sell agreement must have been taken out for the purpose of buying out the interest of the deceased person, or a part of the interest – otherwise the policy will not be exempt from the “deemed property” and will be included in the deceased estate.

The deceased must not have paid any of the premiums of the policy. If a deceased has paid premiums on a buy and sell policy, it is likely to be regarded as the deemed property of the deceased and in which case it may not qualify for the exemption referred to earlier.

CGT:

If risk policies are used to fund the buy and sell agreement, the proceeds are exempted from CGT in terms of paragraphs 55(1)(a), (c) and (e) of the 8th Schedule to the ITA.

Any life insurance payments to the original beneficial owners and where no premiums were paid by the deceased, have always been exempted from CGT in terms of the 8th Schedule to the ITA.

If a deceased shareholder cedes his or her policy to a new shareholder, the policy ceded is a 2nd hand policy and historically gave rise to CGT consequences when the ceded benefit is eventually paid out, which is now alleviated by paragraph 55(1)(e) of the 8th Schedule to the ITA, subject to the policies being pure risk policies.

CONCLUSION

Replacement of a key individual or ensuring the orderly transition of ownership of a business (as the case may be) can take time. Although the memorandum of incorporation (MOI) or the shareholders’ agreement of the company may contain provisions on what should happen to the shares on the death or disability of a particular shareholder, they often do not take into account, the practical aspects involved. Additional funding and/or a separate buy and sell agreement is therefore required to ensure that all the necessary requirements and relevant processes are carefully set out and planned for. It’s important to note that, in terms of the Companies Act, 71 of 2008, no other agreement may supersede the shareholders’ agreement or MOI, so the company will need to ensure that if it is a buy and sell agreement they want to enter into, such agreement is properly aligned with the MOI and shareholders’ agreement.

SOURCES:

Vehicle finance “Extra fee”: strip it or bill it?

Vehicle finance “Extra fee”: strip it or bill it?

The National Consumer Tribunal (“NCT“) recently came out guns blazing and caused a stir in the motor vehicle industry. The application by Volkswagen Financial Services SA (“VWFS“) for the review and setting aside of a compliance notice previously issued against them by the National Credit Regulator (“NCR“), was dismissed by the NCT during the month of April 2019.

First, some background: the NCR issued compliance notices against VWFS and BMW Financial Services in 2017. In terms of these compliance notices, the NCR held that the “on the road” fees (colloquially termed as “Service & Delivery Charge” or the like) by the respective vehicle financiers constitute prohibited charges in terms of the National Credit Act, 34 of 2005 (“NCA“) and ordered each of these financiers to refund consumers who paid such fees. VWFS subsequently applied to the NCT to review and set aside the compliance notice issued by the NCR against them. The NCT however rejected their application and confirmed the decision taken by the NCR in their compliance notice (in a somewhat amended form, but in principle the same). The NCT ruled that VWFS were to: (i) refund all affected consumers; and (ii) cease adding any such or similar fees on their (vehicle finance) credit agreements as from 10 April 2019.

VWFS have since indicated that they will appeal the decision of the NCT, the effect of which then suspends enforcement of the ruling until the appeal has been finalised by the relevant court. Simply put, VWFS need not to comply with the compliance notice until the matter has been settled by the relevant High Court.

Please follow the link below to access a copy of the relevant NCT ruling:

https://www.thenct.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Volkswagen-Financial-Services-South-Africa-pty-Ltd-v-National-Credit-Regulator-NCT-94937-2017-5612.pdf

Incentivising employees: Phantom scheme or esop?

Incentivising employees: Phantom scheme or esop?

As we receive more requests from entrepreneurs who want to incentivise valued employees in an optimistic effort to either attract top talent, retain top talent or even benefit their business’ BEE status profile, we realised that the motive behind such incentives are not always aligned to the type of incentive instrument that entrepreneurs request. In this blog, we aim to provide you with a basic distinction between two popular incentive instruments, namely the phantom share scheme (“Scheme“) and the employee share ownership plan (“ESOP“) to assist you in electing the best instrument for your valued employees.

