3 common issues with intellectual property licencing agreements
Ambiguity or a lack of detail in licence agreement clauses can lead to differences of opinion between licensee and licensor. In this article, we look at the three most common issues with clauses to help you get the most from your deal.
The licensing industry is currently worth in excess of £250 billion and continues to grow and adapt to changing consumer demands. As well as responding to digital shifts, licensors are becoming more purpose led. In this era of rapid change, it’s vital to monitor the performance and reporting of those you give licences to.
Often audit findings relate to when a contract clause hasn’t been correctly applied, and this results in an error. However, these findings are often easy to discuss and resolve, as they relate to clear deviations from the contract terms.
The key issues arise when the clauses in a licencing contract are ambiguous or lack detail because this can result in a difference in perception between the licensee and the licensor.
In this article, we have identified three of the most common issues when it comes to clauses, and how they can be avoided to ensure both the licensor and licensee are getting a fair and clear deal.
1. Ambiguity over use of intellectual property
Unauthorised use of your intellectual property (IP) can dilute your brand – whether it’s intentional or not. To prevent this, and avoid potential legal issues, it is vital that contracts are very clear when it comes to the use of your IP.
IP licences are often ambiguous in the following areas:
Which territories can your IP be sold and distributed in? You need to list these clearly. And what about countries that online retailers distribute to? It’s important to discuss whether they are included. Licensors should also consider a clause about the legal application if you decide you no longer wish to have your intellectual property sold and represented in a certain country, and how quickly this can be implemented.
Use of your brand that has not been granted
This often happens when there is lack of clarity over what the clause covers. For example, the licence is intended to cover:
- Your brand but not your logo
- Certain characters from a show
- Characters but not limited edition, seasonal or holiday looks
Aspects such as these should be made clear in your terms, by specifically stating what is included, and therefore anything else not stated is by default excluded.
Sales by a connected company that aren’t covered by the contract
It should be made clear in the licensing agreement who the agreement is between and whether or not the rights to the IP can be shared amongst companies within a group. The risk of not having clear clarification when a contract or amendment covers multiple companies within a group, is that it is easy to lose the transparency when it comes to reporting, as transactions between the companies may not be reported on.
Designs being released to the market before approval
There should be a clear route in the agreement as to how a product should be approved before being released to market. Without this, it can result in products diluting your brand, due to large quantities of unapproved designs being made available to customers. You should also clarify what the steps are if a licensee does breach this clause, in case you either decide to pause their production or cancel the contract altogether.
2. Over application of discounts and deductions
Your licensees may be unaware of contractual clauses relating to deductions and discounts – and whether there’s a cap.
Without clear visibility of the calculations inputted into statements, there is a risk that a licensee may not be applying the terms of the discount and deductions caps. To ensure the discounts and deductions have been appropriately applied, a conversation should be had at the start of discussions to understand how they recognise their revenue, and how this is then reported. Otherwise, there is a risk that licensees will be reporting their net sales less any deductions and discounts, rather than based on their gross sales, which can result in understating the revenue reported.
3. Sales of combined products with varying royalty rates
There may be times when royalty rates on products have been agreed in advance, and later on these items are combined. This often results in a lower price for the customer to buy the items combined, rather than individually, which can then result in an issue when calculating the royalties due when the products have varying royalty rates. Therefore, it should be agreed in advance how the royalties on bundles/sets are calculated based on the weighting of the sets. Ways in which a blended rate could be calculated are as follows:
- Even split - the royalty rate of each item makes up the same proportion of the combined royalty rate – i.e. product X has a royalty rate of 8% and product Y has a royalty rate of 10%, therefore the combined royalty rate is 9%
- Weighted split – the royalty rate of each item is multiplied by the original value of the item divided by the original value of the two items if bought separately – i.e. product X has a royalty rate of 8% and has an original sales value of £10 and product Y has a royalty rate of 10% and has an original sales value of £15. Therefore, the combined royalty rate is 9.2%, being 60% of the 10% royalty rate, plus 40% of the 8% royalty rate
The importance of an audit clause
We often find that audit clauses have not been included in licensing contracts, or if they have, they do not include enough detail. Having an audit clause makes it easy for a licensor to approach a licensee about being audited. We recommend an audit clause includes the following:
- Period from expiry in which they can still audit the contract
- Period of time in which the audit can cover
- If the findings from an audit are over a set percentage (usually 3-5%) of the royalties reported in the audited period, then the licensee will have to pay for the cost of the audit
By having an audit clause, it helps incentivise licensees to ensure they are reporting correctly in order to minimise the risk of being audited.
How Evelyn Partners can help you
Our dedicated team at Evelyn Partners can help your business make sure robust licencing agreements are in place, minimising any scope for error and protecting your brand. Please do get in contact to discuss how we can help you.