Tag Archives: contract

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What You need to Know about the “Automatic Renewal” Clause

If you have entered into a contract that is no longer meeting your needs and you call to cancel the agreement, you may be surprised to learn that you are bound by the contract to continue paying the other party for the same amount of time as the original term of the contract. How does this happen? The terms and conditions of certain contracts contain an “automatic renewal” clause. This type of provision is also referred to as an “evergreen clause.”

An example of an automatic renewal clause is something along these lines:

All terms contained herein will automatically renew for the same length of time as the initial term of the contract unless either party provides the other with at least thirty (30) days written notice of termination of the contract prior to the expiration of the current term.

In other words, unless you notify the other party in writing at least 30 days before the current contract term expires that you do not want to renew the contract, the agreement is automatically renewed. An evergreen clause can be found in a variety of types of contracts, especially service, supply and distribution agreements.

So, is an automatic renewal enforceable? Like most things in life, “it depends.” Many courts strictly construe this type of contractual language in commercial contracts that do not involve a consumer. If the language is clear and unambiguous, the court is likely to consider it enforceable and extend the agreement for another term if proper and timely notice to cancel is not given.

Several states have passed laws attempting to make the use of automatic renewal clauses more difficult. Many require the evergreen clause to be in all bolded and capitalized letters in order to make the provision more conspicuous. Some states go further and require the party attempting to enforce the automatic renewal to provide an advance reminder to the other party that the automatic renewal date is approaching. Failure to comply with the statutory requirements can render an automatic renewal clause unenforceable.

If you have questions regarding business law matters, contact us today to schedule an initial consultation. Leslie S. Marell has been practicing business and commercial law for over 25 years. She is established in private practice and has extensive legal experience counseling companies in the areas of business contracts and transactions, purchasing, sales, marketing, computer and technology law, employment law and day to day legal matters. Let us provide your company the advice and guidance you need.

 

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Do You Need to Escape a Contract?

If you are bound by a contract that is no longer working for you, it is important to review the term and termination clauses in the agreement. The term of a contract is the amount of time it remains effective. The termination clauses outline the various ways the contract can end.

Term of the Contract

Most contracts set forth the “effective date” or the start date of the contract and a “termination date” which is the date the contract expires. It is common for an agreement to provide ways the contract can be renewed, which means that a new term for the contract is established for a set period of time. It is important to note that if your contract contains an automatic renewal clause, the agreement will be automatically renewed unless one of the parties provides notice of its intent to terminate the contract.

It is imperative that you understand the term of your contracts and your termination and renewal options. You should schedule the termination date and any deadlines for giving notice of your intent to terminate to avoid automatic renewal. You don’t want to miss your opportunity to escape a burdensome contract by missing this deadline!

Contract Termination

It is important to understand the termination provisions of your contract. The simplest way to end a contract is “without cause,” which means the terminating party does not provide a reason for the termination. You must typically provide written notice of termination to the other party.

Particularly from the Buyer perspective, it is extremely important that you negotiate such a termination without cause provision into your contract. If you no longer require the goods or services and therefore, wish to terminate the contract, this clause is one of the few mechanism that permits you to do so. Even if you have a legitimate business reason to terminate, contract law does not permit you to do so without an express provision in your contract giving you that right.

Your contract may also outline how to terminate the contract “with cause,” which means either party can end the contract if certain specified events occur. Depending on the event, the contract may allow the other party an opportunity to “cure” the event and avoid termination. Otherwise, the termination for cause can be immediately effective upon notice to the other party. It is common for termination with cause to result in a dispute over whether or not cause actually existed or if it was properly cured. Thus, if you intend to terminate a contract for cause, it is imperative that you carefully document the reasons for cause and record all events that provide you with cause to terminate. Finally, you should note that there may be certain obligations that extend past the termination of the contract, such as confidentiality provisions.

If you are considering terminating an existing contract, call Leslie Marell for help in reviewing the requirements of the term and termination clauses.

