Doing Business in Russia

Companies regularly consider their plans for growth of their business and one of the main possibilities for growth is expansion to new markets.  Interviews of management of different foreign companies and recent global surveys show that the overwhelming majority of such companies are considering entering the Russian market as one of their top priorities.  In general, Russia is an attractive market for foreign investors.

However, the high profit expectations which Russia offers are often coupled with suspicious attitudes towards the Russian partners and Russian legal system, which, together with political factors, often outweigh the perceived benefits of investing in Russia’s rapidly developing economy.  This article is intended to briefly address some of the concerns related to Russian business partners and the Russian legal system.  We will attempt to take inside knowledge and experience of Russian legal and business reality and analyze it from the standpoint of a foreign businessman, providing you a myth-free picture of the legal perspectives of doing business in Russia.

Trading with Russia. Image from Wikipedia

There are plenty of good trade opportunities with Russia despite many foreigners’ concerns

The Legal System

The current Russian legal system still in its infancy.  For over 70 years, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia had a command economy, state controlled commerce and recognized no private ownership.  What did business look like at that time?  The State prepared a plan, which was obligatory and which already prescribed what goods could be produced, whom they could be sold to and at what price.  There was actually no place for negotiations and, consequently, no established market practice and space for development of the legal system although, even in those days, civil relations were regulated by the Civil Code of the USSR.

In 1994 the current Civil Code of the Russian Federation was adopted.  It is the main source of civil and corporate law in Russia.  There are also a number of other normative acts (Federal Laws are the main part of them) which regulate different business issues. There are many articles on the internet on the differences between the Russian legal system and common law (hence no need to name them in this short article) and probably the main one is that Russian law does not recognize precedent when interpreting provisions of the Civil Code and other Federal Laws.  However, recent developments in the Russian legal system show that more and more features of common law are being adopted.  Moreover, within the last few years Russian law has taken a big, but as yet informal, step in the direction of common law – the significance of previous court decisions and especially decisions of the higher courts has increased, so that such decisions are usually treated as binding for other Russian courts dealing with similar disputes. We believe that if this tendency continues (and we do not see any obstacles for it to happen), it will help to build confidence in the Russian system among foreign investors and Russian businessmen.

Entering the Market

The other source of problems faced by foreign investors and a lot of Russian business people which often causes misunderstandings is miscommunication.   Even today a number of Russian companies are managed by people who started their professional career in Soviet times.  Lack of background experience, education in the command economy, suspicion of their partners are some of the characteristics which make some Russian partners behave in an unpredictable manner.  Thus, if a foreign investor is planning to enter the Russian market, it can be a good idea to have someone (a manager, lawyer, whoever) who is capable of building a bridge of mutual understanding between the Russian partner and the foreign investor. And once this bridge is built, you can have confidence in your partner.

We also believe it may be useful to focus on some legal aspects of doing business in Russia: establishment of a legal presence, regulatory framework, taxation, repatriation of profits (exchange controls) and consideration of potential dispute.

Establishing a Legal Presence in Russia

Your legal presence in Russia can be established in the form of an entity  – LLC (limited liability company) or  JSC (joint stock company) or in the form of the branch or representative office.  Each form has its own advantages and disadvantages, but around 90% of foreign companies working in Russia are set up as an LLC (in some cases only an LLC or JSC will allow you to conduct business operations and get a licence if this is needed for your activities).

To register an LLC you will need to prepare a set of documents which has to be submitted to the tax office which serves the location chosen for your business.  You will also need to open a bank account and find premises for your office and verify some documents before a notary.  Registration of an LLC usually takes no more than 5-7 business days and you will then get a set of documentation confirming state registration of your business.  In general, this process is not too complicated, but, as in any country, there are some peculiarities and we recommend that you engage local lawyers to guide you through the process.

Repatriation of Profits and Exchange Controls

One important topic for a foreign investor is the possibility of repatriation of profits and the related exchange control laws.  Usually, repatriation of profits is made in a variety of ways: payments of intercompany invoices, royalties, dividends or  interest under a loan agreement – for your particular business needs tax you should contact your tax advisor.  If certain conditions are met (usually, this involves the total amount of money to be transferred) you may be required to open a special file with your bank and attach a contract between the concerned companies which serves as the justification for such money transfer. This is quite a simple procedure and usually companies do not experience any difficulties.

