Friday, February 4, 2011

We want to pitch a food item

Dear Rich: We're working with a popular food manufacturer to find a company to license and extend its brand into a different food category. We're actually close to finalizing our simple 3-page agreement with the company, so we wanted to run some questions by you. Keep in mind that we prefer to keep the agreement short. What exactly should our pitch materials (to prospective licensees) consist of? In addition, what other topics should be considered when drafting a Brand Licensing Agency Engagement? (1) agency services, (2) agency compensation (3) agent authority and expenses (4) nondisclosure  (5) assignment (6) termination (7) amendment (8) applicable law (9) dispute resolution? We think we understand what you're doing: you and your business partners want to act as an agent for a food manufacturer and you want a simple agreement to represent the manufacturer but not so simple that it overlooks important elements.  You also want to know what to say in your pitch to potential licensees. Is that right? We hope so because the Dear Rich staff stayed up past our bedtime to answer your questions.
What about your pitch? There's a legal side and a business side to your pitch. We can't tell you much about the business side. That's between you and the food manufacturer (referred to as the "principal" in your agency relationship). As for the legal side of your pitch, obviously you want to represent the principal truthfully and you don't want to divulge anything confidential unless you have a confidentiality agreement (NDA) in place prior to the pitch meeting. We've posted one for free here. The other major legal issue that is part of your pitch may relate to the terms of the eventual licensing agreement you hope to procure. So you may need to become familiar with that agreement and what it will consist of. For example, what do you say if a potential licensee asks about the territory, the length of the license, how the compensation will be made (per unit, per net sales?) and what types of deductions will be included. In some cases, the agent is responsible for dealing with these issues and even preparing the license agreement. In other cases, the principal handles the whole thing. We hope you can figure that out before your first meeting.
Your agency agreement. If you're close to finalizing a three-page agreement with the principal, we'd recommend that you speak with a lawyer. It's not that we don't think you can accomplish it yourself using our licensing book. It's just that you may be making lengthy binding commitments and it would be wise to at least have an attorney bless your final paperwork. Having said that, (and assuming you can't afford to hire an attorney) we think that our book covers the major issues with sample clauses. What the book doesn't do is tell you whether the principal will make a reliable business partner. So, to the extent you can research the principal and its business practices or propensity for lawsuits, that would help. A lot of that is discoverable on the Internet. We bring that up because if you're dealing with a cutthroat business, you'll spend all your royalties on lawyers chasing down your royalties.  That's also why attorney fees provisions and dispute resolution provisions are often so important. The same may be true for indemnity provisions that will shield you from liability if that food product makes people sick. Finally, agents sometimes like to include provisions that prevent the principal from circumventing their work. For example, if you solicit a licensee, are you entitled to royalties if the principal enters into an agreement with that licensee a week after the agent agreement terminates? These are the kinds of issues that can make that short simple agreement a lot more complicated.