A study of interest for those in the Philadelphia region has recently been released.

Philadelphia skyline
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Rising two spots from last year, Philadelphia has been ranked fifth on the list of life science clusters in the United States recently published by professional services and research firm JLL.  Following Boston, San Francisco, San Diego and Raleigh-Durham, Philadelphia was cited as the leader in the “Breakout Cluster”, which are regions “making strides in life sciences through new development and a growing scientific community.”  The study weighted various factors such as life science employment concentration, venture capital funding, lab supply, employment growth, establishment concentration, NIH funding, market occupancy rates and average asking rent.

The study states, “The Greater Philadelphia region is home to many elite academic and research institutions, as well as numerous hospitals and a strong pharmaceutical industry. Nearly 400,000 students attend one of the region’s 90 plus colleges or universities. The region is a top winner in federal research funding, attracting $900 million in NIH awards in 2016. As of 2015, 567,000 people in the Philadelphia metropolitan area worked in the “eds and meds” sectors. Eds and meds institutions are proactive partners in the life sciences economy.”

From The Navy Yard, a hub of life science activity, and the expansions at Drexel University in the city proper to activity throughout the suburbs, including the planned expansion of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center in nearby Bucks County, the region’s boasts a growing life sciences sector. The study cites as a priority for the future the growth of access to regional venture capital.

Congratulations Philadelphia!

Fox Partner Jean Frydman recently wrote an article on the 21st Century Cures Act for the Food and Drug Law Institute’s member magazine Update. In it, Jean describes the significant potential of the Act to transform the life sciences sector.  She outlines the key provisions of the law and how their implementation during the next five years will impact standards and practices within the industry. These provisions include the use of Real World Evidence (RWE) in regulatory decision-making, patient-focused drug development, patient access to regenerative medicine, breakthrough medical devices, and Healthcare Economic Information (HCEI).

We invite you to read the full article on the Fox Rothschild website.

Medical research
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Changes to the Illinois Limited Liability Company Act that took effect on July 1, 2017 may impact either your current Illinois LLCs or your future ventures. The changes generally conformed Illinois law more closely to a model law for limited liability companies drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws that has already been adopted by 15 states and the District of Columbia.

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Among the changes to the Illinois law are:

Default Member Management
An LLC will now be member-managed by default unless there is explicit language in the operating agreement stating that the LLC is to be manager-managed. Similar to Delaware, you are no longer required to specify in an LLC’s Articles of Organization whether it will be member-managed or manager-managed, but instead are only required to provide information regarding each manager and each member with management authority.

Oral Operating Agreements
Oral and implied operating agreements are now permitted and are also expressly exempted from the statute of frauds.

Designating Specific Authority of Members and Managers
Illinois LLCs can now establish or limit the authority of a member or manager to transfer real estate or enter into other transactions on behalf of the LLC by filing a document with the Illinois Secretary of State.

Waiver of Fiduciary Duties
With the exception of the duty of care, fiduciary duties may be restricted or eliminated by including clear and unambiguous language in the operating agreement. The operating agreement can now alter the duty of care so long as it does not authorize intentional misconduct or a knowing violation of law.

Limitation of Member’s or Manager’s Liability
An operating agreement can now eliminate or limit a member or manager’s liability to the LLC and the other members, unless such liability relates to a breach of certain specified fiduciary duties, a financial benefit to which such member or manager is not entitled, an intentional infliction of harm on the LLC or another member, or an intentional crime.

Elimination of Assumed Agency Status
A member of an LLC is no longer considered an agent of the LLC solely as a result of being a member.

Access to Books and Records
The provision regarding rights of members to inspect the books and records of an LLC has been revised to clarify the distinct rights held by members, disassociated members and transferees, and to permit LLCs to impose reasonable conditions and restrictions on access to information.

