SANDTON & CAPE TOWN LAW SEMINAR SERIES HIGHLIGHTS LATEST INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND COMMERCIAL LAW DEVELOPMENTS

The annual legal Crammer events presented by leading intellectual property and commercial law firm, Adams & Adams, took place recently in Johannesburg and Cape Town, respectively – bringing together in-house legal representatives, entrepreneurs and executive decision-makers for a morning of intensive panel discussions and presentations. In focusing on trade mark, copyright, patent, commercial and property law developments, legal professionals and industry guest speakers reviewed interesting updates and legislative developments on subjects ranging from innovation funding, copyright and brand development, to data protection and a number of significant IP and commercial case law studies.

In various discussions – mainly centred on trade marks, patents and commercial law – speakers brought attention to topical matters affecting organisations in a South African context. An enthralling keynote address was delivered by historian and storyteller, Michael Charton, who, in the spirit of the event, was able to cram hundreds of years of South African history into a thought-provoking and insightful story presentation, “My Father’s Coat.”

The firm’s biggest and boldest Crammer® event to date, subjects ranging from tech innovation funding; to due diligence in IP; data protection and policy in light of happenings such as the “GuptaLeaks”; rules around community schemes; trade mark judgments by the SCA; and a number of significant IP cases drew a great deal of interest. There was even time to squeeze in a fascinating chat about the now-infamous ‘monkey selfie’ by Cape Town Partners, Charné Le Roux and Phil Pla.

“These kinds of innovative events and seminars are an important part of our firm’s efforts in actively engaging with both clients and lawmakers so that we are able to pro-actively promote our customers’ interests,” commented firm Chairman, Gérard du Plessis. “In another innovative move, and as part of our annual Africa IP Network Week in September, Adams & Adams co-hosted the inaugural Africa Patent Examination Summit with the European Patent Office (EPO), where registrars, officials and examiners from twenty African jurisdictions, as well as regional bodies such as WIPO, ARIPO and OAPI met to discuss the various approaches to patent examination available and to gain insights into developments in this regard around the world.”

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GERARD DU PLESSIS

Partner & Firm Chairman
Trade Mark Attorney

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DARREN OLIVIER

Partner & Crammer MC (Johannesburg)
Trade Mark Attorney

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PHILIP PLA

Partner & Crammer MC (Cape Town)
Patent Attorney

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DISPUTE RESOLUTION REVIEW | SOUTH AFRICA

The Dispute Resolution Review provides an indispensable overview of the civil court systems of 40 jurisdictions. It offers a guide to those who are faced with disputes that frequently cross international boundaries. This ninth edition follows the pattern of previous editions where leading practitioners in each jurisdiction set out an easily accessible guide to the key aspects of each jurisdiction’s dispute resolution rules and practice, and developments over the past 12 months. The South African Chapter has been authored by Jac Marais, Andrew Molver and Renée Nienaber from Adams & Adams.

Key developments in South Africa over the past year followed global trends and included:

  • Clarification of the effect of a pending application for a restraining order and the scope of issues capable of referral to court in terms of Section 20(1) of the Arbitration Act;
  • Further progress towards more active judicial management of the dispute resolution process;
  • Approval of the International Arbitration Bill; and
  • The Community Schemes Ombud Services Act coming into effect.

To read the full South African submission, CLICK HERE, or for the full Dispute Resolution Review publication, CLICK HERE.

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JAC MARAIS

Partner
Commercial Attorney

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ANDREW MOLVER

Partner
Litigation Attorney

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RENEE NIENABER

Senior Associate
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THE COHABITATION INTERPRETATION

When asked at a recent Comic Con about the future living arrangements of their characters, Amy and Sheldon on the hit TV series The Big Bang Theory, Jim Parsons (Sheldon) quipped “Right now, there is such a new world of living together and what that means, and working that out.” 21st Century relationships come in all shapes, forms and sizes, but what are the risks of being in a long-term relationship that is not formally recognised as a lawful marriage?