Licensing

If your business requires a licence (e.g. if you sell alcohol) or any other authorization (e.g. if you conduct construction activities), you will be able to apply once your legal presence is registered.  Russia has quite detailed procedures for obtaining a licence/authorization and, so long as you follow it carefully, it should usually be granted within 1-2 months. If your licence/authorization is for some reasons declined, there is a possibility to challenge this in court – the state Arbitration court.

Court System

Having mentioned the possibility of a dispute in the courts, we will very briefly focus on the Russian court system insofar as it affects commercial disputes.  This consists of state courts – known as the arbitrazhniy courts – which consider commercial disputes, an IP court for intellectual property cases established in 2013, mediation and commercial arbitration.

Usually parties to a dispute will choose between a state court (e.g. Arbitrazhniy Court of Moscow) and commercial arbitration (e.g. the International Commercial  Arbitration  Court at the RF Chamber of Commerce and Industry).  In our view, both options are fine as decision of both courts can be enforced in Russia, at the same time it is more likely that only decisions of the ICAC can be enforced overseas in countries that are signatories to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York, 1958) (the “New York Convention”). However, proceedings in a commercial arbitration court (e.g. ICAC) in general are far more expensive than in the state court.  Thus, in our view, a decision on which to choose needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis depending on the particular circumstances of each case.

Mediation, a way of resolving disputes without recourse to a judge or arbitrator, is also possible in Russia, which enacted a federal law of mediation in 2011.

Current International Sanctions

While reading this you may wonder whether these processes are affected by the current political situation, with tension and sanctions between Russia and a number of foreign states.  In general, this has of course brought some obstacles, especially in oil & gas, financing and the food industry (prohibition of import of certain food products to Russia), but even in these industries some of the obstacles can be mitigated.  And if your business is small or medium and is not connected with these spheres of activity, we do not believe that it will be affected by the current political situation.

To conclude this short introduction to business in Russia, we would like to say that the worries described above as well as others that you may read in the media, while sometimes based on real evidence, are exaggerated and business in Russia is still worth doing.  This is especially true if a foreign investor in a Russian business undertakes intensive preparatory work so as to protect itself from the unique Russian problems and risks described above.  The thousands of foreign companies that come to Russia every year and the numbers of newly opened Russian businesses are quickly realizing that most of the problems are manageable.

Author Profile

Nikolay is a Russian in-house lawyer living in Moscow. He has been dealing with foreign business since 2005 and has participated in a number of projects which have included the full-scale legal support and management of start-up projects in Russia. Nikolay has experience in the organization and management of businesses in Russia and believes that his core goal as a lawyer is to bridge the gap between the reality in Russia and foreign perceptions, by providing high quality legal services and business consulting. Nikolay is responsible for the Russian section of the ContractStore –  see them at contractstore.com/russiancontracts

New Law to Help Self Builders moves forward

A Government bill to help enable more people to build their own homes has passed its final stage in the House of Commons. It has all party support and goes to the House of Lords this week.

The purpose of the Self Build and Custom Housebuilding Bill – the brainchild of South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon – is to make it easier for an individual or a group of individuals to obtain land in order to build a house to live in. It places a duty on local councils to keep a register of people who wish to build their own home and who are actively seeking to acquire serviced plots of land in the local authority’s area. The Bill then requires each local council to take account of its ‘self build register’ when exercising the functions of planning, housing, regeneration and the disposal of land.

In Laying the Foundations: a Housing Strategy for England (2011), the Government set out plans to enable more people to build or commission their own home – there is an aspiration to double the size of the self-build market, creating up to 100,000 additional self-build homes over the next decade. Various measures have been introduced to ease the path for those wanting to build their own home including (repayable) funding; an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy; amendments to planning guidance; and improved access to public sector land.

Our thanks to NACSBA , the National Custom & Self Build Association, for this information.