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Contract Tips for Avoiding Data Breaches – Part 2

Hopefully you have read our first blog on this topic titled Contract Tips for Avoiding Data Breaches – Part 1.” Below are more contractual provisions you should consider implementing into your vendor agreements to help ensure your confidential data is protected.

Notification Requirements

If there is a breach in security or any impermissible uses of the information, the vendor should be required to provide you with immediate notification. You may want to have the ability to investigate the breach with your own resources either on-site or remotely. Also, you will want to include a provision requiring the vendor to notify you of any governmental or other third-party requests for disclosure of information.

Subcontractors

If subcontractors are used by the vendor, you may want to be notified of or have the right to approve the use of third-parties. You may want to have access to the third-party’s security protocols and certifications.

Data Center Location

The contract should specify the geographical location of the data center. You should consult with your attorney regarding whether this could subject you to the jurisdiction of that location.

Service Level Agreements

If you have negotiated certain guarantees for access or scheduled maintenance during times that will result in minimal disruption, your contract should provide for specified monetary credits for the failure to meet such service level requirements.

Indemnification

Your contract should set forth liability limitations and the vendor’s obligation to indemnify your business for harm caused to third-parties by the vendor’s breach of confidentiality obligations, noncompliance with the law, or other similar types of conduct.

Data Breach Insurance

The contract should require the vendor to obtain adequate cyber-insurance that covers both the loss of data and the costs of responding to a data breach, which should include reasonable attorney’s fees.

There are several other contractual provisions that may be necessary for your industry or unique needs. If you are interested in learning more about protecting your business with your vendor contracts or how we can assist you with other business-related matters, contact Leslie S. Marell today.

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Contract Tips for Avoiding Data Breaches – Part 1

There has been widespread concern throughout every industry about how to safeguard and protect confidential information from data breaches. Cybercrime is becoming one of the top concerns for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Robert Mueller, FBI director, has stated that “[t]here are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked, and those that will be. Even that is merging into one category: those that have been hacked and will be again.”

The damage that can result from a data breach can range from business interruption and damage to your company’s reputation to lawsuits and regulatory fines. As a result, your business should mitigate its exposure by implementing formal policies and procedures, incorporating security technologies, training employees and buying cyber insurance. It is also important to consider steps you can take in negotiating, drafting and renewing your company’s contracts to prevent and avoid data breaches.

Pre-Contract Due Diligence

When you are considering using a third-party vendor that may house or otherwise have access to protected data, you should conduct due diligence in determining any security issues that should be resolved through the contracting process. It is effective to address this issue while you have maximum leverage before the contract is signed. You may want to require limited access to your systems or network, or even have a specific person with the vendor assigned to safeguard confidentiality and integrity.

Contractual Agreement

It is imperative that the contract clearly states who owns the information. Depending on your industry, the vendor may have full control over the data and have notification obligations under the law if it leaves its control, but you want to maintain ownership of the information. You may also want to include contractual language that:

  • limits how the data may be used
  • requires the vendor to return or destroy all of the data in the vendor’s possession upon termination of the contract
  • allows you to request confirmation that certain certifications or third-party reviews of the vendor’s system has occurred
  • provides for the encryption of data when it is being transferred or when not being used
  • requires background checks on employees with access to your protected information
  • provides that security updates and patches will be applied as necessary
  • sets forth any additional security measures that may be necessary (such as security code or card required for access to the data center)

The above are the initial considerations for protecting your digital data in vendor contracts. Our next blog will continue discussing this topic and cover more in-depth contractual provisions to include in your vendor agreements, so please check back.

To ensure that your vendor contracts provide you with the most protection from liability available, contact Leslie S. Marell to schedule an appointment. Our office is located in Torrance, California, but we proudly serve businesses of all sizes from all over the country.

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Online Click-Through Contracts

Have you ever read through all the terms and conditions of an online contract before clicking the “I agree” button? For most people, the answer is no and they would likely be surprised to find out what they are agreeing to. In fact, there are reports of various websites sticking in clauses where the user actually agrees to give up their rights to their first-born child just to see if anyone catches it! As predicted, many people agreed to it.

