The 2013 decision of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to fine Mercedes-Benz and five of its dealers over £2.8 million for infringing UK competition law serves as a reminder that franchisors and their networks may infringe the competition rules. The level of the fine imposed also demonstrates that the CMA is paying closer attention to the activities of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Restrictive covenants are common in franchise agreements, seeking to protect goodwill and customer relationships by limiting the licensee's right to operate a competing business. Two recent cases in the English courts have considered the enforceability of restrictive covenants. This update considers the background of restrictive covenants in the context of franchising and discusses the implications of both judgments.
In a bid to increase consumers' awareness of their rights and provide greater protection, new regulations recently entered into force which implement certain elements of the EU Consumer Rights Directive. Franchisors need to ensure that their legal compliance programmes and those of their franchisees, including any related consumer terms and conditions, are in line with the revised requirements.
Franchisors can reap significant benefits from a successful advertising campaign – in terms of both attracting potential franchisees and gaining new customers or increased sales. However, a poorly conceived or executed campaign can not only reduce goodwill, but also prove costly to remedy. Therefore, it is important to ensure that marketing campaigns comply with relevant advertising laws and regulations.
Judgments in three recent cases have reignited the debate over whether English law recognises a general duty of good faith in commercial contracts, including franchise agreements. Franchisors and distributors should be aware of these developments and take caution before exercising contractual discretion, while bearing in mind that their longer-term relational contracts may be held to a high standard of performance, including a duty to disclose.