PHANTOM SHARE SCHEME

Beneficiaries of a Scheme are awarded notional shares or units (not real shares but rather units giving participant employees the right to certain cash bonuses). The notional shares are linked to the issued shares in the share capital of the company. The Scheme is essentially a cash bonus plan under which the amount of the bonus is measured by reference to the increase in value of the shares in the issued share capital of the company. Such notional shares ordinarily grant the holder the same economic rights and privileges equal to all other actual issued shares in the company on a 1:1 ratio.

Therefore, instead of issuing authorised shares in the share capital of the company, notional shares are created and then awarded to participating employees (with or without vesting conditions). No shares are factually issued or transferred to the employees. Employees do not become actual shareholders of the company. This is illustrated in the fact that  they do not receive rights such as ownership rights in the company; rights to inspect records of the company; rights to attend shareholder meetings, nor voting rights – which would result in less control or decision-making influence from beneficiaries. Employees do however, have the opportunity to receive cash bonuses in the actualisation of certain events, such as when profits are declared by the company or any other “liquidity event”.

A Scheme is an excellent tool for attracting top talent and motivating employees who do not have a particularly long serving history with the company. In this respect, the Scheme allows shareholders to retain complete control and ownership of the company. The flexibility of the Scheme ensures that an employee receives a cash-in-hand benefit without enjoying other shareholders rights.

EMPLOYEE SHARE OWNERSHIP PLAN (ESOP)

An ESOP structure allows participating employees to acquire actual shares in the share capital of the company. By virtue of holding actual shares, such employees will become part owners of the company, they will have voting rights in the company (involving them in decision-making) and they will benefit financially when dividends are declared, as well as during an exit or other liquidity events. An ESOP, as opposed to a Scheme, is potentially an excellent instrument for incentivising long standing employees who have material interests in the growth of the company. Our recommendation is that ESOP shares should only be awarded to trusted individuals as holders acquire much more extensive rights, for example, the right to inspect sensitive company documentation and records.

CONCLUSION

While other complexities may influence your election of setting up and implementing either an ESOP or a Scheme, we recommend that the instrument selected should be guided by each entrepreneur’s true intentions.

Bitcoin, Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies and ICOs: Legal enigmas for start-up’s operating on the future frontier

Bitcoin, Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies and ICOs: Legal enigmas for start-up’s operating on the future frontier

The latest buzz words shaking up the technology, business, financial and legal establishments are not to be treated lightly. These terms are uniting (hard as it might be) all the major role players in their quest to evaluate the potential far-reaching effects it might hold for the future of commerce globally. It is difficult to ignore the fast-paced development of the latest technological advances, as we find ourselves amid the fascinating transition phases nestled between the Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions. More importantly, as the universal compatibilities envisioned for this technology have now progressed from hypothetical online discussions between “tech-developers” and futurists to functioning real-life applications, passionate debates have erupted across a variety of diverse forums. Ranging from the corridors of legislators and financial regulators to the living rooms of the Stokvel run by Joe Soap, as people are curious (and watchful) about the industries based on the Future Frontier – and rightly so.

As the terminology is complex, we will not aim to explain what the Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies (which include BitCoin) or Initial Coin Offerings (“ICO”) are. We will also not attempt to define or address the application possibilities of these initiatives in this post, as the possibilities are vast and beyond the scope of this post. (For more information on the technical aspects relating to these terms, please see the links below explaining this in more detail.[1]) We will only briefly aim to highlight some aspects start-ups and potential investors should bear in mind when investigating the opportunities created by the technology found on this Future Frontier.

For Start-Up’s

Start-ups looking to venture into the industries of the Future Frontier are advised to note that there is still a lot of uncertainty as to the regulations governing and enforcing the practical application thereof. As such, carefully considering the current legislative frameworks in existence (and more importantly, the purpose behind it) might provide a helpful understanding of the things entrepreneurs should consider when developing their business models for the market. In a South African context, start-ups should consider the following legislative and regulatory concerns which might be applicable to them:

  • FICA, Money-Laundering and Know-Your-Client (KYC) legislation: due to cryptocurrencies trading far more anonymously over various encrypted platforms entrepreneurs are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the relevant FICA, Money laundering and KYC processes. Especially in industries where payments are being made by potential payment or payment systems operators;
  • Business of a Bank and Collective Investment Schemes: Business models based around the collecting and pooling of fees and/or accepting deposits for investments into cryptocurrencies and ICO’s might be considered to be Collective Schemes or structures conducting the business of a bank, both of which are strictly regulated by the SARB and FSB, respectively;
  • Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act (Twin Peaks Financial Sector Regulation Bill): any current or potential services aimed at the financial advisory or intermediary industries are strictly regulated by the Financial Services Board (and will soon fall under the Twin Peak Provisions);
  • Exchange Control Regulations: Strict requirements regarding the outflow of capital and funds exist in South Africa. As a result, certain apps or services designed to facilitate transfers of this kind without prior SARB approval, tax clearance from SARS or adherence to existing policies may pose some concern to regulators;
  • Companies Act: A very popular means to raise funds for start-ups focusing on Future Frontier industries is by way of an ICO. During an ICO the start-ups issue their own crypto- tokens to participants at a discount and often raise vast amounts of capital. However, an ICO might, depending on the rights attached to these crypto-tokens, in some cases be regarded as a thinly veiled offer of securities to the public. If that is the case, the Companies Act and accordingly, the strict laws relating to the issue of securities by way of an offerings to the public will be applicable. Since the Securities Exchange Commission of the USA recently declared this position (not without criticism), other jurisdictions may follow suit; and
  • Consumer Protection Laws: The loss of virtual cryptocurrencies value, tokens issued to paying participants without any underlying value and other types of blockchain transaction issues such as erroneous payments and systems breaches, hacks or Ponzi schemes are things to consider. If not adequately managed, this may create serious liabilities, not to mention reputational damage, to any start-up involved in these types of commercial venture.

These are merely some of the myriad questions start-ups are urged to consider as a starting point into the regulatory and compliance frameworks regulating the industries on the Future Frontier.

Investors

Warren Buffet once said the following: “What counts for most people in investing is not how much they know, but rather how realistically they define what they don’t know”.

In keeping with this thought, we would therefore urge any investors considering investing into start-ups which focus on the Future Frontier industries to not stray too far from established investment principals. Especially in determining what the Investor does not know, conducting an adequate due diligence investigation (or “DD“) into the envisioned Start-up’s proof of concept, management of regulatory and compliance issues and the viability of their intended financial and business models should be considered a minimum requirement. Further to this, investors would do well to consider special escrow arrangements for any transfer of investment funds irrespective of whether these funds are done by way of crypto-funds/tokens and/or fiat currency. Also using respected and knowledgeable service providers may mitigate against any risks involved in these investments.

Conclusion

There are various levels of uncertainty regarding the practical and legal implications of these Future Frontier industries. This accordingly provides ample grey area for entrepreneurs and investors alike to either flower or flounder through. As such, we would recommend that any Start-Ups or investors contemplating to venture into these Future Frontier Industries to make sure that they have a clear view of the legal nature of the transaction at hand. If the legal nature of the transaction is clear, it enables the parties to take a measured approach to control the relative risk associated and build in the protective mechanisms that the law requires.

We hope to see legislators work with other industry experts to create a legislative framework that promotes certainty, without smothering the revolutionary initiatives and staggering opportunities presented by Future Frontier technology.

[1] For further detailed information regarding how Cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain function and operate please make use of the following recommend sources:

 

Conversations and agreements – when are they binding?

Conversations and agreements – when are they binding?

Introduction

A major cause of disputes occurs over the content of agreements. Sometimes these disputes are a result of poorly drafted contracts; content and deliverables not being adequately described; or as a result of variations to the original contract. Another source of dispute is verbal contracts and conversations where the parties dispute the content of what was agreed upon.

Both verbal and written contracts are, in general, legally binding. However, sometimes writing is unavoidable and is a formality for the contract to be valid, for example: the sale of immovable property, antenuptial contracts, wills and executory donations. Along with the preceding list, all documents that have to be submitted to and registered with the Deeds Office must also be set out in writing.