It is hard to be too judgmental, however, because many websites have online terms of use agreements that are ridiculously long. It has been estimated that if you read all of the terms of the privacy policies you are presented with over a one year period, it would take you more than 200 hours! It seems that clicking without reading has become a common occurrence in our world of technology. However, this can cause big problems when a dispute arises. Many online agreements actually waive the ability to file class action lawsuits and compel all disagreements to be resolved through arbitration. It is also common to see various warranties disclaimed and binding the user to a certain jurisdiction and venue for legal actions.

It is important to distinguish between click-through (or click-wrap) contracts and browse-wrap agreements. Click-through terms are ones in which the user specifically consents to them. By contrast, a browse-wrap agreement does not require the user to specifically agree to the terms , and the user must affirmatively click a hyperlink to access and actually see the terms… To learn more about browse-wrap agreements, please read our blog titled “Online Contract Formation: Are your “Terms of Use” binding?”

Click-through or click-wrap agreements are the preferred method for making your contract enforceable through your website or mobile app. They have been recognized by several courts as being valid and enforceable contracts because the user has provided explicit assent.

In general, courts have been hesitant to enforce browse-wrap agreements. Courts have reasoned that users are more likely to be apprised of all terms when they are forced to affirmatively accept those terms that are placed in front of them. However, this does not completely discount browse-wrap agreements. When a website operator can show that the user had actual or constructive notice of the terms, those terms might then be considered binding on the user.

It is also advisable to keep an eye on the Federal Trade Commission’s attempts to standardize mobile app terms. The FTC is aiming to make mobile privacy disclosures and agreements so they can be easily read and understood.

If you have questions regarding business law matters, contact us today to schedule an initial consultation. Leslie S. Marell has been practicing business and commercial law for over 25 years. She is established in private practice and has extensive legal experience counseling companies in the areas of business contracts and transactions, purchasing, sales, marketing, computer and technology law, employment law and day to day legal matters. Let us provide your company the advice and guidance you need.

 

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Should Your Contract be Fully Integrated?

When you have a written contract and a dispute arises, often one party will claim that the contract meaning is different than what it says. In an effort to prove their claim, the party typically attempts to submit external evidence to alter or add to the agreement. However, Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which is applicable to all contracts for the sale of goods, prevents the use of external evidence where the parties executed a fully integrated contract.

A fully integrated contract is one that provides that it is the “final written expression” of the parties’ agreement and no prior discussion or agreement can be invoked to add or change the agreement A fully integrated contract will contain a clause entitled “Entire Agreement” or “Integration” and usually appears at the end of the document.

The Seventh Circuit recently tackled this issue in the case of Druckzentrum Harry Jung GmbH & Co. KG v. Motorola Mobility, LLC, 774 F.3d 410 (December 18, 2014). The Druckzentrum contract contained a provision that stated the contract was the full understanding of the parties and it superseded everything else. However, Druckzentrum wanted to present extrinsic (outside) evidence as proof that the parties intended there would be exclusivity, even though the contract contained no such mention of exclusivity.

In applying § 2-202 of the UCC, the Seventh Circuit determined that the use of extrinsic evidence to explain or enhance the contract was prohibited. Druckzentrum argued that its extrinsic evidence fell within the exception in § 2-202(b), which permits evidence of consistent additional terms. The Court ruled that the exception does not apply if the contract is states that it is wholly integrated.

Druckzentrum made an additional attempt to fit within the § 2-202(b) exception by arguing that the contract was not fully integrated since it included other documents by reference. However, the Seventh Circuit held that because the contract specifically incorporated certain documents, any documents not specifically incorporated where necessarily excluded. As a result, the court ruled against Druckzentrum on summary judgment.

IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY:

Most business contracts contain entire agreement clauses. When negotiating and signing your contract, it’s important to ensure that all deal points discussed be included into the final contract and that the language accurately reflects the deal. Otherwise, you will have a difficult time introducing evidence of other terms or conflicting terms if a dispute arises.

