April, 2011

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Legal Requirements of an Existing Franchisee Sale of His or Her Outlet; Purchase of Additional Outlets; Extending the Term of an Existing Franchise?

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

An existing franchisee that sells his or her franchised business directly to a third party, without any significant contact with the franchisor does not need to abide by the federal franchise disclosure law, or any state franchise registration or disclosure law.

 The FTC Franchise Rule states, directly from the FTC website found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/franchise/bus70.pdf

“Even if the franchisor has, and exercises, the right to approve or disapprove a subsequent sale (transfer) of a franchised unit, the transferee will not be entitled to receive disclosures unless the franchisor plays some more significant role in the sale. For example, if the franchisor provides financial performance information to the prospective transferee, the franchisor would be required to provide the transferee with its disclosure document.”

 Likewise, in the case of an existing franchisee that purchases one or more additional outlets from the same franchisor for the same brand, the franchisor is not required to provide a disclosure document to such a franchisee exercising a right under the franchise agreement to establish any new outlets.

Finally, the franchisor is not required to provide a disclosure document to a franchisee who chooses to keep its existing outlet post-term either by extending its present franchise agreement or by entering into a new agreement, unless the new relationship is under terms and conditions materially different from the present agreement.  In the case of a materially different franchise agreement, the franchisor must abide by state and federal franchise registration and disclosure laws.

Types of Relationships Covered by Federal and State Franchise Laws. [Part 3]

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

The Payment Requirement.

 The last of the three definitional elements of a franchise covered by the FTC Franchise Rule is that purchasers of the business arrangement must be required to pay to the franchisor as a condition of obtaining a franchise or starting operations, a sum of at least $500 at any time prior to or within the first six months of the commencement of operations of the franchised business.

 Here is what the FTC Franchise Rule states on the “Required Payment” element, directly from the FTC website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/franchise/bus70.pdf

As to what constitutes a payment, the term “payment” is intended to be read broadly, “capturing all sources of revenue that a franchisee must pay to a franchisor or its affiliate for the right to associate with the franchisor, market its goods or services, and begin operation of the business. Often, required payments go beyond a simple franchisee fee, entailing other payments that the franchisee must pay to the franchisor or an affiliate by contract – including the franchise agreement or any companion contract. Required payments may include: initial franchise fee, rent, advertising assistance, equipment and supplies (including such purchases from third parties if the franchisor or its affiliate receives payment as a result of the purchase), training, security deposits, escrow deposits, non-refundable bookkeeping charges, promotional literature, equipment rental and continuing royalties on sales.  Payments which, by practical necessity, a franchisee must make to the franchisor or affiliate also count toward the required payment. A common example of a payment made by practical necessity is a charge for equipment that can only be obtained from the franchisor or its affiliate and no other source.”

Types of Relationships Covered by Federal and State Franchise Laws. [Part 2]

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Here is what the FTC Franchise Rule states on the “Significant Control or Assistance” element, directly from the FTC website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/franchise/bus70.pdf

“The FTC Franchise Rule covers business arrangements where the franchisor will exert or has the authority to exert a significant degree of control over the franchisee’s method of operation, or provide significant assistance in the franchisee’s method of operation.”

 The relevant question is when does such control become significant.  “The more franchisees reasonably rely upon the franchisor’s control or assistance, the more likely the control or assistance will be considered “significant.” Franchisees’ reliance is likely to be great when they are relatively inexperienced in the business being offered for sale or when they undertake a large financial risk. Similarly, franchisees are likely to reasonably rely on the franchisor’s control or assistance if the control or assistance is unique to that specific franchisor, as opposed to a typical practice employed by all businesses in the same industry.

 Further, to be deemed “significant,” the control or assistance must relate to the franchisee’s overall method of operation – not a small part of the franchisee’s business. Control or assistance involving the sale of a specific product that has, at most, a marginal effect on a franchisee’s method of operating the overall business will not be considered in determining whether control or assistance is “significant.”

 For the sake of the Rule, significant types of control include: site approval for unestablished businesses, site design or appearance requirements, hours of operation, production techniques, accounting practices, personnel policies, promotional campaigns requiring franchisee participation or financial contribution, restrictions on customers, and locale or area of operation.

 Significant types of assistance include: formal sales, repair, or business training programs, establishing accounting systems, furnishing management, marketing, or personnel advice, selecting site locations, furnishing systemwide networks and website, and furnishing a detailed operating manual.

 The following activities will not constitute significant control or assistance:  promotional activities, in the absence of additional forms of assistance, (this includes furnishing a distributor with point-of sale advertising displays, sales kits, product samples, and other promotional materials intended to help the distributor in making sales. It also includes providing advertising in such media as radio and television, whether provided solely by the franchisor or on a cooperative basis with franchisees;), trademark controls designed solely to protect the trademark owner’s legal ownership rights in the mark under state or federal trademark laws (such as display of the mark or right of inspection), health or safety restrictions required by federal or state law or regulations, agreements between a bank credit interchange organization and retailers or member banks for the provision of credit cards or credit services, and assisting distributors in obtaining financing to be able to transact business.”

Types of Relationships Covered by Federal and State Franchise Laws. [Part 1]

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Often times I have prospective franchisor clients, that is, clients who believe they have a business concept that can be expanded possibly through licensing or franchising, ask me to explain the differences between licensing and franchising from a legal perspective.  Inevitably, the conversation turns to an explanation from the client as to why the concept is not truly a franchise after all.  As I have explained on this blog previously, while there certainly are relationships that are true licenses, more often than not, many licensing relationships are indeed nothing more than disguised franchises.

 Here is what the FTC Franchise Rule states on the issue, directly from the FTC website found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/franchise/bus70.pdf.  The FTC Franchise Rule covers the offer and sale of franchises. As under the original Rule, a commercial business arrangement is a “franchise” if it satisfies three definitional elements.

 “Specifically, the franchisor must: (1) promise to provide a trademark or other commercial symbol; (2) promise to exercise significant control or provide significant assistance in the operation of the business; and (3) require a minimum payment of at least $500 during the first six months of operations.”

 Be aware that the name given to the business arrangement is irrelevant in determining whether it is covered by the amended Rule.

 “With regard to the trademark element, a franchise entails the right to operate a business that is “identified or associated with the franchisor’s trademark, or to offer, sell, or distribute goods, services, or commodities that are identified or associated with the franchisor’s trademark.” The term “trademark” is intended to be read broadly to cover not only trademarks, but any service mark, trade name, or other advertising or commercial symbol. This is generally referred to as the “trademark” or “mark” element.

 The franchisor need not own the mark itself, but at the very least must have the right to license the use of the mark to others. Indeed, the right to use the franchisor’s mark in the operation of the business – either by selling goods or performing services identified with the mark or by using the mark, in whole or in part, in the business’ name – is an integral part of franchising.

 In fact, a supplier can avoid Rule coverage of a particular distribution arrangement by expressly prohibiting the distributor from using its mark.”