Cartel conduct and IP licences and assignments

Will your assignments and licences of intellectual property, such as in a typical franchise agreement, expose your client to liability for cartel conduct or will you be ready to apply for an authorisation?

One of the bills pending before Parliament contains the long pursued (by the ACCC) repeal of s 51(3) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Section 51(3) exempts from most of the prohibitions in Pt IV of the Competition and Consumer Act terms and conditions in assignments and licences of intellectual property which most of us take for granted.

The rationale for repeal is that most transactions involving IP do not have anti-competitive effects or purposes and, if they do, they should not be exempt from the competition laws.

Rodney De Boos, a consultant at DCC with many years’ experience in licensing and commercialisation of IP, however, points out that this explanation was developed before the provisions banning cartel conduct were introduced into the Act. And, he contends, typical arrangements in IP agreements which allocate, for example, territories or customers will constitute cartel conduct and so need authorisation if the parties are not to be in breach of the cartel provisions.

As Rodney explains, a cartel provision are certain types of specified provisions between competitors.

Now, it may well be that an assignor and assignee, or a licensor and licensee, will not be competitors. There are many types of arrangements, however, where the Competition and Consumer Act will deem them to be competitors. An obvious example is the case of a franchisor who has retail outlets (either itself or through a related body corporate) as well as retail franchisees. Other arrangements involving IP could also be similarly problematical.

You can read Rodney’s concerns in more detail here.

The bill repealing s 51(3) has already passed the House of Representatives and is due to be debated by the Senate in the sittings coming up.

Cartel conduct and IP licences and assignments Read More »

A real estate franchise agreement

2The Court of Appeal has ruled that Century 21 Australia’s arrangements permitting Victorian Realty Group to trade as “Century 21 Complete Properties” was a franchise agreement for the purposes of the Estate Agents Act 1980 (Vic.).

Section 43(5) of the Victorian Estate Agents Act has its own definition of a “franchising agreement”:

franchising agreement means an agreement whereby an estate agent is authorized to carry on business under any name in consideration of any other person entitled to carry on business under that name receiving any consideration whether by way of a share in the profits of the estate agent’s business or otherwise (emphasis supplied)

One of the reasons this is significant is that each party to the franchising agreement is jointly and severally liable for any defalcations, or negligence, by the estate agent : s 43.

Victorian Realty Group (VRG), while trading as “Century 21 Complete Properties” in Craigieburn, had committed a number of defalcations which resulted in 13 of its clients losing money. Those clients were compensated out of the Victorian Property Fund. The Secretary brought proceedings against Century 21 Australia, the franchisor1 under s 43 to recover those payouts.

Under the terms of the franchise agreement, and the incorporated Policy and Procedures Manual, Century 21 Australia granted VRG the right and obligation to trade exclusively under the name Century 21 Complete Properties. There were other rights and obligations to use “Century 21” in the various ‘trademarked’ forms, and to use various systems and participate in the Century 21 marketing plan. In other words, you and I would consider it a pretty typical example of a franchise arrangement.

The trial judge, however, found that the arrangement was not a “franchise agreement” as defined in s 43 because of the words in the definition “under that name”. VRG was authorised only to carry on business under the name “Century 21 Complete Properties”, not just “Century 21”; and “Century 21 Australia”, the franchisor, did not carry on business under that name.

The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the Secretary’s appeal. As a matter of practicality and commercial reality both VRG and Century 21 Australia were carrying on business under “Century 21”, not just their respective formal names:

50 In its written case, the respondent seemed to accept that the Franchise Agreement was an agreement that would ordinarily be described as, and understood to be, a franchise agreement. The respondent’s written case described the Franchise Agreement as ‘the unambiguous franchise agreement in this case’. That description was, with respect, apposite. While that description does not relieve the Court of its obligation to properly construe and apply the definition of ‘franchising agreement’, it brings into focus the question of what legislative purpose might possibly exist in differentiating between franchise agreements that have different provisions as to trade names and the terms upon which their use is or is not permitted. That said, it is of course the text of the statutory definition that is paramount in the resolution of this proceeding.