ContractStore teams up with Artquest to offer contract templates for artists

ArtQuestContractStore is delighted to announce a partnering arrangement with Artquest. This is mainly intended to help artists who need contract documents to support them in their work.

To mark the occasion, together we have developed a Consignment Agreement for use by artists when sending their work to a gallery for exhibition and sale.

Quentin Matsys (1456/1466–1530) - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

Art and law join together in our new agreement with Artquest. Quentin Massys’ Portrait of a Lawyer c. 1510.  Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

 

The Artist Consignment Agreement (document A246 in the ContractStore catalogue), is available as a free download for a limited period.

Also, Artquest subscribers can benefit from a 15% discount on all ContractStore templates. These include a Design Agreement, a Model Release Form, and Art Gallery – Artist Agreement among the 250 contract templates for sale from our website.

Online Legal Services are “less intimidating, cheaper, quicker and more convenient”

It is good to see a positive report on the benefits of online services such as those offered by ContractStore.  The report entitled “2020 Legal Services – How Regulators Should Prepare for the Future” has reviewed the various offerings online that enable consumers (and businesses) to benefit from the new technology and to obtain a cost-effective solution to some of their problems.  The Legal Services Consumer Panel that issued the report advises the Legal Services Board, the ‘super-regulator’ of legal services in England.

According to the report, their survey data shows strong consumer demand for online services: 47% of consumers polled said online delivery is important to them.

As technology makes legal services simpler to use, involve less effort and cheaper to buy, more people are likely to carry out the sorts of tasks – like writing a will or arranging a power of attorney – which currently they either prefer to put off or cannot afford to do.  The various online services offer many benefits. Among other things, “they may be less intimidating, cheaper, quicker and more convenient.’”

“Self-Lawyering”

‘Self-lawyering’ (sic) is expected to increase as consumers seek alternatives to lawyers through technology enabled DIY solutions. This will enable some consumers to complete common legal tasks without the need to engage a lawyer, or with minimal supervision by a lawyer.

As the report says, historically, lawyers have been a conservative profession which has successfully resisted change.  It is therefore encouraging to see the Legal Services panel acknowledging the beneficial impact for users of the new marketplace when the report says that  “in overall terms, there would seem good grounds for being optimistic about the future. Market liberalisation, technology and other forces should produce innovative and cheaper services that can benefit all consumers and widen access to groups currently excluded from the market.”

Concerns About Regulation

However they do have concerns at the unregulated nature of the online legal market. So they want to encourage and facilitate initiatives to raise standards and extend access to redress in unregulated markets while “continuing to press for modernisation of the wider regulatory framework in the longer term.”

There is something of anomaly in the regulatory framework at present: on the one hand, to practise as a solicitor you first have to train, qualify, be registered with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and comply with the SRA Code of Conduct and Accounts rules.  But the ‘regulated activities’ which only solicitors can perform are very few – essentially court litigation, handling probate and some property transactions.  As a result, the internet has enabled the proliferation of a wide range of legal or quasi-legal services which are not subject to any professional control and can be provided by people without any training in the law.

Quality Legal Documents

At ContractStore, we have taken steps to ensure that our services meet high professional standards.  All our documents are prepared by qualified, experienced lawyers and we are a founder member of APOD, the Association of Publishers of Online Legal Documents which itself has a Code of Practice that members have to sign up to.

The full report can be found here –  http://www.legalservicesconsumerpanel.org.uk/publications/research_and_reports/documents/2020consumerchallenge.pdf

 

Fine of £300,000 for sending spam is overturned on appeal.

A £300,000 penalty issued by the Information Commissioner (ICO) against a Mr Niebel   for sending unwanted text messages ‘on an industrial scale’ has been cancelled on appeal.

Hundreds of thousands of messages were sent from hundreds of unregistered sim cards seeking out potential claims for mis-selling of PPI loans or for accidents.  And there was no evidence to show that he made any effort to make sure that the recipients consented or that he retained any record of consents. He did not even  bother to register with the ICO under the Data Protection Act (DPA) as a controller of data.

Under the regulations in place since 26 May 2011 the ICO can impose fines of up to £500,000.   But the regulations say the contravention must be serious. It must also be “of a kind likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress”.

