So you’ve been asked to help acquire a company with an extensive IP portfolio. Great! Now it’s time for that mysterious task known as “due diligence.” Due diligence is intended to confirm all of the assets that a buyer will obtain in an acquisition and to resolve any discrepancies before the deal closes.
What should you actually do during due diligence when it comes to IP? How diligent should you be?
Here are the top 5 Do’s to consider when conducting due diligence:
1. Do be thorough. Dig into the details of the IP owned by the seller. Remember that the schedule of trademarks provided by the seller might not exactly match what is listed in USPTO records. Check the owner name, mark, application and registration numbers, and application and registration dates for possible scheduling errors. It’s possible that active applications or registrations might be missing from the schedule altogether. For foreign marks, cross-check the details in publicly available databases or, if possible, subscription databases to assess accuracy of application and registration details. And don’t forget to ask the seller to identify the markets in which the marks are actually used, and since when.
2. Do check chain of title carefully. Review details of all recorded assignments, including assignor / assignee names, address information and entity types. Look out for errors that you don’t want to have to clean up later. Is the assignee’s state in the assignment abbreviated as “AR” but the USPTO records say “Arizona” instead of “Arkansas”? Is an LLC incorrectly characterized as a “Limited Liability Corporation”? Each step in the chain of title should be accurate.
3. Do check goods and services. Did the seller register the marks in the proper classes? Are the goods and services descriptions accurate? The acquired registrations won’t do you much good if they are misclassified or omit key products.
4. Do review applications and registrations for upcoming deadlines. Is there an office action with a response deadline before or shortly after closing? Are renewals or maintenance filings due soon? What about extensive paperwork requirements for foreign registrations? You’ll want to make sure that the IP portfolio that you acquire at closing matches the IP you identified during due diligence. Of course, the seller may choose not to renew registrations in the ordinary course of business – but it’s important to know that information sooner rather than later.
5. Do ensure that any necessary corrective filings are made before closing. If you find any errors in chain of title or current ownership information, the seller is often in a better position to locate old documents or obtain new ones before closing. Having the seller bear the expense of any major corrections may also be in the buyer’s best interest.
Above all, the key to due diligence is being diligent! Do as much digging as time and budget permit, and don’t be shy about asking the seller to give you additional information or make any needed filings.
One final note: if your due diligence determines that one or more of the seller’s top brands is not registered in the markets where the brand is being used, consider filing new applications as soon as your transaction closes.
Stay tuned for our upcoming post on the top 5 “Don’ts” of Due Diligence.