Written contracts have various advantages, among others, they:

  • ensure that both parties are fully aware of the contents of their agreement;
  • create transparency between the parties;
  • create and maintain trust between parties;
  • can stipulate formalities that must be met for validity; and
  • serve to avoid unnecessary disputes.

Electronic communication

The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 (“ECTA“) recognises electronic messages (or “data messages“) as the functional equivalent of writing, meaning that data messages have the same legal validity as content written on paper. This results in any formality requiring writing to be met when the information is in the form of a data message. ECTA, however, imposes a requirement of accessibility to accompany data messages by requiring data messages to be easily accessible to the parties thereto.

The validity of electronic messages was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal (“SCA“) in November 2014 in the case of Spring Forest Trading v Wilberry (Pty) Ltd. The court held that variations to an agreement between the parties made via email were binding – the arguments put forth were that the variation to the agreement was required to be made in writing and signed by both parties in order for it to be valid and that this requirement had not been met because the variations were only discussed and agreed to via email. The court stated that the email signatures at the bottom of the emails amount to signatures and that the email messages constituted writing in terms of ECTA.

Conclusion

Written contracts are always recommended. The rationale being that oral agreements offer no objective or clear record of the details of the agreement and the specific terms are often difficult to establish when a dispute arises. Well drafted agreements should include useful information and guidance to the parties to ensure a fair and smooth resolution of disputes or disagreements. The guidance information should address when parties may cancel the agreement, what constitutes breach and how the breach should be remedied.

Written agreements should also set out that any changes to the agreement are not valid if they are not in writing (and signed by both parties) – which prevents disputes over any amended terms of the agreement. This also prevents quarrels of a “he said, she said” nature as everything has been recorded. As set out above, this can be done via email or other electronic messages, including Whatsapp, for example, however, the name of the sender must be signed at the end of the message for it to be valid.

It is important to understand that following the abovementioned judgment, parties to a contract should specifically refer to an “advanced electronic signature” – which is a special signature provided for in ECTA – being required to amend the agreement if the intention is for the usual email type correspondence not to effect an amendment to the agreement.

Remember, you could be bound to a contract where you have willingly signed it even if you have not yet read it.

Important take-aways

  • electronic communication is legally binding and is the equivalent of writing;
  • some agreements can only be altered if the variation is in writing and signed by both parties;
  • some agreements must be in writing and signed (and sometimes commissioned or notarised) in order to be valid and binding; and
  • oral agreements are binding (but not advised!).
The dos and don’ts of recording conversations

The dos and don’ts of recording conversations

There are several reasons why a business may want to record its interactions / conversations with customers: improving customer service; ensuring that employees always treat customers in the best possible way; ensuring easy customer follow-up and resolution of disputes; demonstrating accountability to customers; and aiding reliable note-taking.

Several businesses may not, however, realise these benefits as they are unsure of the legality and legal parameters of recording conversations. To clear up grey areas and enable you to grow and improve your business using all tools available, we have set out the basics of recording conversations in South Africa.

Am I (or is my business) allowed to record conversations with customers?

While, in terms of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act 70 of 2002 (“RICA“), the general rule is that no person may record a conversation without consent, the Act does set out certain exceptions to this rule. The exceptions include (and you can therefore record a conversation) where:

  • you are a party to the conversation (“single-party consent”);
  • you have the prior written consent of at least one of the parties to the conversation; or
  • the conversation relates to, or occurs in the course of, the carrying on of your business (“the business exception”).

It is important to note that the business exception is subject to further requirements in terms of RICA.

As a side note, certain businesses (specifically those in the financial services and intermediary industry) are legally required to record certain conversations with customers and to maintain such recordings for a statutory minimum period. This is however beyond the scope of this article.

Consent to record

As stated above, consent of at least one party to the communication is required when recording a conversation. This rule does not apply where the recorder is also a party to the conversation.

However, where a third party is recording the conversation, the third party must obtain informed consent from one of the parties to the conversation in order to legally record the conversation.