The fine imposed by the ICO covered messages sent before and after these new regulations came into effect. In fact only 286 of the messages were sent after 26 May, a tiny proportion of the total.

In his judgement, Judge NJ Warren said that the effect of the contravention was likely to be widespread irritation but not widespread distress. “Given the scale of the contravention, there is the possibility of some distress in very unusual circumstances but we cannot construct a logical likelihood of substantial distress as a result of the contravention. We conclude that the contravention is not of a kind likely to cause substantial distress. “ So he cancelled the penalty notice.

Even if it does not cause distress, spamming is still illegal and you need to be sure to obey the rules if you want to send out marketing material.  Direct email marketing to consumers is acceptable if the sender has “obtained the contact details of the recipient of that electronic mail in the course of the sale or negotiations for the sale of a product or service to that recipient”, where the marketing is for “similar products and services only” and providing the recipient can easily unsubscribe  so as to refuse the use of their contact details for that marketing in future.

Are your Website Terms of Business ready for the new Consumer Regulations?

New regulations concerning the sale of goods and services to consumers come into effect in June. The great majority of businesses selling goods or services online as well as door step and other “off-premises” sales will be affected.

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013 come into effect on 13 June 2014. They replace the existing the Distance Selling Regulations and the Doorstep Regulations.

Although many of the existing regulations will continue, they have been updated in various ways and there are a number of changes that you will need to make to your terms and conditions.

So, be prepared to update your Terms of Business for online sales on your website as well as for off-premises sales. And remember, these Regulations apply to the sale of services as well as goods.

ContractStore’s Terms & Conditions for online sale of goods  (document A179) have been updated and are available to buy and download from our website.

Here are some of the key points in the new Regulations:

 Information     Lots of information must be given by the trader to the consumer before the contract is made.  This pre-contract information will be treated as information forming part of the contract. If this information is not provided, the consumer may not be bound by the contract.

Schedule 2 of the regulations details 24 separate bits of information to be provided. These include:

  • the main characteristics of the goods or services
  • the identity of the trader and his address and contact details
  • if the trader is selling on behalf of someone else, the address and identity of that other trader is also needed
  • the total price of the goods or services including taxes or, if this cannot be calculated in advance, an explanation of how it will be calculated
  • where applicable, any additional delivery charges or  other costs
  • where the contract is open ended or the consumer is paying a subscription, the total monthly or other regular payments
  • arrangements for payment, delivery, performance and timing
  • where there is a cancellation right, details concerning this
  • when applicable, the terms of any after sales service
  • the duration of the contract and if this is open ended, the conditions for terminating and the minimum contract period, if there is one.

Making the Contract.   In the case of online business, the information items in italics above are the minimum that the trader must provide ‘in a clear and prominent manner’ before the consumer places an order.

Also the website must have wording that ensures the consumer, when placing an order, explicitly acknowledges the obligation to pay for the goods or services being ordered.

Unless the trader complies with these requirements, the consumer is not bound by the contract..

Once an order is placed, the trader must confirm the contract within a reasonable time and before the delivery of goods or start of services.  email confirmation is acceptable.

Sales by Phone.  Anyone making a phone call to get a contract must at the beginning of the conversation identify the trader’s identity, the purpose of the call and the identity of any third party on whose behalf the call is being made.   

Delivery.     The contract will automatically contain an implied term requiring retailers to deliver goods and services without delay and in any event within 30 days from the contract date

 Risk.   Until goods come into the physical possession of the consumer, risk of loss or damage remains with the trader. This will not apply if the consumer arranges transportation with a carrier who has not been recommended by the trader.

Cancellation Rights.  Consumers will have 14 days in which to cancel a contract. This period replaces the existing period of 7 working days.  The 14 day period starts the day after the contract is made in the case of a service contract or contract for the supply of digital content online.

In the case of goods, the cancellation period ends at the end of 14 days after the day on which the last of the goods came into the physical possession of the consumer (or someone identified by him – e.g. the person to whom a gift is being delivered).

