In the first part of this series we have discussed about trademarks as part of franchise system. In this part we will discuss about other elements of intellectual property that may be utilized in franchise system.
Other critical element of intellectual property in franchise systems are copyrights. Pursuant to law copyright protects the fixation of the expression of an idea in a tangible form, whether written, verbal, graphical or other objective forms. Copyright exists in a variety of items commonly used by a franchise: training videos, marketing material, ads, websites, music, logos and software. There is significant value to the copyright-protected materials incorporated into a franchise system and, like trademarks, these elements are licensed by the franchisor to the franchisee for use in the franchised business. And, unlike trademarks, copyrights do not have to be registered in order to be protected.
Trade dress is what makes a franchise system unique and distinctive from others, including the overall visual look, feel and impression of a location. Some part of trade dress may be protected by copyrights.
Not all franchises involve trade secrets (i.e. confidential information), but it is typical to see franchise systems maintaining some aspects of their operations as strictly confidential and maintained as trade secrets. In Mongolia there is no law that regulates specifically trade secrets or business aspects of trade secrets. However pursuant to Law on Corporate secret, any corporate information, document, research, method, solution, project and etc. which holds economic value may be considered confidential corporate secret (trade secret) and may be protected from divulgence. In the context of the franchise arrangement, the need and desire to share information with franchisees competes with the legal necessity of limiting the distribution of true trade secret material. Reasonable steps to ensure the identification and protectability of trade secrets include: confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements and clauses; marking of claimed trade secret material, limiting the distribution to “need to know”, password protected computer systems and databases, and locks on cabinets and doors. In some cases, a franchisor’s trade secrets are not even divulged to the franchisee, such as the specific recipes or bulk ingredients required to create a quick-service restaurant chain’s signature sauces.
Patents are usually not included in franchise systems, but they can be. Patent registrations are intended to protect an inventor’s rights to specific inventions, such as a newly engineered product, medical device, drug or other innovation. Unless a franchise system has specifically developed its own equipment, it generally will not include any patents within its intellectual property.
It is very important for franchisor, as well as franchisee, to take the time to fully analyze and review any franchise agreement, disclosure document and respective attachments before signing them. While the above information serves as a general overview, as always, one should seek their own legal advice when reviewing a franchise agreement. Only then it is possible to obtain specific information and recommendations relevant to particular circumstances.