“At the outset it is important to stress that there is no such thing as a common law marriage or spouse”, says Shani van Niekerk, an Associate at Adams & Adams. “The amount of time that a couple lives together does not translate into a default marriage. We’ve had clients ask us about a “six-month rule”. It’s a total myth unfortunately.”

The consequence is that at the dissolution of the relationship, or in the event that a cohabitant dies without leaving a Will, partners are left very vulnerable and without the legislative protection which married individuals enjoy. For example, when a cohabitant dies without leaving a valid will, the partner has no right to inherit under the Intestate Succession Act. A cohabitant also cannot rely on the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act to secure maintenance should a partner pass away. There’s no legal obligation on either person to maintain the other – meaning no enforceable right to claim maintenance from each other.

So what can you do to protect your interests in a cohabitation relationship? Shani suggests taking a leaf out of Sheldon’s script. “The only way to be protected in our law is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. Such an agreement is in the best interests of both parties in a relationship and clarifies the expectations of the partners.”

A cohabitation agreement regulates the rights and duties between partners, and could almost be compared to an ante-nuptial contract in a civil marriage. The agreement can provide for the division and distribution of assets if the relationship ends, the rights and obligations towards each other with regards to maintenance, and parties’ obligations and respective financial contributions towards the joint home. A cohabitation agreement will be legally binding as long as it contains no provisions that are immoral or illegal, however it is important to note that a cohabitation agreement will not be enforceable insofar as third parties are concerned.

In a long-term relationship where marriage is not considered or possible, a cohabitation agreement is the smart way to live together without the fear of the future. Chatting to an experienced family law attorney and getting a cohabitation agreements drawn up may help you avoid the financial risks and potential trauma of a possible break-up.

Contact Adams & Adams for help in setting up your agreement, telephone 012 432 6000 or email:

Shani van Niekerk (Associate) | Shani.vanNiekerk@AdamsAdams.com

David Scheepers (Partner) | David.Scheepers@AdamsAdams.com

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POWER TO THE PUBLIC | AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW MOLVER

On 31 March 2016, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled unanimously in favour of the applicants in the matter regarding Nkandla, President Jacob Zuma’s homestead, as well as the powers of the Public Protector. Andrew Molver, Partner at Adams & Adams, offers his insights into this pivotal ruling.

Q: As attorneys of record for the Public Protector, what role does Adams & Adams play in the functions of her office?
A: The Office of the Public Protector is equipped with a highly skilled staff complement that manages any legal matters it’s faced with. Generally, we’re only instructed upon the anticipation or institution of formal proceedings. In that regard, our primary role has become one of defending the reports issued, findings made and remedial action taken by the Public Protector.

Q: From a personal point of view, what has it been like to work with the former Public Protector, Adv Thuli Madonsela?
A:
Working with the Public Protector has been by far the greatest highlight of my career. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt from her is how she remained determined to ascertain a proper definition of the Public Protector’s powers throughout the Nkandla debacle. She remained focused on helping the “Gogo Dlaminis” of the world, as she calls them, when she could quite easily have become consumed and distracted by the highly politicised and sensationalised nature of the ordeal. Even in those trying circumstances, she was steadfast in her commitment to the helpless and to leaving a legacy of empowerment to her successors by upholding the powers of her office.

Q: The powers of the Public Protector were challenged well before the Nkandla saga. How did this start?
A: The question of whether or not remedial action taken by the Public Protector is binding first arose in relation to the remedial action taken by the Public Protector in 2014 regarding the SABC and then acting-COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The SABC and related parties argued that they were not bound to give effect to the Public Protector’s remedial action taken and, as they had procured an opinion from an independent law firm which cleared Motsoeneng of any wrongdoing, concluded that the findings of the Public Protector were incorrect.
In proceedings initiated by the DA as a result of the SABC’s conduct, we argued that remedial action taken by the Public Protector is legally binding and places an obligation on the subject of the remedial action to give effect to it unless and until it is reviewed and set aside by a court of law. Regrettably, the High Court did not find favour with this argument and took the view that remedial action by the Public Protector is not binding.
Fortunately, in its judgment of October 2015 in the SABC case, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) set the record straight and found that remedial action taken by the Public Protector is indeed valid and binding until reviewed and set aside by a court of law and that, absent any such review, a subject of such remedial action is obliged to implement it, and cannot disregard it.