The Regulations contain a model cancellation form and consumers should be given the option to use this, but any clear statement of cancellation will be effective provided it is given within the 14 day period.

If the trader does not spell out the consumer’s cancellation rights, then the consumer has the right to cancel the contract at any time within 12 months. It is also an offence, punishable by a fine.

Refunds.   If the consumer cancels the contract and returns the goods, the trader must make a full refund within 14 days.  This includes the basic cost of delivery if the consumer paid for the goods to be delivered to him. Where there is no delivery of goods, the refund must be within 14 days after the trader is informed of the cancellation.

If the value of the goods has been reduced by the consumer’s handling, the trader can deduct an appropriate amount from the refund.

Return of Goods.  The trader is responsible for collecting the goods if:

  • he has offered to collect them or
  • the goods were delivered to the consumer’s home and they cannot, by their nature, normally be returned by post.

In other cases, the consumer is responsible for sending the goods back to the address specified by the trader. The consumer is responsible for the cost of returning goods unless either the trader has agreed to meet those costs or he failed to tell the consumer about the consumer bearing the cost in the information provided at the beginning.

Services in Cancellation Period.   The trader must not start services within the cancellation period unless he is asked to by the consumer. If services are then performed in full, the consumer’s cancellation right is lost. If services are partly performed and the consumer cancels within the 14 day period, the trader is entitled to payment on a proportionate basis for those services.

Supply of Digital Content.    Where there is a contract online for the supply of digital content, the trader should not supply the content before the end of the cancellation period unless the consumer has given express consent for early delivery and the consumer has acknowledged that the right to cancel the contract will not apply.  So, if you are selling downloads of music or maps, you need wording to ensure that the consumer agree to waive his cancellation rights as he goes through the buying process on your website.

Helpline Charges.    If it trader operates a helpline, this must not involve the consumer in phone charges above the basic rate. If it does, the trader is obliged to refund the extra cost to the consumer.

 Excluded Contracts.   These Regulations do not apply to certain contracts including: financial services and insurance; leases of property and contracts for the sale of land; contracts for construction of new buildings or conversion of existing buildings.

 Exclusion of Cancellation Rights.   The right to cancel a contract does not apply in some circumstances including:

  • goods that are tailor-made for the consumer or personalised in some other way;
  • goods that are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly, such as fresh food;
  • goods or services where the price is dependent on fluctuations in the financial markets;
  • newspapers and magazines;
  • sealed goods which, after delivery, are unsealed and are no longer suitable for  return due to health or hygiene reasons – e.g. underwear;
  • audio or computer software that is supplied sealed and then unsealed after delivery;
  • goods that become inseparably mixed after delivery – e.g. sand mixed with cement.

For ContractStore’s template Terms of Business for the Sale of Goods Online click here

For more detailed information, the Regulations are available online and are quite easy to read.  Also there is Guidance published by the Department of Business Innovation & Skills.

 

 

Exclusion Clauses – Ensure Explicit Drafting

Exclusion clauses in contracts need to be drafted very specifically and all limits on liability must be set out explicitly. The recent case of Markerstudy Insurance Co. Ltd v Endsleigh Insurance Services Ltd [2010] EWHC 281 (Comm) is a stark reminder of those principles.

Brief summary of the facts

The defendants, Endsleigh, were engaged by Markerstudy to provide claims handling services concerning a number of agreements. Markerstudy alleged numerous breaches of these agreements which whilst individually may not have been significant, collectively they amounted to losses of £14m. In its defence, Endsleigh sought to rely on numerous limitation and exclusion clauses contained in the contracts.

The court was required to determine two points of construction:

Firstly in relation to the exclusion of liability where the clause provided as follows: “Neither party shall be liable to the other for any indirect consequential loss (including but not limited to loss of goodwill, loss of business, loss of anticipated profit or savings and all other pure economic loss) arising out of or in connection with this Agreement.”  The claimant maintained that by virtue of this clause the defendant was exempted from liability for indirect and consequential losses only. The defendant submitted that it was also exempted from direct losses falling under the heads of loss specified in the clause.

