Commercial law, which may also be called business law, trade law, or mercantile law, depending on the region, covers a broad range of rules and regulations that govern how companies conduct business with each other and the public.
Among other things, commercial law deals with contracts between companies and their employees, as well as general corporate hiring practices. It also handles issues such as antitrust claims, marketing or advertising-related disputes, fire and accident insurance, how goods are manufactured and sold, and the environmental impact that companies have.
Lawyer and entrepreneur Isadore H. May, who founded his own law firm in 1987 and has practiced both commercial and real estate law over the years, says commercial law is a great field for young lawyers to aspire to.
With international trade flourishing and companies becoming more litigious over their intellectual property rights, commercial law continues to grow and become more complex. The following is a brief rundown of some of the key branches of commercial law.
Also known as antitrust law in the U.S and anti-monopoly law in some other regions, competition law seeks to ensure that companies don’t engage in anti-competitive practices such as price fixing that are solely meant to harm other companies or consumers. Isadore H. May suggests that competition law also covers mergers between companies, which could lead to the creation of a monopoly.
Antitrust law has become a global concern in recent years with the rise of tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet (Google), and Apple, all of which have either been fined by EU antitrust regulators or are currently being investigated by them. Matchmaker Qualcomm was also recently hit with a hefty $272 million antitrust fine by the EU for selling some chips below cost between 2009 and 2011 in an effort to wipe out a competing supplier.
Consumer protection is a vast branch of commercial law that covers issues that include the relative safety of products, how companies market their products to consumers, what information they need to supply on product packaging, and ensuring companies don’t otherwise engage in unfair or anti-competitive practices that harm consumers.
In 2018, snowmobile and ATV maker Polaris Industries was hit with a record civil fine of $27.25 million by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for failing to report that some of its vehicles contained potentially hazardous defects.
Isadore H. May says that environmental law is not strictly related to commercial activities but includes them prominently under its purview. Some of the things it covers in relation to companies include how they dispose of their waste, how they handle chemicals, how they deal with the cleanup of contaminated areas, and the overall impact of their operations on local air and water quality.
The “polluter pays principle” is applied across all U.S pollution control laws according to Isadore H. May. It requires polluters to pay for environmental damages and imposes eco-taxes on activities that harm the environment.
Intellectual Property Law
One of the most important branches of commercial law is intellectual property law, which protects the creations of individuals and companies from being copied or sold by others for a specified period of time. Without these laws, there would be little economic incentive for the innovation and development of new products.
Intellectual property rights are typically granted through a number of methods, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Patents generally apply to the technical methods used to perform a task and don’t necessarily cover a particular product. This method can’t be used in any product without the patent holder receiving a fee. Trademarks and copyrights apply to everything from company names and logos to the actual products they manufacture.