Category Archives: Contract drafting

Subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts: exclusive?

inclusiveA small, but important, contract-drafting point: imagine a contract clause that says that disputes will be subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts. Should we interpret this to mean that the English courts will have exclusive jurisdiction, or might it mean that the English courts have only non-exclusive jurisdiction?

A well-drafted contract will state explicitly which law and jurisdiction governs the contract, and whether the jurisdiction is exclusive or non-exclusive.

If the contract states that English jurisdiction is exclusive, the parties must go to the English courts. If a party starts an action in another court (let’s say in China), the English court may order that party to stop proceeding in the Chinese courts. If the order is not complied with, the English court may commit the non-complying party to prison for contempt of court.

If the contract states that English jurisdiction is non-exclusive, a party can ask an English, Chinese or any other court to hear the case. An English court is likely to accept, based on the jurisdiction clause. If there is no jurisdiction clause at all, an English court might accept jurisdiction simply because the contract states that English law applies. A Chinese court might accept, eg if there is a strong connection with China in relation to the parties, the place of execution of the contract, or the place of performance of the contract.The first court to hear an action over the contract may issue an order to prevent a party from starting an action in another court. This would be on the grounds that the first court is “seised” of the action, and not because of the (non-exclusive) jurisdiction clause.

csav2A recent case in the English Court of Appeal illustrates these points. Hin-Pro International Logistics Limited v Compania Sud Americana De Vapores S.A. [2015] EWCA Civ 401, was reported on BAILII last week.

The case concerned a shipping contract – a bill of lading. Cargo was carried by sea from China to Venezuela. The claim was that the cargo had been released without production of the original bills. The relevant part of the jurisdiction clause read as follows:

This Bill of Lading and any claim or dispute arising hereunder shall be subject to English law and the jurisdiction of the English High Court of Justice in London. If, notwithstanding the foregoing, any proceedings are commenced in another jurisdiction, such proceeding shall be referred to ordinary courts of law.

The Court of Appeal interpreted this clause as giving exclusive jurisdiction to the English courts, even though the word “exclusive” does not appear in the clause. The court reviewed a substantial body of case law that supported this conclusion.

Hin-Pro’s counsel argued that the second sentence of the clause showed that the parties accepted that they could start an action elsewhere, but the court disagreed. This sentence was concerned more with the situation where another country’s court did not accept the exclusive jurisdiction clause. It did not affect the interpretation of the first sentence by the English courts.

The interpretation point is clear, at least for the English courts. However, best practice in contract drafting requires you to state explicitly whether the jurisdiction is exclusive:

  • for the sake of clarity among the parties, not all of whom will have read the English case law
  • to avoid court disputes
  • to cater for the possibility that other courts may not agree with the English Court of Appeal (eg the UK Supreme Court, or a foreign court).

If this blog had any sense of decorum, it would stop there. However, IP Draughts cannot resist mentioning some other points that come up in the judgment.

  1. Catch me if you can. One of the parties in this case, Hin-Pro, was a Chinese company. It started court proceedings in China. At first instance in the English High Court, the judge ordered that Hin-Pro cease participation in the Chinese court proceedings because of the exclusive jurisdiction clause. Hin-Pro’s sole director was a Miss Su Wei. Apparently she ignored the order. The English judge committed her to prison for 3 months for contempt of court. As the Court of Appeal drily noted: “Miss Wei has not yet been apprehended.”
  2. csavContra proferentem rule. The contract was drafted by the other party, known as CSAV. CSAV is a long-established shipping company. The Court of Appeal considered whether the contra proferentem rule might assist Hin-Pro. In certain circumstances, this rule requires that an ambiguous contract term be interpreted against the interests of the party who drafted it. A version of this rule, in the US, seems to have led to a boilerplate clause being included in many US contracts, that states that the contract is a joint drafting effort and it should not be interpreted strictly against either party. The court’s conclusion was that the rule didn’t assist Hin-Pro in this case, for a variety of reasons, not least because the clause was not ambiguous, and it could benefit either party.
  3. No understand English? Hin-Pro’s counsel argued that many of the users of the contract would not have English as their first language, and many would understand the clause as granting non-exclusive jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal disagreed:

I do not accept Hin-Pro’s submission that the fact that the bills of lading will probably be issued to companies staffed by those whose first language is not English should affect the way in which they are to be interpreted, or that the court should endeavour to determine what the words would mean to a person in that category. This would be an exercise fraught with difficulty, not least because it would, potentially, produce different results according to the non-English first language chosen, and require a determination, in many cases incapable of ready resolution, of which first language the reasonable man is to be taken as speaking. In agreeing in English to an English law contract the parties must be taken to have agreed that it shall be interpreted with all the nuances of the English language and in the way that a speaker whose first or only language was English would do so.