Guidelines for recording conversations

  • When recording conversations under the business exception, it is required that you make all reasonable efforts, in advance, to inform all parties that you will be recording conversations. It is good business practice to ensure and be certain that all customers are aware when conversations are recorded.
  • Use reliable technology to record and store recordings of conversations – you want to make sure that your customers’ (and your business’s) information is protected! In this regard, ensure that any recordings and storage thereof comply with all relevant laws (including, for example, the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013)
  • Maintain an effective storage system so that you can make the most use of your recorded conversations in developing your business

The article is serves only as a basic introduction to the topic of recording conversations and legal advice should be sought in relation to specific circumstances.

The difficulties involved in setting up and managing Section 12J Venture Capital Companies

The difficulties involved in setting up and managing Section 12J Venture Capital Companies

“Section 12J Venture Capital Companies” (Section 12J VCC) seem to be a bit of a buzz phrase doing the rounds in the South African entrepreneurial world at the moment. We have had several requests from new and existing clients to set one up, mainly because of the attractiveness of these structures to investors.

A Section 12J VCC is a company formed in terms of section 12J of the Income Tax Act, 1962 (ITA) – it is essentially a pooling mechanism created by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to encourage largely high net worth individuals to invest in start ups. The incentive to invest in a Section 12J VCC comes from the fact that investors get a full tax rebate on the funds invested into the Section 12J VCC. So, if a person in the highest tax bracket (presently 45%) invests R 1 million, they will get a tax rebate of R 450,000, meaning that the net investment is R 550,000.

The Section 12J VCC itself is relatively simple to set up, but the real complexity and difficulty comes with the management of it. The legislators have included several anti-avoidance provisions in section 12J of the ITA, which have made it particularly difficult, and in our experience prohibitive, for anyone to manage and run a Section 12J VCC. In fact, at the moment, there are only fifty six Section 12J VCCs approved by SARS and according to the information that we have gathered, and less than half of those are actually trading. It is interesting to note that the legislation allowing these funds was put in place in 2009 – that equates to, on average, seven of these companies formed (not necessarily even operating) every year since inception.

So why is it so difficult to get a Section 12J VCC off the ground? Below we have highlighted some of the major difficulties that some of our clients have had:

  1. No investor into the Section 12J VCC may be a “connected person” in respect of the Section 12J VCC, which essentially means that a natural person cannot own 20% or more of the shares in the Section 12J VCC (directly or indirectly) and a company can own up to 50%, in limited circumstances, of the Section 12J VCC (directly or indirectly), but no more.
  2. No more than 20% of the capital raised through the issue of shares may be invested into any one investee company.
  3. An investee company cannot be a “controlled group company”, meaning that a Section 12J VCC cannot own 70% or more of the equity shares in an investee company.
  4. To be recognised by SARS, the Section 12J VCC must be registered in accordance with section 7 of the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act, 2002 (FAIS), meaning that the company must have a “key individual” in its employment and the Financial Services Board must issue it with a certificate.

There are many more nuances to a Section 12J VCC that we have not highlighted here as they are too lengthy to get into, but they also make for significant barriers to entry.

Regarding point one above – the issue of being a “connected person” – this provision was clearly put in place to avoid situations where a single investor uses this platform to invest in a company where he ordinarily would have done so in any event, but he simply sets up a Section 12J VCC to reap the tax benefit on an investment that he was always going to make.

What we have seen is that there are legitimate arm’s length transactions where investee companies are told that the investor will only invest in them if they are able to use the section 12J of the ITA structure and because of the anti-avoidance restrictions, investee companies are losing out on a potential investment as it is often not possible for this to be done.

Regarding points two and three above, Section 12J VCCs are often restricted in the manner that they can invest when they see a good potential investee company, as they cannot invest more than 20% of their raised capital into the investee company. This means that investee companies can, and do, miss out on obtaining more funding or any funding altogether.

It can also prevent arm’s length investors from investing into one investee company, as they cannot use the Section 12J VCC vehicle to invest into a qualifying investee company because they cannot own more than 70% of the investee company and they cannot use more than 20% of the funds raised in the Section 12J VCC to invest in the investee company. The investor also cannot hold 20% or more of the equity shares in the Section 12J VCC.