51 ‘Century 21’ is a name. Equally, one might describe the relevant circumstances in this case as involving the use of a name being ‘the Century 21 name’. When one examines the Franchise Agreement (including the P&P Manual) it seems to us that that agreement authorised VRG to carry on business under the name ‘Century 21’ or the Century 21 name. Like any franchise agreement, it did so on particular terms. We have already set out the relevant terms in the present case. The existence of those terms does not gainsay the fact that the Franchise Agreement was one which authorised VRG to carry on business under the Century 21 name.

52 Similarly, in our view, the International Agreement entitled the respondent to carry on business under the name ‘Century 21’ or the Century 21 name within the meaning of the statutory definition. In our view, this conclusion accords with the text of the definition construed, as it must be, in its context and by reference to the legislative purpose of the provisions of the Act.

The focus on commercial reality is no doubt to be welcomed. The decision, however, has little direct relevance to the broader definition of “franchise agreement” for the purposes of the Franchising Code of Conduct as that is not tied just to a name. Instead, clause 5 of schedule 1 to the Competition and Consumer (Industry Codes – Franchising) Regulation 2014 applies to agreements which satisfy 3 requirements including (by way of contrast to the Estate Agents Act) the rather more broadly expressed operation of a business substantially or materially associated with a trade mark, advertising or commercial symbol. More fully, a franchise agreement is an agreement:

(b) in which a person (the franchisor ) grants to another person (the franchisee ) the right to carry on the business of offering, supplying or distributing goods or services in Australia under a system or marketing plan substantially determined, controlled or suggested by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; and

(c) under which the operation of the business will be substantially or materially associated with a trade mark, advertising or a commercial symbol:

(i) owned, used or licensed by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; or

(ii) specified by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; and

(d) under which, before starting or continuing the business, the franchisee must pay or agree to pay to the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor an amount including, for example

Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation v Century 21 Australia Pty Ltd [2017] VSCA 205

  1. Century 21 Australia had been appointed the master franchisee for Australia by Century 21 International with powers to appoint and manage “Century 21” franchisees here. ??

A real estate franchise agreement Read More »

What do you get when you are granted an exclusive territory

This case is a franchising case, but it explores the legal consequences of granting an exclusive territory and so should be of interest to IP practitioners too.

Some facts

Spanline carries on a business of providing home additions and extensions such as awnings and patios. It operates nationally through a network of franchisees and sub-franchisees.

In 2001, Spanline appointed RPR as its exclusive franchisee for the South Coast of NSW. RPR was based in Nowra, but its territory also included the Illawarra region and the Southern Highlands. The Southern Highlands were about an hour’s drive from Nowra, but much closer to the Illawarra region.

In 2004, RPR granted Marmax a sub-franchise for the Illawarra region. That was in anticipation of events which finally took place in 2005. In 2005, RPR sold its business in the Illawarra region to Marmax and Spanline granted a new, exclusive franchise over the Illawarra region to Marmax.

In 2007, Marmax began selling to customers in the Southern Highlands. The first time RPR complained to Spanline, Spanline did nothing. It said it could find nothing amiss although, if it had conducted even a cursory search of its database, it would have found that Marmax was indeed selling in RPR’s territory.

Spanline met with Marmax in July 2009 and orally approved Marmax continuing to service customers from the Southern Highlands. Spanline considered this was in its commercial interests as RPR refused to open an office in the Southern Highlands and Spanline was concerned business from potential customers in the Southern Highlands would be lost because they would not travel to Nowra.

After yet further complaints from RPR, Spanline sent Marmax a letter in September 2009 telling it not to sell in RPR’s territory. But Marmax’ subsequent telephone call left Marmax with the understanding that it could continue in line with the July 2009 oral permission.

An attempt to negotiate a co-existence arrangement over the Southern Highlands failed as RPR would not agree to the proposed reduction in its exclusivity and Spanline authorised Marmax to continue.

The result

The trial judge had awarded RPR damages from both Spanline and Marmax: Spanline for breach of the exclusivity arrangements in the franchise agreement; Marmax for breach of the terms of the sale of business agreement.

The Full Court allowed Marmax’s appeal. The Full Court also partially allowed Spanline’s appeal, finding it liable to pay damages only for sales by Marmax in RPR’s territory after Spanline gave Marmax oral permission to continue selling in the Southern Highlands.

What kind of exclusivity was the exclusive territory

Spanline first argued that the grant of the exclusive right “to conduct the Franchised Business in the [Franchised] Territory” was just a promise to be the only franchisee located in the territory and not directed to the location of customers. The Full Court agreed with the trial judge that the exclusivity extended to the customers. The definition of Franchised Business extended to installation of the products. Also, the nature of the business was supplying and installing products in retail customers’ homes.

What did the promise of exclusivity mean

The trial judge had found Spanline in breach of its obligations to RPR implied by the grant of exclusivity both by failing to undertake even the most rudimentary investigation of RPR’s initial complaints as well as by failing to stop Marmax from selling into RPR’s territory, both before and after Spanline gave Marmax oral permission to sell to customers in the Southern Highlands and authorising Marmax to sell in RPR’s exclusive territory.

The promise of exclusivity imported with it implied terms of good faith and fair dealing and an implied term to co-operate: to do all things necessary to ensue each party got the benefit of its bargain. In doing so, the trial judge had relied on Far Horizons Pty Ltd v McDonald’s Australia Ltd [2000] VSC 310 and similar cases.

The Full Court did not disagree that those terms should be implied. Instead, it disagreed about their content. In essence, the Full Court held that the grant of an exclusive territory required Spanline only to refrain from taking positive steps to derogate from the grant of exclusivity or to authorise someone else to invade the territory. The Full Court said:

[139] …. In our view, the content of the obligation to do all things necessary to give the other party the benefit of the contract required Spanline to refrain from taking positive steps that would infringe upon or cause a third party to infringe upon the exclusive franchise granted to RPR. To require Spanline to do more, such as to take positive steps to investigate possible incursions by Marmax upon the rights of RPR, would exceed the requirement of necessity. It could not be said that the absence of a requirement to investigate such conduct would render the RPR Franchise agreement nugatory, worthless or seriously undermined.

[140] For the same reasons, we also do not accept RPR’s contention that Spanline was under an obligation to take steps to enforce its contractual rights against Marmax for the benefit of RPR.

At [150], the Full Court held that the implied duty to act in good faith did not require anything more than the implied duty to co-operate.

What did this mean? First, Spanline had no obligation to do anything to protect RPR or to try to stop Marmax invading RPR’s territory. (Any of us who might have thought that setting up a network of exclusive territories might have implied such an obligation would apparently be wrong.)

As already noted, therefore, Spanline was only liable to RPR for damages on sales[1] made by Marmax in RPR’s territory after Spanline gave Marmax permission to carry on. Spanline was not liable for sales while it was just “sitting on its hands”.

If you were acting for a franchisee, or an exclusive licensee, of a territory which did not extend to the whole of Australia, you would want to consider bargaining for a term requiring the franchisor (or licensor) to do “something”.

In this connection, the Full Court expressed an additional concern about implying a term that Spanline take reasonable steps to ensure RPR’s territory remained exclusive. It was likely to be uncertain in scope:

[141] …. The mere fact that the term operates by reference to a criterion of reasonableness is not the problem: it is that the contract does not supply any means for determining what is reasonable in the circumstances. It was argued that Spanline’s obligation to RPR could extend to termination of the contractual relationship between Spanline and Marmax. How the interests of Spanline and Marmax would be taken into account in determining whether such a step would be “reasonable” was not explored.

Something rather explicit would seem to be required

Why didn’t Marmax have to pay damages

RPR argued that Marmax was also in breach of both the original sub-franchise agreement and the sale of business agreement.

The Full Court held that the initial sub-franchise agreement between RPR and Marmax had been terminated once RPR and Marmax entered into the sale of business agreement and Spanline granted exclusivity over the Illawarra region to Marmax (with RPR’s knowledge and consent).

The Full Court accepted that a restraint on Marmax selling in RPR’s (retained) territory would not have been an unreasonable restraint of trade. However, the restraints imposed in the sale of business agreement did not extend to Marmax’ activities.