Q: Why was the Public Protector never a main applicant in either the Nkandla case or in matters beforehand? How did this help the Public Protector’s standing?
A: The SABC matter was launched by the DA, which cited the Public Protector as a respondent in the matter. The so-called Nkandla applications were launched by the EFF and the DA respectively. While the DA cited the Public Protector as a respondent, the EFF omitted to do so, which required us to apply to the Constitutional Court to intervene as a respondent in the EFF’s application.
We found it preferable for the Public Protector to be in the position of a respondent as this enabled her to abide the relief sought, as opposed to having to seek it directly, as an applicant would. This was more in keeping with the politically neutral position occupied by the Office of the Public Protector and allowed the Public Protector to avoid being drawn into the political war being waged through the litigation. In addition, by not being preoccupied with seeking the enforcement of her remedial action, the Public Protector was able to focus her submissions on obtaining a proper interpretation of her powers, which would significantly outlast any particular remedial action that formed the focus of either the SABC or Nkandla matters.

Q: Your team referred to the “Oudekraal” matter in written submissions. What is this and why was it relevant?
A: “Oudekraal” refers to the well-established principle (deriving from the matter of Oudekraal Estates (Pty) Ltd v City of Cape Town) that until a decision of an administrative nature is set aside by a court in proceedings for judicial review, it exists in fact and has legal consequences that cannot be overlooked. In its judgment in the SABC matter, the SCA found this principle to apply to reports issued and remedial action taken by the Public Protector, even if the Public Protector isn’t a typical public functionary or body, as the underlying principles arguably find greater application in her context.

Q: The Nkandla matter found that the Public Protector was correct in her assessments that the President was required to pay for a portion of the upgrades that took place at his homestead. More importantly, it confirmed the powers of the Public Protector as a Chapter 9 institution. What are those powers?
A: In essence, the Public Protector’s direct constitutional powers enable her to investigate irregular conduct in state affairs or public administration, to report on that conduct and to take appropriate action.

Q: What ideologies or approaches differentiate Adams & Adams from other commercial law firms?
A:
We try to approach our admin and constitutional matters by retaining a strong focus on why the matter is important to the client. This isn’t always obvious and often various considerations are involved. For example, in the SABC and Nkandla matters, it would have been tempting to enter the fray by siding with one of the political parties involved and attempting to enforce the remedial action in question. But what made the matters important to the Public Protector went beyond that. As mentioned, a proper definition of the powers of her office held far greater value. Apart from the objective to define the Public Protector’s powers, it was also important that she did not compromise the independence of her office thereafter. We also have a firm commitment to litigating in a manner which we believe upholds the Constitution and ensures that good law is made in its interpretation and application.


ABOUT ADAMS ON AFRICA | ISSUE 1

This article is part of a new quarterly digital publication, Adams on Africa. The publication aims to provide you with the necessary information and updates on developments in business and the law in Africa. We welcome your feedback. Articles in this issue:

A NEW CONVERSATION ON AFRICA

AFRICA REGIONAL REPORT

CHAPTER 9: THE POWERS OF THE PUBLIC PROTECTOR

DISSECTING THE NEW IP CONSULTATIVE FRAMEWORK

HOW OIL PRICES IMPACT AFRICA

ADDLED BY THE INTERWEBS

AFRICA’S LEADING LADIES

BANKING ON THE MAPUTO CORRIDOR

TOURISM – A MARKET OF OPPORTUNITIES

PHILANTHROPY’S PURPLE RAIN

PURE WATER ON TAP

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Andrew molver

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Litigation Attorney

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CAN AN EMPLOYER RECOVER DAMAGES FROM EMPLOYEES?