Authorized Signatories for State Filings
Documents to be filed with the Illinois Secretary of State may now be signed by any person authorized by the LLC, not just a manager or member, provided that both the name and title of the person signing are typed or printed where indicated on the applicable form. In addition, digital signatures will now be accepted by the Illinois Secretary of State.

Conversion and Domestication
Illinois now allows the conversion of a general partnership, limited partnership, business trust or corporation into an Illinois LLC, and vice versa. Prior to the changes to Illinois law, an entity other than a partnership could only convert to an Illinois LLC through a multi-step process involving a merger. Now, the converting entity simply files Articles of Conversion with the Illinois Secretary of State. The revised Act will also permit a foreign LLC to become an Illinois LLC through the filing of Articles of Domestication with the Illinois Secretary of State.

Please note that the summary above is not comprehensive, and is only intended to provide an overview of some of the significant changes to Illinois LLC law. Accordingly, we recommend that you consult with legal counsel to determine how the changes to Illinois law may affect your current Illinois LLCs or any Illinois LLCs that you may wish to form in the future.

An incentive plan is a tool used to motivate and reward employees to grow a business and exceed goals. A common form of an incentive plan for startups is an equity incentive plan. An equity incentive plan rewards key employees with equity, which is ownership in a company. Equity can be a company’s stock if it is a corporation or its membership interest if it is a limited liability company. For startups, equity incentive plans can be a great way to motivate and retain early employees when the company does not have the financial resources to pay high salaries or large bonuses.

The concept behind the equity incentive plan is that employees are given equity when the value of the company is relatively low (because the company is just getting started and not yet profitable), but as the company grows and becomes profitable, the value of the equity grows and the holders realize large financial gains. The two most common forms of equity incentive plans are restricted stock and stock options.

Restricted stock is exactly that, stock in the company that is restricted by the company in some form. The most common restriction is “vesting”. Vesting is the process where the employee gains ownership of the stock over a period of time, most often a number of years. Vesting protects the company because it incentivizes employees to stay with the company instead of leaving for a different job. Depending on the details in the plan documents, if an employee leaves before his or her restricted stock has fully vested, he or she forfeits some or all of the restricted stock. For example, a startup may give an early employee 50 units of restricted stock in the company as a bonus but with the restriction that the stock does not “vest” with the employee for three years. If the employee leaves one year later, the company retains the restricted stock because the employee did not complete the three-year vesting process.

Stock options are the right to buy a certain number of shares of stock in the company at a set price, regardless of the current value of the stock. For startups, stock options can be another great way to reward and incentivize key employees. Most stock option plans include a vesting period like the restricted stock discussed above. Once vested, stock options allow the holders to realize financial gains if the company’s value has increased since the stock options were granted. For example, if the current value of a share of stock for a company is $10, the company can grant a stock option to an employee to purchase 100 shares of company stock at that $10 value. Once the employee’s stock option has vested, he or she would have a set period of time in order to exercise the option. If during the employee’s option period the value of a share of stock rises to $20, the employee can use the stock option to purchase the allotted 100 shares of the stock at the $10 option value and create a $1000 gain based on the option price paid versus the current value of the stock.

Both restricted stock plans and stock options allow startups to reward employees without jeopardizing the current financial status of the company. With the expectation that the company will succeed and grow in value, equity incentive plans can be a great benefit to both the employee and the company. If you have any questions about restricted stock plans, stock options, or equity incentive plans in general please contact Kevin P. Dermody at kdermody@foxrothschild.com or 215-444-7159.

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Ethan Zook writes:

As was alluded to in a prior blog post, one of the major changes that has been enacted through Pennsylvania’s Act 170 is the ability, through the operating agreement, to contractually vary fiduciary duties of members and managers in Pennsylvania limited liability companies.

What Fiduciary Duties?