The sale of business agreement did include a restraint clause which seems fairly typical:

Except as permitted by clause 3.10, Marmax must not, and must ensure that each of its affiliates does not, during each restraint period in the South Coast Franchise Area:

(a) promote, participate in, finance, operate or engage in (whether on its own account or in partnership or by joint-venture); or

(b) be concerned or interested (directly or indirectly, or through any interposed body corporate, trust, principal, agent, shareholder, beneficiary, or as an independent contract, consultant or in any other capacity) in,

any of the Restrained Businesses.

For this purpose, “Restrained Business” was defined to mean:

a business, or operation:

(i) similar to the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business; or

(ii) competitive with the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business; or

(iii) supplying similar products and services to the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business.

As best I can make out, this clause did not provide any protection to RPR because Marmax was conducting a Spanline franchise business, not a competing or similar business. There was also a “non-interference” clause:

On and from the Completion Date, [RPR] must not, and must ensure that each of its affiliates does not, during each restraint period:

a) Solicit, canvas or secure the custom of a person who is at the Completion Date, or was within 1 year before the Adjustment Date, a customer of the Business or [RPR] in connection with the Business;

b) Represent itself as being in any way connected with, interested in or associated with the Business (except as its proprietor before the Completion Date) or any business conduct by Marmax; or

c) Solicit, employ or engage the services of any transferring employee or any other person who becomes an employee of Marmax in connection with the Business.

The remarkable feature about the non-interference clause is that it was one way. There was no reciprocal obligation on Marmax not to interfere with RPR’s continuing business.

As a result, Marmax was not in breach of any contractual obligations it owed to RPR and the award of damages for making sales in RPR’s territories could not be sustained.

Marmax Investments Pty Ltd v RPR Maintenance Pty Ltd [2015] FCAFC 127 (Middleton, Foster and Gleeson JJ)

  1. Strictly speaking, damages for the loss of the opportunity to make those sales.  ?

What do you get when you are granted an exclusive territory Read More »

An arbitration clause means arbitrate

The Irelands were Subway franchisees.

Their franchise agreement with Subway included an arbitration clause:

10. DISPUTE RESOLUTION. The parties want to settle all issues quickly, amicably, and in the most cost effective fashion. To accomplish these goals, the parties agree to the following provisions that will apply to resolve any dispute or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement, or any other Franchise Agreement the parties have with each other (a ‘Dispute’):

c. The parties will arbitrate the Dispute if the mediation clause in Subparagraph 10.a. is not enforceable, or the parties do not settle the Dispute under the informal discussion and mediation procedures above, or the Dispute is one which this Agreement provides will be submitted directly to arbitration, except as provided in this Agreement. The arbitration will be held in accordance with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Regulations and Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules administered by an arbitration association, such as the American Arbitration Association or the Institute of Arbitrators or Mediators Australia, at a hearing to be held in Queensland. The arbitration will be conducted in English and decided by a single arbitrator unless the law of Australia requires three (3) arbitrators. Any court having jurisdiction may enter judgment on the arbitrator’s award. Except as provided in this Agreement, a party must commence and pursue informal discussions, mediation, and arbitration to resolve Disputes before commencing legal action.

The Irelands, however, commenced proceedings against Subway in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) alleging breaches of the franchise agreement, negligence and misleading or deceptive conduct.

Subway applied to VCAT to have the proceeding referred to arbitration pursuant to clause 10. VCAT refused. The Supreme Court dismissed Subway’s appeal. The Court of Appeal, Maxwell P and Beach JA, Kyrou J dissenting, have allowed Subway’s further appeal and sent the matter to arbitration.

Section 8 of the Commercial Arbitration Act 2011 (Vic) provides:

8            Arbitration agreement and substantive claim before court (cf Model Law Art 8)

(1)  A court before which an action is brought in a matter which is the subject of an arbitration agreement must, if a party so requests not later than when submitting the party’s first statement on the substance of the dispute, refer the parties to arbitration unless it finds that the agreement is null and void, inoperative or incapable of being performed.

As the heading indicates, this provision is part of a national scheme to implement the UNCITRAL Model Law on commercial arbitration.

The “problem” was that reference to “court”. While it was not a defined term in the Act, there are any number of court rulings declaring in no uncertain terms that VCAT is not a court – it is an administrative tribunal.

Maxwell P and Beach JA standing back and looking at the big (international) picture, however, held that for the purposes of the Act – a law designed to promote commercial arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism – VCAT qualifies as a “court”. Maxwell P and Beach JA took somewhat different routes to reach that conclusion but it is perhaps best encapsulated in Maxwell P’s observation:

The clear policy of the Act (and of the model law which it enacts) is that, when parties have agreed to have disputes between them determined by private arbitration, neither party is at liberty to litigate the matter in dispute through the adjudicative mechanisms of the State. For this statutory purpose, in this statutory context, the Tribunal is indistinguishable from those other adjudicative bodies of the State which bear the title ‘court’.

I don’t know if other States or Territories operate under regimes similar to VCAT in, er, parallel to the court system but, as Croft J noted at first instance, Parliament set up VCAT to provide a speedy and inexpensive, low cost, accessible, efficient means of dispute resolution and, apparently, it handles the vast bulk of legal disputes here. But not disputes between franchisors and franchisees (where there is an arbitration clause).

Subway Systems Australia Pty Ltd v Ireland [2014] VSCA 142

An arbitration clause means arbitrate Read More »

ACTA coming a little bit more out of the shadows

ACTA coming a little bit more out of the shadows Read More »

Damages for breach of franchise agreement

Howard’s Storage World (HSW) granted Haviv a franchise to operate an Howard’s Storage World retail outlet at Burwood in Sydney. The terms of the franchise included a grant of an exclusive territory for a radius of 5km.

Subsequently, HSW granted someone else an franchise to operate an Howard’s Storage World franchise at a new shopping centre at Rhodes, approximately 4,840m from Haviv’s Burwood store.

The breach of the contractual exclusivity promise was found, but claims for breach of TPA by misleading or deceptive conduct were rejected.

Jagot J explores the basis on which the damages payable to Haviv should be calculated in Haviv Holdings Pty Limited v Howards Storage World Pty Ltd [2009] FCA 242.

Her Honour considered the nature of the grant of exclusivity – it did not extend as Haviv contended, to a right to be offered the franchise for Rhodes. Nor did it preclude the opening of another store with a territory radius of 5km which overlapped with the territory within 5km of the Burwood store.

On the calculation of damages, her Honour considered the following issues:

  1. Was Haviv entitled to claim damages on the scenario that, if the third party had not been granted the Rhodes franchise, Haviv would have been – No
  2. Did Haviv prove that the breach of the exclusivity promise caused it loss – Yes
  3. How to assess that damage on the basis of loss of net profits
  4. The extent to which damages should be calculated for the period after Haviv closed the Burwood store in 2007 – damages would be payable until the expiry of the last option for renewal period – 2022
  5. The date the loss should be assessed at
  6. What discount rate should be adopted and how should it be applied
  7. What gross profit percentage should be used
  8. How should fixed costs including rent and refurbishment costs be treated?

At [110] her Honour summarised her findings:

 (1) Mr Halligan’s “alternative C” period of assessment should be used (that is, with damages assessed until the end of the option period, being 17 July 2022).

(2) The benchmark group should comprise Hornsby, East Gardens, Macquarie and Bondi Junction stores.

(3) The discount rates applied should be 28% for losses to the date of judgment and 30% for losses thereafter.

(4) The rent increase should reflect the true position where known (that is, $138,490.56 per annum for seven months from 1 September 2007 and an annual rental of $187,000 from 1 April 2008 to the end of the current lease on 31 March 2013 with appropriate adjustments thereafter from that base).

(5) The figure of 50.3% should be used as the gross profit percentage for the 2007 financial year onwards.

(6) The refurbishment costs should be $40,000 in July 2007, $155,000 in July 2012 and $40,000 in July 2017 and subject to mid-period discounting. 

The parties were sent away to have their experts recalculate their reports on the basis of her Honour’s findings.

Damages for breach of franchise agreement Read More »

Scroll to Top