The final point is possibly the most difficult, FAIS approval is difficult to obtain as you must have a person who fits the criteria to be a “key individual” in terms of FAIS, which requires experience in the industry and further study. With the fast pace of the business environment, it is often too much of a hurdle to cross to find a party with the correct industry experience to write the exam and become qualified as a key individual.

If you have a legal team that thinks laterally about it, there are ways to manoeuvre within the compliance framework, but even then, there are limitations to the extent that it can be done.

Section 12J VCCs look very attractive from the outside, but when you scratch below the surface, there is a structure that is complex and difficult to manage and balance, which is probably the reason that they have not taken off in South Africa yet. That is not to say that forming a Section 12J VCC cannot be done, as we have assisted in setting up several of them, but it is worth considering it a little bit deeper to see whether this is going to be the best structure for you.

2017 Budget Speech implications for the externalisation of intellectual property (IP)

2017 Budget Speech implications for the externalisation of intellectual property (IP)

Relaxing the South African (SA) Exchange Control Regulations, in relation to IP in particular, is crucial for many of our start up clients (especially those operating in the software development and technology space). Up to now, SA resident companies could not export their IP to a non-resident, unless the approval of the Financial Surveillance Department (FSD) of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) was obtained. This proved to be an insurmountable hurdle for many companies trying to externalise their businesses by moving them “offshore” for any reason, including that of attracting foreign capital investments.

The Exchange Control Regulations provide that when a SA resident (natural or juristic person) enters any transaction in terms of which capital, or any right to capital, is directly or indirectly exported (i.e. transferred by way of cession, assignment, sale transfer or any other means) from South Africa to a non-resident (natural or juristic person) such transaction falls in the ambit of the Exchange Control Regulations.

The export of “capital” specifically includes any IP right (whether registered or unregistered), which means the Exchange Control Regulations must be considered when dealing with an externalisation of IP.

The reasoning behind this regulation is that the offshoring of assets / capital belonging to SA residents amounts to an exportation of assets / capital and therefore erodes the asset base of the SA resident by way of a transfer of ownership from a SA resident to a non-resident. While this reasoning may have seemed sound, the application of the Exchange Control Regulations to the export of IP has led to many negative and unintended consequences for SA companies, and start ups in particular.

In the 2017 National Budget review the Government proposed that SA residents would no longer need the SARB’s approval for “standard IP transactions”. It was also proposed that the “loop structure” restriction for all IP transactions be lifted, provided they are at arms-length and at a fair market price. “Loop structure” restrictions prevent SA residents from holding any SA asset indirectly through a non-resident entity.

The SARB has started the process of relaxing the Exchange Control Regulations by issuing two circulars relating to IP. These latest amendments to the Currency and Exchanges Manual for Authorised Dealers mean that, under certain circumstances, approval for the exportation of IP can now be sought from Authorised Dealers (banks appointed by the Minister of Finance for exchange control purposes), as opposed to the FSD. This is good news for clients looking to restructure and offshore their IP, as the approval process should now be less administratively intense, less expensive and with faster turnaround times.

Approval can now be sought through an Authorised Dealer for:

  • a sale, transfer and assignment of IP;
  • by a SA resident;
  • to unrelated non-resident parties;
  • at an arm’s length and fair and market related price.

The Authorised Dealer will need to be presented with: (i) the sale / transfer / assignment agreement; and (ii) an auditor’s letter or intellectual property valuation certificate confirming the basis for calculating the sale price ((iii) together with any additional internal requirements).

For the approval of the licensing of IP by a SA resident to non-resident parties at an arm’s length and fair and market related price, the Authorised Dealer will need to be presented with: (i) the licensing agreement in question; and (ii) an auditor’s letter confirming the basis for calculating the royalty or licence fee ((iii) together with any additional internal requirements).

The second set of amendments provide that private (unlisted) technology (among others) companies in South Africa may now establish companies offshore without the requirement to primary list offshore in order to raise foreign funding for their operations. This effectively means that “loop structures” can now be created to raise loans and capital offshore, and these companies may hold investments in South Africa. Note that there are still certain requirements that must be met, for example, registration with the FSD.

Our commercial team has experience in making the necessary applications for exchange control approval. Feel free to get in touch if this is something on the horizon for your business.