Secondly in respect of the cap on liability; the clause provided that Endsleigh’s total liability in contract, tort, misrepresentation, restitution or otherwise, be limited to the aggregate amount of fees received under the contract. The defendant maintained that this cap of approximately £3.9m included any claims for interest.

The decision

On the interpretation of the exclusion clause, the court found in favour of the claimant, stating: “The use of the phrase ‘including but not limited to’ is a strong pointer that the specified heads of loss are but examples of the excluded indirect loss.” In respect of the cap on liability; the court found in the defendant’s favour in respect of contractual claims for interest.

What are the commercial implications?

This case clearly highlights the need to be explicit and to draft in express terms whenever you are seeking to exclude or cap liability under a contract. If you want to include specific exclusion then parties must consider the specific structure of the clause. Parties need to understand the risks they are accepting and that this allocation is reflected in the contract. SO

1 Consider the commercial negotiations as preparation for any contract;

2 Consider risk allocation – parties should consider how the allocation of risk should be apportioned appropriately between the parties and this allocation needs to be reflected in the contract in express and explicit terms;

3 Ensure that any limitation or exclusion in an agreement does not invalidate your insurance.

4 Know the heads of loss that you want to exclude and the precise nature of the cap on liability which should be stated explicitly in the contract.

5 The term indirect or consequential loss is not a precise term; it should only be used at the end of an exclusion clause as a final catch all precaution and to avoid the potential contamination of the entire clause.

Example of an exclusion clause

1. Neither party shall be liable to the other for any:

a) loss of goodwill

b) loss of business

c) loss of anticipated profit or savings

d) pure economic loss; or

e) any indirect or consequential losses arising out of or in connection with this Agreement.

With respect to any cap on liability, clearly state the precise nature of the cap on liability or a specific figure.

Contributed by Sharonjeev Benning-Prince

 

What You Need to Know about Distributor & Reseller Agreements

 If you want to increase sales in a new area whether in your own country or overseas, there are two principal methods, apart from setting up a branch of your business there.  One is to appoint an agent who will promote your goods and find buyers for you.  The other is to appoint a distributor or reseller who will buy your products and then resell them in his territory.

 Once you have decided on the territory that you want to cover, you will need to find a suitable candidate to resell your products.  This is not an easy task and it certainly needs to be undertaken with care, and plenty of due diligence. There is advice on how to go about this in Exporting Made Easy , a book that I have co-written and it is available online at www.exporting-made-easy.com

Once you have selected your distributor, be sure to have a written agreement with him setting out the terms of the deal which allows you to bring the arrangement to an end if things do not work out satisfactorily. You should also get local legal advice before signing an agreement because there could be local laws which you need to take into account – for example, it might be necessary for a distributor to be owned by nationals of the country.

 Set out below are some of the main issues that you need to consider and to cover in your distributorship agreement.

Specify the products and the territory

if you have more than one product line, it may be sensible to restrict the agreement to one or two lines initially to see how things go. You can always add more products later. As for the territory, this needs to be clearly defined. 

Exclusive or Non-exclusive

Are you going to appoint the distributor on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis – i.e.will he be the only person in that territory who is entitled to sell your products. Even if you agree to an exclusive arrangement, you might want to reserve some existing customers to deal with direct, in which case cover this in the agreement.

Duration

What is the initial term of the agreement?   Make it long enough to give the distributor time to get established and into the market with your products, but no longer. It can then be renewable yearly if things work out.

Orders, Prices and Payment

The agreement should set out the arrangements for ordering products as well as prices and payment terms.   Depending on the nature of your business, it can be useful to have forward estimates of orders so that you will have sufficient stock to meet the distributor’s requirements.

It is usual to specify that each order which is accepted constitutes a separate contract between the two parties and that the sales are made on your standard terms and conditions.  You might want to attach a copy of these to the agreement.

There will probably be a schedule setting out the prices of the various products and this could include some trade discounts depending on volume etc.

As for payment terms, you do not want any more exposure than is necessary. Payment prior to shipment is one possibility and another is to have the distributor set up a confirmed irrevocable letter of credit.

It is not normally lawful to fix the resale prices that your distributor will charge so there is always a risk that he will offer your products at a lower price than another distributor.

