English law has traditionally resisted implying the obligation of good faith into commercial contracts, except in limited circumstances. However, in a growing line of authorities (of which two recent cases are particularly significant), the English courts have confirmed that a duty of good faith will be implied into certain types of agreement as a matter of law. This article considers the ramifications of these decisions for parties to this special category of commercial agreement, which includes franchise agreements.
In recent years, many Canadian provinces have adopted franchise-specific disclosure laws with a view to remedying the inequality of bargaining power between franchisors and franchisees. Subject to certain limited exemptions, franchisors must provide prospective franchisees with full and accurate information in respect of all material facts relating to the franchise business before entering into a franchise agreement, failing which franchisees can bring a claim for rescission and damages against the franchisor.
The EU Trade Secrets Directive seeks to harmonise the protection of trade secrets in all EU member states. In general, the implementation of the directive is positive for franchisors, as the protection of trade secrets and confidential information is key to the success of a franchise system. Although franchisors may be able to rely on the statutory definition of 'trade secret' set out under the directive, they should nonetheless continue to ensure that their confidential information is safeguarded contractually.
The Paris Court of Appeal recently held that a franchisor had not breached its duty of loyalty towards its franchisee in reorganising its business following its change of control. In the context of an internal business reorganisation, franchisors should therefore be careful in statements that they may make to franchisees, including in the pre-contractual disclosure documentation.
In a recent case, the Court of Appeal considered whether a threat not to enter a contract could amount to economic duress, holding that it would not unless the threat was made in bad faith. While the decision provides useful and comforting guidance for franchisors, it also serves as a reminder to review contractual terms and processes and ensure that they are both robust and fair, as there is a fine line between protecting the integrity of the network and abusing a position of power.
Franchisors must typically consider the extent of concept protection if franchisees which have left the franchise system reuse the concept in a largely unchanged fashion or if third-party competitors (outside the franchise system) copy the concept's main features. A recent decision concerning a fast-food restaurant franchise reinforces the IP protection of gastronomic concepts against competitors' inadmissible imitations.
Franchising communities in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada have been eagerly awaiting a Supreme Court of Canada decision on whether an unincorporated franchisee operating a two-person cleaning services business in Quebec as part of a cleaning services franchise network qualified as an employee. While the court's ruling may be worrisome to franchisors in certain industries, there are several mitigating factors to consider.
Against the backdrop of a number of high-profile business failures in the UK retail sector, the government has issued a report on the insolvency regime, which will affect the operation of termination rights in supply agreements. This article considers the proposals and provides a best practice recommendation for recovering goods in the possession of a franchisee once they have entered some form of insolvency protection.
Case law from the highest German courts on franchise law matters is rare, which makes a recent Federal Court of Justice decision on the subject of bogus self-employment of franchisees – a perennial issue for franchise law practitioners – even more noteworthy. The case concerned claims for payment under a licence agreement and the question of whether the licence agreement was void due to the franchisee's bogus self-employment.
The concept of loyalty is frequently used as a general (and often fallback) principle by franchisees and franchisors in the litigation context. As a franchise agreement cannot identify every illegal behaviour of the parties, loyalty and good faith are often used as key principles to determine what is allowed. The Court of Cassation recently considered the loyalty principle in a case opposing a franchisor and a franchisee in the computing school sector.
In a recent Court of Appeal case, a landlord was unsuccessful in its appeal against a first-instance decision that a 'non-reliance' clause in a lease had attempted to exclude liability for misrepresentation. The decision, which will have ramifications for franchise agreements, demonstrates that such clauses must be fair and reasonable and have regard to the circumstances which were or ought reasonably to have been known to or contemplated by the parties when the contract was made.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently reiterated the fact that franchise agreements are relational contracts and are therefore subject to a heightened duty of good faith pursuant to Quebec civil law. This decision is in line with a series of recent Quebec civil law decisions that have broadly interpreted, and arguably extended, the duty of good faith owed by a franchisor to its franchisees.
Franchisors expanding into the United Kingdom need a thorough knowledge of any UK rules and regulations which may affect them, particularly in a post-Brexit Britain. Understanding the risks and issues and managing those risks through effective structuring and enforceable legal contracts will enable international franchisors to reap the rewards of doing business in one of Europe's largest and most dynamic markets.
The Munich Regional Court I recently established a new precedent for competition restriction, which is prohibited in franchising systems under the Act against Restraints on Competition. The court found references to "participating restaurants" in a franchisor's TV advertising insufficient and in violation of the price maintenance prohibition. This decision deserves special attention as it relates to advertising with non-binding price recommendations, which is common among franchisors.
It has become common practice to include alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provisions in franchise agreements. A recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal serves as a stark reminder to franchisors to ensure that ADR provisions contained in a franchise agreement are properly drafted so that the commencement of disputes thereunder triggers the running of the applicable limitation period.
The issue of whether a franchisee is an employee or an independent contractor has been debated on numerous occasions and was once again raised in a recent Quebec Court of Appeal decision. In its decision, the court emphasised that when analysing whether a franchisee qualifies as an employee or an independent contractor, the courts should look beyond the terms of the agreement between the parties. While this decision may worry certain franchisors, there are a number of mitigating factors to consider.
As part of the promotion of their networks, franchisors often edit websites displaying contact details and other relevant information regarding the franchise network's outlets, whether they are owned by them or operated by franchisees. In a recent decision, the Versailles Court of Appeal held that a franchisor had treated a franchisee's stores on its website unfairly compared with its own stores.
Four former Vision Express franchisees were recently successful in their claim against their franchisor, in which they alleged that they had been induced to enter into their franchise agreements on the basis of false information provided by a Vision Express employee. The case highlights the importance of ensuring that a franchisor's employees stay on message during the sales process and information which is provided to prospective franchisees is scrutinised to ensure its accuracy and relevance to the investment.
A recent Hamburg Regional Court decision is generally understood to have solidified the first franchise-related court judgment on bad faith regarding mediation clauses rendered by the Saarbruecken Higher Regional Court in 2015. However, at second glance, the Hamburg judgment provides a different reasoning for bad faith regarding a mediation objection and might therefore serve as a new application of bad faith in future franchise-related court proceedings regarding mediation clauses.
Franchise arrangements often involve a three-way relationship whereby franchisors enter into commercial leases with landlords and then sublease the rented premises to franchisees. Such leases often contain an exclusivity clause limiting the landlord's ability to lease nearby commercial space to competitors of the franchise network. The Superior Court of Quebec recently confirmed that exclusivity clauses must be interpreted and applied restrictively so as not to unduly interfere with the parties' freedom of contract.