Pennsylvania flag icon
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There are two major fiduciary duties to be aware of: the duty of care and the duty of loyalty. The fiduciary duty of loyalty is comprised of five subsections which can be summarized as follows:

  1. account to the company and hold as trustee for it any property, profit or benefit derived in the conduct or winding up of the company’s activities;
  2. do not use the company’s property for personal gain;
  3. do not appropriate a company opportunity for personal gain;
  4. refrain from engaging in self-dealing with the company; and
  5. refrain from competing with the company in the conduct of the company’s activities and affairs.

The duty of care is to refrain from engaging in gross negligence, recklessness, willful misconduct or knowing violation of law. Lastly, there is an obligation of good faith and fair dealing to be aware of, however, it is not a fiduciary duty.  Rather, it is treated as a contractual obligation, and as will be discussed, can be contractually altered by the operating agreement.

A member of a member-managed limited liability company owes to the company and the other members the fiduciary duties of loyalty and care. Managers of manager-managed limited liability companies owe to the company and the members those same duties.

Contracting Around Fiduciary Duties

The Act gives tremendous deference to the operating agreement, the main governing document for Pennsylvania limited liability companies.  If not manifestly unreasonable, the operating agreement may alter subsections 1), 2), and 4) of the duty of loyalty stated above.  Subsections 3) and 5) can be eliminated altogether.  Further, if not manifestly unreasonable, the operating agreement may also identify types of activities that do not violate the duty of loyalty, may freely alter the duty of care, and may prescribe the standards by with the performance of the contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing is to be measured. Any other fiduciary duty can be altered or eliminated though the operating agreement, if not manifestly unreasonable.

Manifestly Unreasonable?

In any dispute regarding the reasonableness of the terms of the operating agreement, courts will decide whether those terms are manifestly unreasonable as a matter of law. That determination will be made as of the time the challenged term became part of the operating agreement by considering circumstances existing only at such time. This does not shed much light on what will be considered manifestly unreasonable under the terms of the Act. Instead, for now, we are left with intuition in deciding what is manifestly unreasonable.

Despite the ambiguity surrounding “manifestly unreasonable”, the Act makes it clear what fiduciary duties can be altered and eliminated. With that, it has become more important than ever to review the operating agreements of investment, potential partner, and current parent and subsidiary companies to see how loyal that company has chosen to be to itself and its members.


Ethan Zook is an associate in the firm’s Corporate Department, resident in its Exton office.

Issuers and investors are well advised to document their deal in a term sheet.  Though generally non-binding, they add significant value.  Detailed term sheets raise issues early when there is still ample negotiating time. They also make drafting the definitive documents more efficient, saving on legal fees. However, parties must be vigilant to document the deal properly, especially when using terms of art.

Cumulative dividends
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For example, one commonly negotiated item on preferred stock is the dividend. Dividends can be cumulative (aka accruing) and either simple or compounding. The terms “cumulative” and “compounding” are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably. But the differences are measurable in real dollars. 

Dividends are one feature that makes preferred stock preferable. Dividends are structured in (at least) three common ways. NVCA publishes a sample term sheet that includes these options.

  1. Dividends can be paid on the preferred when (and if) they are paid on the common. The preferred holders have no dividend preference – they are treated as common holders and paid as if converted to common.
  2. Dividends can be paid on the preferred when (and if) declared by the Board of Directors. If the Board does not declare dividends, they are forfeited.  Here, the preferred holders enjoy a preference on dividends but may not receive them.
  3. Finally, as described in detail below, dividends can be cumulative and perhaps even compounding.

Cumulative vs. Compounding

Emerging companies rarely have the ability to pay dividends to preferred holders. As a solution, companies often agree to pay dividends upon a liquidity event (e.g., sale of the company).  But how much will investors receive? This is where the terms of art (cumulative, accruing, compounding, simple) become very important.

Cumulative (aka accruing) dividends provide investors with a certain annual return, typically expressed as a percentage of the original per share price of the preferred stock (e.g., “8% of the Series A Original Issue Price”).  Thus, the term “cumulative” refers to the fact that dividends accrue over the years and will be paid upon a liquidity event.