In an employer-employee relationship it often happens that an employee violates his employment agreement in a manner that results in the employer suffering damages. For example, an employee performs his duties in a grossly negligent manner and the employer suffers a financial loss or an employee decides to quit without giving the agreed upon notice. If such a situation occurs, the employer is always left wondering whether it can proceed against the employee, and if so, how to proceed and whether, it can recover damages from the employee in question.

In South Africa, it is generally believed that South African labour legislation is overprotective of employees and offers little to no protection to employers. This is evident from the myriad labour statutes that protect the rights of employees in South Africa and the high rate of success of cases brought against employers. The misconception as to the protection offered to employers is well demonstrated in the case of Rand Water v Johan Stoop (JA 78/11) where counsel for the defendant argued that the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), 1997 was designed to only permit claims by employees against their employers and not vice versa.

However, the court in the above matter held as follow:

“there is simply no warrant for interpreting the BCEA in a partisan manner. The BCEA benefits both employers and employees….The BCEA was designed to promote the right to fair labour practice which is available to everyone employees and employers alike. If the employee can claim damages for breach, so too can the employer, to suggest otherwise is to argue that this section is unconstitutional.”

Section 77(3) of the BCEA stipulates that ‘the Labour Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Civil Courts to hear and determine any matter concerning a contract of employment, irrespective of whether any basic condition of employment constitutes a term of that contract.’

This provision of the BCEA clearly applies both ways and permits the employer to sue and recover from an employee damages caused by the employee, if the wrongful conduct constitute a breach of the contract of employment. Obviously, the normal principles of common law applicable to claims for damages will apply to such a claim.

For example, an employer will have to prove that it actually suffered damages or loss as a result of the breach of contract. The courts have wide powers in terms of the BCEA and may make any order considered reasonable on any matter concerning a contract of employment, including an award of damages. For example, the courts have upheld claims for payment of damages resulting from the repudiation of an employment contract by an employee, and a failure by an employee to work his full notice.

However, a claim for damages may not always be the simplest and most effective route for an employer to take and there are less acrimonious courses of action to pursue. For example, an employer may make salary deductions from an employee’s remuneration, to recover loss or damages only if such damages occurred in the course of employment and was due to the fault of the employee. For such a deduction to be in compliance with the BCEA, the employer must comply with a number of requirements, such as, the employer must follow a fair procedure and give the employee a reasonable opportunity to show why the deductions should not be made, the total amount of the debt must not exceed the actual amount of the loss or damage, and the total deductions from the employee’s remuneration must not exceed one-quarter of the employee’s remuneration in monetary terms.

Unfortunately, these formalities cannot be seen as mere guidelines and have to be complied with strictly. This was confirmed by the court in Shenaaz Padayachee v Interpark Books (D243-12) where the court stated that the BCEA confers a right on the employer to make deductions from an employee’s remuneration in respect of damages or loss caused by the employee but stipulates that this cannot be done unless the prescribed formalities are complied with. These prescribed formalities include an internal hearing to determine the liability of the employee and a written agreement by the employee to reimburse the employer in respect of the damages.

If the employee does not admit liability, and consequently, does not agree to the salary deductions the employer can proceed with court action and claim contractual damages. In this instance, the employer will rely on section 77 (3) of the BCEA as set out above and establish a case of breach of the relevant employment contract. The normal principles of common law applicable to claims for damages will apply to such a claim.

In conclusion, employers should not labour under the misconception that its employees are immune to civil action. In fact, the above principles clearly demonstrate that an employer can recover damages from an employee under Section 77(3) of the BCEA if the breach by the employee of his contract of employment resulted in damages or financial loss to the employer. It has also been established that an employer can recover damages by making deductions from an employee’s salary, subject, the formalities prescribed by the BCEA.

by Thami Khoza | Candidate Attorney

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Andre Visser

Partner
Commercial Attorney

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