To learn more about fully integrated contracts or how we can assist you with other business-related matters, contact Leslie S. Marell today.

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Determining the “Materiality” of a Breach of Contract

It is likely that your business contract contains a provision that grants the customer the ability to terminate the agreement without payment of penalties in the event of a “material breach.” Unfortunately, many contracts fail to identify what constitutes a material breach. Without this clarification in the contract, the determination must typically be made by a judge when a dispute arises.

What does the court consider “material breach?” There is no standard test or bright-line rule to guide the court in making this decision, so you never want it to get that far. It is far better to protect both parties’ interests through careful negotiations and planning when drafting the contract. Below are a few considerations to include in a contract to help protect your company in the event of a material breach:

  • Set forth the exact performance-based termination rights. For example, the right to terminate the contract may be triggered if a service provider fails to meet a specified service level for three consecutive months. The more specific you can be in defining what constitutes a material breach, the better.
  • Define the damages available when a material breach occurs. If liquidated damages are used, remember that they will only provide an incentive to perform if they are set at levels equal to the value and cost of the services. In other words, make sure it is not cheaper to pay the liquidated damages than it is to deliver or perform. You want the remedies available to motivate performance, not provide a cheaper way to get out of the contractual obligations.
  • Reserve the right of election. You should also reserve the right to elect a remedy other than monetary relief if a breach occurs. This allows you to prevent the service provider from curing nonperformance by paying the liquidated damages. Examples of non-monetary remedies include the right to terminate the contract, injunctive relief and specific performance.
  • Conduct the relationship consistent with the contract terms. It is important to enforce or preserve your rights under the agreement. If you allow an exception for nonperformance, you must explicitly affirm your right to relief while simultaneously disclaiming that right for the specific circumstance. In other words, you want to provide written notice to your supplier that while you are permitting an exception in this one situation, you are not giving up your rights to enforce on time performance in the future. It is difficult to rely on the contractual breaches as the basis for contract termination if you have a history of turning a blind eye.

To learn more about how to effectively draft contracts or how we can assist you with other business-related matters, contact Leslie S. Marell today.

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Change Orders & How They Impact Your Contract

When you are negotiating and drafting a contract with a supplier, it is imperative to include a well thought-out provision regarding how changes will be handled. The types of things you should address in the changes provision depends upon the product or service you are buying. Below are a few examples of the different issues you should consider addressing:
• When a change is necessary, the contract should require the supplier to provide a detailed estimate of the cost of the change.
• The contract should require that the supplier receive written approval from a designated department/ representative before proceeding with any change.
• The contract should provide that if the parties cannot agree on the cost of the change, the buyer can require the supplier to perform the work based upon a time and materials basis. Additionally, if a time and materials basis is implemented, the contract should set forth the rates that will be paid for the different categories of labor or processes.
• Language should be included that provides the basis for direct cost for any materials required as part of the change. It should also address what can be included as a direct expense and what must be provided for in their overhead rate.
• The changes provisions should detail the permitted percentages for contributions to the supplier’s overhead and profit, if allowed.
• The changes provision should outline the documentation that is necessary to substantiate the costs charged, including copies of invoices and timesheets, and the right to audit the documentation that is not required to be submitted.
• The contract should set forth the right to inspect the work in process to confirm any time, labor or material charges.
• The changes formula should address how deductions in the scope of work will be managed.

A buyer’s leverage in negotiating changes will vary throughout the business relationship. If you have conducted business with the supplier for a lengthy period of time, the supplier is more likely to treat you fairly in order to continue to receive your business. In contrast, if this is your first transaction, the supplier may require more oversight. The safest approach is to protect your interests regardless of the business relationship.

If you need assistance, providing for change orders in your contracts or you have questions regarding your company’s contractual needs, contact Leslie S. Marell for help. We serve as general counsel to clients who do not require, or choose not to employ, a full-time lawyer in-house. Call today to schedule your initial consultation.

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What Does “Affiliates” Really Mean?