Cumulative dividends can be calculated on a simple or compounding basis.  “Simple” means the dividend is based only on the original per share price.  “Compounding” means the dividend is based on the original per share price plus the dividends that accrue over time.  Thus, the terms cumulative and simple refer to how cumulative dividends are computed.

For example:

Cumulative and Simple (aka Non-Compounding):

Suppose an investor invests $50,000 and receives 100,000 shares of preferred stock ($0.50 per share) with an annual 8% cumulative, simple dividend. In 5 years, the company is sold. The 8% annual dividend is calculated on the original per share price. The investor has earned $4,000 in dividends each year and, upon liquidation, the company must pay the investor $20,000 in dividends.

Cumulative and Compounding:

Suppose the same facts, but dividends are now cumulative and compounding. The 8% annual dividend will be calculated on the original per share price and on the accrued and unpaid annual dividends that accumulate over the years. This is similar to a promissory note with compound interest: the original per share price is like “principal” and the 8% annual dividend is like a compounding 8% interest rate. In this scenario, the investor earns $23,466.40 in dividends.

Clearly, there is a measurable difference between simple and compound dividends. And at first glance, the $3,466.40 difference may not seem overly significant. But the proper use of term sheet terminology has a greater value. A detailed and thoughtful term sheet helps maintain deal flow and good will during negotiations, can decrease legal fees and helps avoid disputes down the road.  For issuers and investors at the outset of a long friendship, these benefits can be immeasurable.

As mentioned in the first post of this series, the goal of many entrepreneurs is to seek venture capital financing or ultimately sell their company in an “exit” merger or acquisition. Upon making representations and warranties (which are essentially, assurances) associated with any of these transactions, the seller opens itself up to risk. If these assurances turn out to be false or are breached, the seller is subject to suit for breach of contract. Often, however, the parties negotiate an additional protection mechanism called indemnification.

So why is indemnification expected?

Puzzle pieces representing mergers & acquisitions
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In a traditional acquisition, the seller affirmatively agrees to indemnify the buyer for damages or costs related to various things; most notably, breach of a representation or warranty. The seller agrees upfront to hold harmless and to reimburse the buyer for any and all expenses related to their breach. For example, if the seller represented that its equipment was in working condition and it turns out it was not, the seller must make the buyer whole. Essentially, the seller is insuring the buyer on its purchase. Just like an insurance policy, this agreement to insure lasts for a certain period and covers certain events. As this creates ongoing obligations and future potential liabilities for the indemnifying party, the indemnification provisions in transaction documents, and particularly the scope and extent thereof, are often heavily negotiated and should be approached with extreme caution.

There are many protections that can be built into indemnification provisions and transaction documents that limit the scope of the seller’s liability beyond simply excluding scenarios which are covered. For example, the seller may agree to indemnify the buyer but only:

  • when the damages or costs exceed a certain amount in the aggregate (what’s known as a “basket”);
  • when the damages or costs exceed a certain amount for a particular claim (a “mini basket”);
  • in the aggregate up to the purchase price or some other set number (a “cap”); and/or
  • for a set period of time from Closing (the “indemnification period”).

Takeaway

In the transactional context, indemnification serves as the enforcement of representations and warranties. A buyer can truly rely on the seller’s representations if the seller has also agreed to hold harmless and reimburse the buyer if the representations are false or breached. The seller can effectively affirm the value of its business, but in doing so exposes itself to risk as a de facto insurer. As this is generally unavoidable in the context of a transaction, limiting the scope of this risk is key for sellers. For these reasons, indemnification provisions should be approached and drafted with extreme caution.

On Friday, May 12th, ransomware known as WannaCry (also known as WannaCrypt or WCry) spread throughout the world, affecting more than 100,000 systems in 150 countries. Victims of the massive cyberattack included the NHS in the UK, cellular networks in Spain, universities in China and many other large organizations worldwide. For entrepreneurs who are dependent on Windows systems to run their companies, the attack highlights the significant risks and high costs associated with keeping cybersecurity on the back burner.

