April 14′s blog suggested two ways to improve a franchisor’s form franchise agreement: creating a security interest in the franchisee’s assets and creating a collateral assignment of lease for the lease of franchisee’s business premises.
Here are three more improvements that can be incorporated into many franchise agreements:
– Non-Competition Agreements: Every franchisor should have a non-compete contained in its franchise agreement. But the franchisor must be certain that the scope of both in-term and post-term covenants are not too broad and provide for limited duration and limited territory. The clauses should be drafted to protect the franchisor’s business interests. The provision must take into account the specifics of applicable law. California, for instance, does not allow for such non-competitive restrictions. In Atlantic Bread Company v. Lupton-Smith et al., 285 Ga. 587 (2009), the Supreme Court of Georgia recently held that in-term restrictions are governed by the same strict scrutiny standard as to length and area as post-term restrictions. All limitations in the relevant jurisdictions must be identified and accounted for in the provision to the extent possible. It is generally advisable to include a “savings” clause in the non-competition provision that provides that if any part of the provision is deemed excessive, the court can limit it.
–Trade Secrets and Trademarks: It is essential that the franchisor protect its brand and other intellectual property. This is the life blood of its business. Franchise agreements should contain strong protections of trade secrets.
-The non-competition clause should assist in this by referring specifically to trade secrets;
-The franchise agreement should require that the franchisee obtain a non-disclosure agreement from all of its employees, independent contractors, agents, management, owners, etc.;
-The franchise agreement should provide a form non-disclosure agreement for the franchisee to use;
-The franchisor should develop enforcement procedures and vigorously apply them;
-The franchisor should clearly mark all trade secrets as confidential.
It is important that the franchisor monitor the use of its trademark. The franchise agreement should strictly define franchisee’s permitted use of trademarks. Franchisee’s use must be consistent with franchisor’s plan – color, size, shape, approved advertising formats and mediums (print, tv, radio, internet); franchisee may not use a similar mark in any way; franchisee must not have created a separate internet presence using the mark if prohibited by franchisor. The franchisor should regularly review USPTO and State filings, to be certain that similar marks are not filed. If filed, the franchisor should determine if a mark is confusingly similar and oppose registration. The franchise agreement should provide that the franchisee must participate and cooperate in these endeavors.
– Insurance: In addition to requiring that franchisee obtain the types of liability insurance generally obtained by any business, the franchise agreement should also require the franchisee to obtain employment practices insurance to cover claims alleging sexual harassment and age discrimination. The franchise agreement should also require franchisees to purchase business interruption insurance, the proceeds of which should be included as part of the franchisee’s gross revenues and factored into the franchisee’s royalty payments to the franchisor, if royalties are calculated as a percentage of gross revenues.
An examination of the franchise agreement with which you work in light of these concepts and the ones proposed in our last entry may result in a significant improvement to the structure of the franchise agreement.