The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still omnipresent in Germany. The courts have yet to resolve some legal issues, including the issue of payment of commercial rent. One example is whether franchisees and franchisors as tenants can reduce or even suspend their rent payments due to widespread government-ordered shutdowns. This article presents a brief summary of the current situation and sets out the implications for the franchise industry in particular.
The Jena Higher Regional Court recently held that a clause which allows a franchisor to adjust the franchise fee at the beginning of each quarter and does not clearly disclose to the franchisee the scope of the fee increase mechanism is in breach of the law regarding general terms and conditions, which applies to standard-form contracts and thus standardised franchise agreements. The decision shows that caution is needed when drafting fee adjustment clauses.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to significantly affect the franchise sector, along with many others. In May and July 2020 the German Franchise Association issued a guidance document which provided an overview of the COVID-19 Mitigation Act and the associated legal issues specific to franchising. A few months on, this article examines which issues remain the most relevant for franchising practice.
Special deals are common among competing burger chains. Although this may be detrimental to franchisees, the Munich Higher Regional Court recently decided that such deals do not infringe antitrust rules. This decision deserves particular attention, as it concerns the common situation of a franchisor using non-binding price recommendations in its advertising and once again clarifies how important the asterisk reference is in such cases.
Franchisors must typically consider the extent of concept protection if franchisees which have left the franchise system reuse the concept in a largely unchanged fashion or if third-party competitors (outside the franchise system) copy the concept's main features. A recent decision concerning a fast-food restaurant franchise reinforces the IP protection of gastronomic concepts against competitors' inadmissible imitations.
Case law from the highest German courts on franchise law matters is rare, which makes a recent Federal Court of Justice decision on the subject of bogus self-employment of franchisees – a perennial issue for franchise law practitioners – even more noteworthy. The case concerned claims for payment under a licence agreement and the question of whether the licence agreement was void due to the franchisee's bogus self-employment.
The Munich Regional Court I recently established a new precedent for competition restriction, which is prohibited in franchising systems under the Act against Restraints on Competition. The court found references to "participating restaurants" in a franchisor's TV advertising insufficient and in violation of the price maintenance prohibition. This decision deserves special attention as it relates to advertising with non-binding price recommendations, which is common among franchisors.
A recent Hamburg Regional Court decision is generally understood to have solidified the first franchise-related court judgment on bad faith regarding mediation clauses rendered by the Saarbruecken Higher Regional Court in 2015. However, at second glance, the Hamburg judgment provides a different reasoning for bad faith regarding a mediation objection and might therefore serve as a new application of bad faith in future franchise-related court proceedings regarding mediation clauses.
The Federal Court of Justice recently criticised a franchising advertising flyer in terms of competition law. One interpretation of this judgment is that it makes the advertising of franchise systems significantly more difficult. However, this point of view does not ultimately do justice to the decision, as the judgment does not fundamentally question the typical advertising of franchise systems.
An advertiser must display its identity on advertisements. Most advertisements do not have the space to list numerous franchisees and for this reason, supra-regional advertising by franchisors usually carries a footnote. According to the Dusseldorf Higher Regional Court, a footnote may breach the Act against Unfair Competition because the advertising does not list the identity of all participating dealers.
The courts have yet to resolve some legal issues concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether tenants can reduce or even suspend their rent payments due to widespread government-ordered shutdowns. More than 20 court decisions have been handed down on this subject, and the opinions expressed vary widely. Even the German law that entered into effect on 31 December 2020 via an expedited legislative procedure does not provide final, generally applicable clarity on this issue.