But which version of the English language should Miss Wei be taken to understand? UK, US, Australian? IP Draughts has doubts over whether an intimate knowledge of idiomatic English helps you to know whether “subject to the jurisdiction” means exclusive or non-exclusive jurisdiction.

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Managing the negotiation of multi-party research agreements

herding catsIP Draughts was recently instructed to assist a university client with the drafting and negotiation of a research collaboration agreement between 33 parties. He offers the following suggestions for managing a process of this kind, based on this and earlier experiences. The suggestions assume that you or your client are responsible for leading and managing the negotiations.

These suggestions could be relevant to many kinds of multi-party agreement. It so happens that, in the present case, the research is funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 funding programme. Under the funding rules, the parties are required to enter into a consortium agreement (another name for a research collaboration agreement) before the funding agreement is signed. IP Draughts’ client, as Coordinator of the project, has the responsibility to ensure that this happens.

horizon 2020None of the suggestions is revolutionary. What is important, in IP Draughts’ view, is following a negotiation process that is adapted for negotiating with large numbers of parties, communicating well with the parties, having a clear timetable for the different stages of the negotiations, and allocating sufficient time and resources to ensure that the process is followed through to a conclusion.

  1. Establish a timetable and process. Work backward from the date when the agreement must be signed. Split the available time into blocks that give a sufficient period for each round of negotiations. Make sure enough time is allowed to prepare the first draft and to prepare comments on that first draft. It may be possible to reduce the time allowed for later rounds. Produce a written timetable and try to get it agreed by the parties.This will have two desirable effects: (1) it will inspire confidence that you are managing the process properly; and (2) it will enable you to keep the negotiations “on track”, and make it easier for you to disregard comments that are not made on time.
  2. Use a well-regarded template agreement. If possible, and if the client agrees that it is appropriate, base your draft agreement on a template that is commonly-used in the industry sector. Doing this, and telling the parties that you are doing this, should help to reassure them that they don’t need to “reinvent the wheel” by makingdesca lots of comments on the draft. You are trying to minimise a negotiation process that has the potential to be very unwieldy with large numbers of parties. In the present case, the parties have agreed to base the consortium agreement on an industry template known as the DESCA agreement. It is not perfect (and IP Draughts spent time cleaning up some of its style and content) but using it is likely to be more productive, in the present case, than producing a better but unfamiliar document.
  3. Spend time on the first draft. Don’t be rushed by colleagues who have no idea what goes into an agreement of this kind, into sending out a first draft that has not been carefully thought through (eg a template agreement that has not been adapted to the circumstances of the project). Be willing to use some of the precious negotiation timetable to get the first draft right. You are trying to manage a negotiation process that could easily get out of hand with numerous parties from different countries. Sending out a good first draft should reduce the volume of comments. Developing a good draft depends on taking detailed instructions from the client, eg on issues such as project content, governance, and IP issues.
  4. Communicate. Explain the drafting and negotiation process to the parties, and keep explaining as you go along. Make it seem reasonable (which of course it will be). Tell them what to expect, and deliver against those expectations. Try to make sure that you are communicating with the right people – ask each party to provide the name and contact details of the person who will be leading the contractual negotiations, eg a lawyer or contracts manager.
  5. Establish a workable review process. In the present case, getting back 32 marked-up drafts of the agreement would be a logistical nightmare. Consider sending out a comments table, on which you summarise each clause of the draft agreement (perhaps identifying any deviations from the template on which it is based) and have a blank column of the table on which you invite parties to insert their comments, instead of producing a new draft. Confirm that you will do your best to address comments, as long as they are consistent with the objectives of the consortium. This approach should have two desirable effects: (1) limiting the number of comments, eg on drafting points (it is very tempting to make drafting comments when you are marking up a draft), and (2) giving you greater flexibility to draft wording to reflect the principles, rather than feeling obliged to accept specific drafting, which will sometimes be sub-optimal or inconsistent with the drafting style of the rest of the document.
  6. Try to set expectations for later rounds of comments. After the first set of comments has been received and assessed, and second draft of the agreement is issued, ask people to limit their further comments to essential points, with a view to reducing the volume of comments at each round. This won’t always work, as some parties may just keep plugging away for all of their points to be accepted, but at least you can try. It may help to set this expectation by explaining it to the parties at the outset of the negotiation process.
  7. Build in time at the end. No matter how strictly you try to enforce a timetable, there will always be someone who doesn’t follow it, or who insists on points even if you think they are not workable or consistent with the larger picture (eg if other parties have made comments that contradicts those points). You may need a few days leeway before the hard deadline, to resolve any last minute issues. On a different point, you need to build in time for getting the agreement signed. Some parties may say things like “our only authorised signatory is on holiday and won’t be back for a week”.
  8. sign hereAgree the signing process in advance. It is good to explain to people what they must do to sign and return the agreement, so that there are no misunderstandings or disagreements over whether a party has formally entered into the agreement. A common method is to get each party to apply an ink signature to a copy of the final agreement (which has probably been circulated by the lead party in an uneditable pdf version), scan the signature page into the computer, and email an electronic copy of that signature page to the lead party. It might be intended, for example, that an organision makes an unconditional offer to enter into the agreement when it sends that electronic copy to the coordinating party’s representative by email, and that the agreement as a whole comes into effect when the coordinator’s representative sends out an email to all parties, confirming that he has received signed copies from all of them. At least under English law, the key point is to agree (expressly or by implication) what the process will be. See this Law Society practice note on signing agreements by virtual means. English law is usually flexible (at least in the case of agreements under hand) as to how the parties formally enter into a contract. In some cases it may also be desirable to agree with the other parties, at the start of the negotiations, what will happen if some but not all of them sign. Can the agreement go ahead if a few people don’t sign? Should a  mechanism for this be written into the collaboration agreement? That won’t work in the present case, as all parties must enter into the consortium agreement before the funding agreement is signed.

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Royalty-stacking clauses

When negotiating royalty-stacking clauses, make sure you don't get fleeced!

When negotiating royalty-stacking clauses, make sure you don’t get fleeced!

One of the pleasures of teaching is learning from your audience. This happened in abundance recently when IP Draughts, presently in Australia, delivered his advanced IP licensing course to a group of in-house lawyers and licensing managers. In fact, he delivered the course twice to the same organisation: last Friday to a team in their close-to-Sydney office, and yesterday to another team in their close-to-Melbourne office.

IP Draughts’ knowledge of Australian suburbs has increased greatly, but this posting will focus on legal issues rather than the architecture of Melbourne bungalows, or the surprise felt by a Brit who learns that St Kilda is close to Richmond.

Royalty-stacking refers to the situation where a licensee must pay royalties to multiple parties in order to commercialise a product. The royalties are said to be stacked, one on top of another. A licensee may seek to negotiate a clause in his first licence agreement, stating that if he has to pay a royalty to another IP owner, the royalties payable under the first licence agreement will be reduced. These clauses are known as royalty-stacking clauses.

Two key issues arise when such clauses are negotiated:

  1. In what circumstances will the clause operate. In particular, is its operation limited to the situation where the licensee must obtain the third party licence in order to practise the intellectual property licensed under the first agreement? Alternatively, may the clause apply even where the third party licence relates to “add-on” technology that is not strictly required in order to practise the licensed IP under the first agreement but which is useful for the final marketed product? Usually, a licensor will wish to limit the clause to the first of these alternatives. An example of the latter alternative might be where the first licence is in respect of a pharmaceutical drug, and the licensee combines the drug with a drug-delivery technology, licensed under the second agreement.
  2. What is the formula for making deductions from the first royalty? Is all or only a part of the third party royalty deducted (eg 50%)? Is it deducted from net sales or directly from the first royalty? Is it subject to a cap or floor, eg that the first royalty should not be reduced by more than 50%?

Licence agreements vary significantly in how they address these issues, and not all licence agreements have royalty-stacking clauses. In IP Draughts’ experience, some parties negotiate tailored clauses while others rely on what they perceive to be a “standard” clause, culled from some earlier agreement or templeate.

Whatever the clause says, if enough money is at stake its correct interpretation may be litigated: see the leading UK case of Cambridge Antibody Technology v Abbott, decided in about 2003 (look it up on Google) which concerned a royalty-stacking clause in a licence agreement in respect of the market-leading product known as HUMIRA.