It is common for many licensing agreements to grant a license to a particular entity and its “affiliates.” The contact may even define what the term “affiliates” means, but this doesn’t always mean that the definition includes all of the parties that were intended to be included.

For example, does a license that is granted to an entity and its affiliates include only those affiliates that existed on the effective date of the license agreement? Does it include affiliates that are established after the contract was formed? According to the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, the license is limited to affiliates that were in existence on the contract effective date, unless the agreement expressly states otherwise.

It is typically beneficial for the licensee if the contract broadly defines affiliates, but the New York case demonstrates that it may also be beneficial to the licensor under some circumstances. In the case of Ellington v. EMI Music, Inc., the parties’ dispute centered on the terms of a royalty provision of a 1961 copyright renewal agreement. The parties to the contract were the legendary musician Duke Ellington and a group of music publishers, including the predecessor to EMI Music. Ellington and his heirs were entitled to 50% of the net revenues resulting from the sales by EMI and its affiliates.

Subsequent to the 1961 agreement, EMI created new affiliated foreign entities that were granted sublicenses. EMI paid the heirs of Ellington half of the net revenue that EMI received from the new, affiliated foreign sub-licensees. However, Ellington’s heirs argued that because the foreign entities were affiliates of EMI, they were also entitled to 50% of the foreign affialites net revenues as sub-licensees as well.

The court rejected the heirs’ argument because the contract did not contain forward-looking language. Thus, without the written agreement showing the parties’ intent to bind newly created affiliates, the term affiliates only included those affiliates existing at the time the agreement was executed.

As the Ellington case demonstrates, it is possible that having a broad definition of “affiliates” could benefit the licensor, especially if it could bring more entities into a more lucrative royalty structure.

If you have questions regarding business law matters, contact us today to schedule an initial consultation. Leslie S. Marell has been practicing business and commercial law for over 25 years. She is established in private practice and has extensive legal experience counseling companies in the areas of business contracts and transactions, purchasing, sales, marketing, computer and technology law, employment law and day to day legal matters. Let us provide your company the advice and guidance you need.

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The Scope of the License in Software Licensing Agreements

Licensor’s Perspective

If you are the owner of software and you want to allow other parties the right to use the software while maintaining ownership and control over it, you need a software licensing agreement. As a licensor, you can limit the scope of the license by defining how and for what purpose the licensee is allowed to use the software. A restricted license only allows the licensee to use the object code of the software, not the software’s source code. A licensor may also want to further restrict the license by limiting:

  • Fields of use (for example, for use only at the licensee’s internal business purposes)
  • Geographic use restrictions
  • The number of concurrent users allowed
  • The hardware upon which the licensed software may be used
  • The ability to transfer the software license

A licensor is more likely to seek additional revenue by enforcing the scope restrictions in an economic downturn. Thus, restrictions on the ability to transfer the license can allow the licensor the ability to extract additional fees if the licensee wants to assign the license.

Licensee’s Perspective

A licensee typically seeks to negotiate a broader license to help ensure it has adequate rights to use the software as needed. If a licensee does not sufficiently negotiate the ‘terms of use’ and later discovers it must exceed the restrictions, the licensee will have to renegotiate and likely pay additional fees. Thus, it is important for the licensee to carefully consider what its future needs of the software will be. If this is not a known factor, the licensee may consider including a means for increasing the limits imposed by the licensor in the contract, and specifying the amount to be paid for the changes. Finally, and particularly if the licensee is paying for development of all or a portion of the software, a licensee may wish to negotiate to have the exclusive right to use the licensed software in order to prevent other parties or competitors from being able to use the software.

When parties are negotiating a software licensing agreement, it is imperative that both the licensor and the licensee pay close attention to the provision regarding the scope of the license.

If you have questions regarding business law matters, contact us today to schedule an initial consultation. Leslie S. Marell has been practicing business and commercial law for over 25 years. She is established in private practice and has extensive legal experience counseling companies in the areas of business contracts and transactions, purchasing, sales, marketing, computer and technology law, employment law and day to day legal matters. Let us provide your company the advice and guidance you need.