  Sales Targets. 

You should certainly include some agreed sales targets in the agreement because this allows you to monitor the distributor’s performance. Coupled with the sales targets should be a provision that not only allows you to revise the targets but also entitles you to bring the contract to an end if, for example, minimum targets are not achieved for two or three consecutive quarters.

 General Obligations

It is sensible to identify what marketing material and technical data you will provide and if training of the distributor’s sales staff is needed.  You may also want to have terms that require the distributor to have a marketing budget, to report on sales on a regular basis etc.

 Intellectual property

Make sure that you protect your copyright, patents and trademarks. Your distributor should only be allowed to use them while the agreement remains in place and it is sensible to have a clause which requires him to notify you and to act to protect your interests if, for example, counterfeit goods appear in the market in his territory.

Termination

Always include a clause that allows you to bring the contract to an end if the distributor fails to meet his targets or commits some other breach of contract or becomes insolvent.   Terminating an agreement of this type in some countries might  lead to substantial compensation claims so you need to take legal advice before finalising the wording.

Non-competition and Confidentiality

You may want a clause that prevents the distributor from selling any products that compete with your own both during the agreement and, perhaps, for a period after it has come to an end. In addition, you will probably want to be sure that the terms of the agreement are kept confidential.

Dispute resolution and Governing Law

While you might want English law to apply and any disputes to be dealt with in the English courts, if the distributor is based overseas and has no assets in this country, getting a judgement and then enforcing it against him might prove rather difficult.  An international arbitration clause could well be preferable and we have some free information on our website concerning this topic.

Our template for appointing a distributor can be found here http://www.contractstore.com/A117-distributorship-agreement

What You Need to Know about Partnership Agreements

One advantage of setting up a business as a partnership is that, unlike a company, there is no need to register the business.

 

In fact there are very few formalities, which is one reason why it is sensible to have a written partnership agreement that sets out the basic rules between the partners for running the business.

The main difference between a partnership and a limited company is that a partnership does not have a separate legal personality apart from its members in a way that a limited company does.  (The situation is different for a limited liability partnership, but that is more like a company and has to be registered at Companies House).

So the partners are jointly and severally liable for the obligations of the partnership i.e. each partner can be sued for the full amount of any liability of the partnership. There is no limit on liability

Also, the partners are taxed on an individual basis, by reference to their share of the profits each year.

The law governing partnerships goes right back to 1890 and it is a lot easier to read than today’s statutes.  But while it has stood the test of time, the Partnership Act does not always deal with issues as the partners want to deal with them.

Why You Need a Partnership Agreement

Without an agreement, there can be uncertainties as to the relationship between the partners and how the partnership should be run.  For example, in the absence of a partnership agreement, on the death of a partner, the partnership has to be dissolved.  This might not be in the interests of the surviving partners who wish to keep the business going.

Similarly, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, the partners have the right to share equally in the capital and profits of the business.

What specific terms should you consider for your partnership?

Here are some of the basics to cover in the agreement that all the partners need to sign.

  •  Name, Business, Start Date

When starting the business you need to agree on the name and start date of the business and the annual accounting year. Also, you need to agree on the scope of the business and write all these details down.

  • Capital & Profits

How much money or other assets – e.g. equipment or knowhow – will each partner put into the business to get it going?  Also, you should specify the profit shares – otherwise all profits are divided equally.

And if there are loans to the business form any of the partners, these need to be documented.

  • Drawings

In most modern firms, each partner will draw an agreed amount out of the income each month, rather like a salary, and his profit share will then be adjusted at the end of the year. But usually the agreement will say that if there is not enough money in the bank, drawings cannot be taken.

  • Management & decision-making

There should be an arrangement for holding regular meetings of the partners where the business will be reviewed and decisions taken. In a small firm this may mean that all the partners need to agree before any decision can be implemented.  But often there will be a majority vote on routine matters and unanimity reserved for the important issues – introducing a new partner, raising a loan or buying property etc.