In IP Draughts’ Australian talks, several interesting points came up in discussion that he had not fully considered before. From a licensor’s perspective:

  1. Should the licensee be required to satisfy the first licensor that he needed to take the second licence and that the terms of the second licence were appropriate? Should the first licensor be involved in the negotiation of the second license between the second licensor and the licensee, to ensure that the first licensor is not financially disadvantaged? (IP Draughts perceives a danger that if this is insisted upon, it may make the licensee inclined to put more of the onus on the first licensor to “sort out” third party IP problems.)
  2. Should the first licensor have a right to audit the terms of the second licence to ensure that the correct deductions have been made? How will this be affected by the confidentiality terms of the second licence? Will the second licensee be willing to have the terms of its agreement disclosed to the first licensor?
  3. Do these royalty stacking clauses make the assumption that deductions have to be made from the “first” licence agreement (in which the clause appears)? Are there situations in which it should be the other way around, ie any deductions should be made from the other licence agreement?

To IP Draughts’ mind, these are all good questions, which are not always addressed in negotiations. Readers, what is your experience? Should these clauses get more tailored negotiation than they typically receive at present? How, in your view, should they be structured? Should they be included at all?

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Let’s get rid of the ratchet men

two wayLast week, IP Draughts co-presented a two-day course on clinical trial agreements. With practice-based courses, the discussion becomes interesting, at least for the presenter, when the people attending provide their own insights on the topics being discussed. This happened in abundance last week, and IP Draughts is grateful to all who contributed.

A theme that emerged in this course was whether a company’s template agreements should focus solely on providing maximum protection for the company, or instead should try to provide a balanced set of reasonable obligations on both parties.

What prompted the discussion was IP Draughts taking the class through the terms of a US biotech company’s template clinical trials agreement. The terms were excessively one-sided, giving the company maximum flexibility to tell the investigator what to do or not do.  They seemed to ignore the fact that the investigator has certain responsibilities under EU regulations to be responsible for its own actions and to seek consent from regulatory bodies (eg ethics committees), rather than just dance to the sponsoring company’s tune. It was interesting to compare these terms with the terms that are generally used in the UK, as issued by the Department of Health and negotiated between interested parties. The latter terms are much more pro-investigator, but they also try to address issues of concern to both parties including their regulatory obligations.

The wider issue is whether a company should have standard contract terms that seek to provide maximum protection to the company and largely ignore the interests of the other party. This type of approach is common in some market sectors. In M&A and some financial transactions, it seems that a buyer/investor will often wish to include in the agreement as many provisions as possible to protect its interests and minimise its risks. Or at least, they won’t tell their lawyers to minimise the use of legalistic contract terms, which may amount to the same thing.

This seems to have led to the proliferation of practices that, in other market sectors, can seem ludicrously aggressive and one-sided, eg demanding indemnities in respect of all breaches of warranty, having a party “represent and warrant” (supposedly to give additional remedies in tort as well as contract), and so on. It seems that lawyers in those sectors rarely stand up to their clients and tell them to stop being extreme and to stick to some simple, balanced terms. That just isn’t “done”. A forratchetmer colleague of IP Draughts, a corporate lawyer, called the lawyers who indulged in this type of competitive negotiation “ratchet men”, because they would squeeze out a concession, bank it, then move on to demand another, moving only in one direction like a ratchet mechanism.

In IP Draughts’ world, lawyers are usually “on tap” rather than “on top”. In other words, they are there as a resource but do not usually dictate the structure and agenda of negotiations. In this world, there is pressure to keep contract terms as simple as possible, and not to take extreme positions, because it is not efficient and does not lead to harmonious negotiations. A factor that possibly influences the negotiations is that these contract relationships tend to be long-term and require cooperation between the parties, rather than being a one-off in the way that an M&A deal tends to be.

IP Draughts suspects that some in-house lawyers, influenced perhaps by their training in large law firms, consider it to be their job simply to draft terms that protect their organisation, and that including terms to protect the other party is not part of their brief.

IP Draughts would like to encourage all lawyers to draft balanced documents, and all clients to give clear instructions that this is what they expect. By all means weight them to some extent in favour of your client or your employer, but not at the expense of seeing the other party’s point of view or addressing their legitimate concerns.

 

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Filed under Commercial negotiation, Contract drafting