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The Apprentice – a legal to do list for Tom and Lord Sugar

Congratulations to Tom ‘Mad Professor’ Pellereau on becoming the latest Apprentice and the first of the new breed of Apprentice business partners for Lord Sugar.

Debbie King has already commented on the business investment side of the new business partnership in her blog, and I will focus on the commercial issues that Tom and Lord Sugar will need to consider in the weeks to come.

Most obviously, as an inventor, Tom will need to be hot on his protection of intellectual property.  There are a range of means of protecting IP which vary depending on what is being protected.  If he has not already done so, Tom will need to look at patent protection and design rights.  He will also need to consider whether to trademark the name of the product and any logo that is developed alongside this.

Secondly, Lord Sugar and Tom will need to decide on the most appropriate corporate vehicle for their project.  Presumably this will be through a limited company, which will separate their personal assets from the liabilities of the company.  They will also be signing a shareholders agreement to govern their obligations to each other and the company and amongst other things their share of profits (or losses!).

In his interview with Lord Sugar, Tom demonstrated his ability to get products to market by describing how he got a foot in the door at Walmart.  The experience he already had gave him the edge on Helen and won him the contest.  There are many ways of getting products to market.  It may be that distributors are appointed to sell the products in various territories and if so a distributor agreement will set out the terms upon which the goods are sold to the distributor and the obligations of the distributor.

Alternatively, Lord Sugar and Tom might want to sell the products themselves and if so they will need to think about their contracts for sale and their terms and conditions.  A common mistake is assuming that a seller’s standard terms and conditions will be automatically incorporated into a contract.  It is essential that terms and conditions of business are kept up to date and that legal advice is also taken on how to make sure that your terms and conditions apply to the exclusion of all others.  You may have heard of ‘the battle of the forms’ and it is not uncommon for businesses to assume their terms and conditions apply to a deal when in fact they do not.  No doubt the likes of Walmart will be adept at ensuring their terms and conditions apply to the exclusions of all others, so Tom and Lord Sugar will need to be very careful to protect their position.  It may well be the case that Tom’s dealings with the American giant, and the contractual agreement that he was under with the company, were actually the cause of the downfall of the nailfile project in the first instance. 

If Tom or Lord Sugar, or indeed anybody who is launching a business and taking products to market would like to get in touch, I’d be delighted to assist.

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