Fox partner Mark McCreary provided an update on the attack yesterday on the firm’s Privacy Compliance and Data Security blog, and reflected on its impact after addressing client concerns on Friday and over the weekend.

Whether it is expanding into a new market or moving out of the proverbial garage, it is common for a startup company to sign a commercial lease agreement in its early stages. In negotiating the lease, the company’s legal counsel will rely heavily on the owner to advise on the “business terms” of the lease.  In fact, in many cases, the attorney is brought into the process after a letter of intent has been signed and the key business terms have been agreed upon.  These business terms are important and can be difficult to re-trade once they have been established with the landlord.  This post offers the following 5 tips for an owner negotiating the business terms of his or her first office lease:

  1. Personal Guaranty: The landlord may require a personal guaranty, particularly if the company has a limited operating history.  This can be a difficult pill to swallow, particularly for a business owner that has taken the proper steps to incorporate and shield himself or herself from individual liability.  If a personal guaranty can’t be avoided, try to limit the guaranty to a specified monetary amount (for example, the monthly rent multiplied by a certain number of months).  You could also propose eliminating the guaranty as of a future, specified date (provided that the tenant does not default under the lease prior to that date).
  2. Understand Your Additional Rent Obligations: A tenant’s “base rent” obligation is usually outlined clearly in the lease.  However, in many commercial leases, the tenant will owe additional amounts in excess of the base rent.  For example, taxes, insurance and/or maintenance expenses can be passed through to the tenant as an additional rent obligation in some leases.  While historical figures can provide a useful estimate of these expenses, they are not necessarily indicative of future charges.  Pay careful attention to how large capital expenses or major renovations can be passed on to your company.  Negotiating a cap on controllable operating expenses can be a useful way to limit the tenant’s exposure in this area.
  3. Permitted Use/Exclusive Use: Contact the local municipality to make sure that your contemplated use of the leased premises is permitted by applicable laws and zoning ordinances.  If you sign the lease and later learn that your desired use is not permitted, you may still be responsible for the entire lease obligation despite not being able to use the space for your business.  Also, if you are renting in a building or complex, consider requesting an exclusive use provision that limits the landlord’s ability to lease space to your competitors.
  4. Improvements/Alterations: If you need to make alterations or improvements to the space in order for it to meet your company’s needs, it can be helpful to negotiate and obtain approval for this work at the outset of the lease.  Often, a landlord will offer an allowance or free-rent period to assist a tenant with the initial fitout, but it is better to negotiate these concessions upfront than after the lease is signed.  In addition, the lease should clearly specify who owns the improvements and whether the tenant is required to restore the space to its original condition at the expiration of the lease.
  5. Have a Plan for Reducing or Expanding Space: It can be difficult for an early stage company to predict how much space it will need over a 3-5 year period (or longer).  Negotiating favorable parameters for assigning or subleasing the space can be extremely valuable if you ever need to downsize or exit the space.  Conversely, if you feel the space may eventually be too small, consider seeking a right of first option/refusal to lease other space at your building or complex.  This offers flexibility without requiring you to take on too much space before it is needed.
For lease sign
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For investors and founders of emerging tech companies, leaving money on the table is a tragedy which can never be remedied once it occurs. An exit sale to or investment from a large strategic buyer is for many young tech companies a once-in-a-lifetime event with enormous economic consequences impacting both the company’s founders and investors. They must “get it right” with respect to the enterprise value of the emerging tech company.

For reasons explained in a 2014 article by Fox Rothschild partner Mark V. Santo, the failure by the emerging tech company to conduct ‘reverse due diligence,” and undertake a deep dive into the operations and management of the acquirer, is tantamount to leaving money on the table.