If the partnership decides to delegate some decisions to an individual partner, this should be recorded – either in a partnership decision or in the agreement.  And it is advisable to require that partner to report to partnership meetings, so that all the partners know what is going on

The procedure for meetings, quorum, who will act as chairman, circulation of minutes etc. can usefully be covered in the agreement.

  •  Accounts

Preparation of regular management accounts is another important matter as well as having a firm of accountants appointed to prepare the annual accounts of the business.

  • Permitted partnership expenses

Petty arguments over what expenses can be charged up to the firm are best avoided, so spell out the main points in the agreement and decide any changes at a formal partners meeting.  Mobile phones, laptops, car expenses etc. can all be covered.

  • Holidays

As partners are not employees of the business they do not have any statutory rights so you need to set out the holiday entitlement of the partners, as well as maternity leave etc.

  • Retirement or death of a partner

With current legislation a fixed retirement age can be problematic, as the partnership may face a claim for age discrimination.  But you need to have a reasonable notice period if anyone wants to leave the partnership – maybe six months or longer, preferably to take effect at the end of the financial year.

If a partner dies, the agreement should say what happens to their share – it will probably need to be paid for by the surviving partners in proportion to their shares in the business.  This also applies when a partner retires.

Accounts will need to be prepared by the firm’s accountants when a partner retires, and the firm may want to retain enough to cover any tax liability that is anticipated before paying the retired partner’s final profit share.

Repayment of capital to a partner who retires or dies may be spread over a period

  • Expulsion

Hopefully there will be no need to expel a partner for misconduct but you should have a clause to deal with this possibility.  This will also specify how any money due to her will be repaid – probably only after any losses she caused the firm have been quantified and recovered.

  • Restrictions on partners

Serious harm can be done to a business if one of the partners, without any consultation, makes commitments to third parties, and you should include a clause designed to avoid those risks.  In addition, any partner who fails to comply should be required to indemnify the others so that they do not suffer loss.

Restrictions on a partner having an interest in any business that competes with the partnership may also be required, and this can be particularly important if a partner leaves, to prevent him/her from taking business away.  Departing partners should also be prevented from poaching staff.

  • Other clauses are needed to deal with issues such as confidentiality and disputes.

Related Downloads:

ContractStore has three forms of partnership agreement – for partnerships with two, three or more than three partners. We also offer partnership agreements for use in India

Libel on Facebook: ‘Public Interest’ Not the Same As ‘Interesting to the Public’

Be careful what you say about your friends on Facebook – even if it is true it could be libellous!

Social media postings are increasingly coming under the spotlight of the law. In the UK hate mail has led to criminal investigations and there have also been libel actions – not least against Sally Bercow who posted defamatory information on Twitter about Lord McAlpine and had to pay damages and substantial costs.

In South Africa, the case of H v. W involving defamation on Facebook is worth noting, not least because the judge said that even if a statement is true, that is not a good defence to a claim of defamation: it must also be in the public interest for the statement to be published.

In this case a woman posted the following on her Facebook wall:

I wonder too what happened to the person who I counted as a best friend for 15 years, and how this behaviour is justified. Remember I see the broken hearted faces of your girls every day. Should we blame the alcohol, the drugs, the church, or are they more reasons to not have to take responsibility for the consequences of your own behaviour? But mostly I wonder whether, when you look in the mirror in your drunken testosterone haze, do you still see a man?

When he became aware of the posting, the man in question asked her to remove it, and when she refused, he applied to the court in Johannesburg for an order that any statements about him should be prohibited.

The court didn’t go that far but they did order the offending statement to be removed. In his decision the judge said:

“In our law, it is not good enough, as a defence to or a ground of justification for a defamation, that the published words may be true: it must also be to the public benefit or in the public interest that they be published. A distinction must always be kept between what ‘is interesting to the public’ as opposed to ‘what it is in the public interest to make known’.

“The courts do not pander to prurience. I am satisfied that it is neither to the public benefit or in the public interest that the words in respect of which the applicant complains be published, even if it is accepted that they are true”

With thanks to Walkers, Attorneys of Cape Town, for this: http://www.walkers.co.za/

If your business has employees using social media, this contract may be useful – it is designed to minimise legal risks: