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About

Editor-in-Chief,   Anatole Krattiger

Editorial Board

Concept Foundation

PIPRA

Fiocruz, Brazil

bioDevelopments-   Institute

CHAPTER NO. 11.7

Anderson M and S Keevey-Kothari. 2007. Commercialization Agreements: Practical Guidelines in Dealing with Options. In Intellectual Property Management in Health and Agricultural Innovation: A Handbook of Best Practices (eds. A Krattiger, RT Mahoney, L Nelsen, et al.). MIHR: Oxford, U.K., and PIPRA: Davis, U.S.A. Available online at www.ipHandbook.org.

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Editors Note: We are grateful to UNICO for having licensed one of its UNICO Practical Guides for inclusion as a chapter in this Handbook. The original version of the Guide was published by UNICO (http://www.unico.org.uk/). The work was prepared by Anderson & Company, the Technology Law Practice, U.K. (www.andlaw.eu), in cooperation with UNICO. The guide was edited by MIHR/PIPRA for this publication.

© 2007. UNICO. Sharing the Art of IP Management: Photocopying and distribution through the Internet for noncommercial purposes is permitted and encouraged.

Commercialization Agreements: Practical Guidelines in Dealing with Options

Mark Anderson, Solicitor (Attorney), Anderson & Company, U.K.

Simon Keevey-Kothari, Barrister (Attorney), Formerly with Anderson & Company, U.K.

Show SummaryEditor's Summary, Implications and Best Practices

Abstract

An option to acquire rights in university intellectual property (IP) may be encountered in several guises: as a stand-alone agreement, as a clause within an agreement (for example, a sponsored research agreement or a material transfer agreement), or as a “pipeline,” or IP framework, agreement for a university spinout company. Although the grant of an option may often form quite a small part of a larger agreement, the grant can raise important issues in terms of an organization’s IP commercialization strategy. This is especially true of pipeline agreements that are, effectively, a specialized form of option agreement. The purpose of this chapter is threefold:

  1. to provide an introduction to options, and their uses, and including legal, practical, and negotiating issues
  2. to provide suggested templates along with guidelines concerning completion of the templates
  3. to consider and discuss some of issues that are problematic or of particular concern to universities.

The chapter attempts to provide information that is useful for both the beginner and the experienced research-contracts or technology transfer professional. The breadth of material covered may give the mistaken impression that university contracts are wrought with legal and commercial difficulties. Usually, this is not the case. But sometimes differences of expectation, practice, or legal culture can arise between parties negotiating an agreement, particularly in international transactions.

Foreword

This chapter is based on one of a series of UNICO Practical Guides. Over recent years, the knowledge commercialization profession has grown and matured, creating a huge wealth of knowledge, experience, and best practice relating to university commercialization contracts. The UNICO Practical Guides have been produced specifically to share this knowledge, experience, and best practice within the profession. They are practical guidebooks on university contracts designed primarily for use by people both new and experienced in the profession that tap into the collective learning of colleagues and peers. The guides have been produced as a resource for knowledge commercialization professionals, primarily in the United Kingdom. The guides are not designed to replace or compete with existing manuals or other guides, but to provide a new and, we at UNICO believe, vitally important set of support materials to those who deal with university commercialization contracts on a daily basis. We hope that you find this document useful. (Kevin Cullen, University of Glasgow; Chair, UNICO).

1. Introduction

1.1 What is an option?

An option may be either an agreement or a clause within an agreement. Typically, an option gives one party to the agreement the right:

  • to acquire a particular right (for example, a patent license) or asset (for example, a patent)
  • to require another party to enter into an agreement (in a specified form) or to negotiate the terms of a further agreement
  • to evaluate materials, products, or assets to determine whether to enter into further agreements (such as further research or licensing arrangements)

Usually, options are granted on an exclusive basis. Thus, where a university grants an option to acquire rights to a package of intellectual property, the option terms may require the university not to license that intellectual property to anyone else during the option period. This may be implicit in the grant of an exclusive option, but sometimes the parties prefer to add a clause to the option that states explicitly that the university will not license anyone else while the option continues. Sometimes, wording may go further and prohibit the university from talking to anyone else about a possible license during the option term. This type of explicit wording (when it is used) is most often requested by the grantee of the option.

The main types of agreement that an individual working in technology transfer will come across, and about which an understanding of options is useful, include the following:

  • a stand-alone option agreement in which the main subject matter of the agreement is the granting of an option, such as an option to take a license to a specific patent application, and which is not part of a larger contract (See Box 1, at the end of this chapter, for a sample option agreement.)
  • an option and evaluation agreement, often referred to just as an evaluation agreement, and commonplace in regard to computer software (For example, under such an agreement one party provides an item of software for a second party to evaluate, over a defined period of time, to enable the second party to ascertain whether it wants to take a license to the software. The evaluation period gives the second party an option to acquire such a license if it so wishes. See Box 2, at the end of this chapter, for a sample software evaluation agreement.)
  • a research collaboration/sponsorship agreement, in which the collaborator/sponsor is sometimes given an option of acquiring rights in the intellectual property generated by the university under the research program
  • a license agreement, where in addition to the licensee obtaining a license to a university’s particular patents and know-how, there may be a provision for the licensee to acquire rights in improvements to the licensed technology (Such a provision is usually made by granting an option to such improvements and by including an appropriate definition of improvements in the agreement.)
  • pipeline agreements and rights of first refusal, which are similar to options, outlined separately, and in slightly more detail, below, along with a brief explanation of how they differ from basic option agreements and clauses (See Box 3, at the end of this chapter, for a sample pipeline agreement.)

1.2 What is a right of first refusal?

People sometimes use the terms option and right of first refusal loosely, and interchangeably, to refer to any kind of opportunity right. (See Box 4, at the end of this chapter, for examples of options, rights of first refusal, and similar provisions.)

The authors of this guide are not aware of any official definition of these terms. However, a right of first refusal is often understood as having the following, more precise meaning, and it is considered best practice to adopt this meaning.

The key distinction between an option and a right of first refusal, involves who initiates the grant of rights. Typically, with an option, the party benefiting from the option (the grantee) is given a period of time in which to claim the prize—to notify the party granting the option (grantor) that it wishes to obtain the grant of rights (such as a license or an assignment).

By contrast, if the grantee is given a right of first refusal, it cannot initiate the grant of rights. The grantor is in control of the process. If the grantor wishes to grant the rights, it must notify the grantee and give the grantee an opportunity to accept, or refuse, those rights.

Typically, right of first refusal clauses operate at one or both of the following stages:

  1. When the grantor first decides it is ready to grant the rights (or is about to start offering the rights to third parties), it must offer the rights to the grantee.
  2. When the grantor is about to sign an agreement with a third party, the grantor must give the grantee an opportunity to match the terms agreed upon with the third party. If the grantee accepts this opportunity, the grantor must grant the rights to the grantee on those terms, instead of granting them to the third party.

Rights of first refusal are often encountered where the other party to an underlying agreement (for example, a research agreement) is either sponsoring the research (financially or in kind) or providing materials. Indeed, many university research agreements and material transfer agreements (MTAs) that originate from large pharmaceutical companies often incorporate a right of first refusal.

A right of first refusal can therefore cover the following situations:

  • If party A negotiates with party B over certain terms (for example, a license agreement), then party A will give party C an opportunity to match those terms.
  • If party A creates intellectual property from a research program or produces something (such as a prototype), then before party A offers to license it or assign it (either generally or to a specific party, B) party C will be given a first opportunity to acquire the right or product.

Depending on how rights of first refusal over intellectual property are drafted, they can present practical difficulties, particularly in the situation described in the second bulleted item, above. Negotiations over the grant of IP rights can take months to complete, and usually require a degree of confidence building with regard to the potential value of the technology and IP rights and to how the parties will work together under the agreement. A practical issue arises when one party in a negotiation must decide when to tell the other party that a third party has a right of first refusal over the same rights. If the second party is told at the outset, will it be willing to spend time and resources in negotiating terms? If the second party is told only when the third party exercises the right of first refusal, the second party may feel that it has been misled.

Universities may therefore wish to resist granting rights of first refusal that operate immediately prior to signing an agreement with a third party. Where it is commercially necessary to grant a right of first refusal, one solution the authors have found is to draft the right of first refusal so that it operates immediately before signing a nonbinding term sheet with the third party. The third party may be less likely to complain if it is trumped at this stage.

Another variation on options and rights of first refusal is termed right of first opportunity. This expression is used less frequently than right of first refusal and probably its meaning is more in flux. Where the authors have encountered right of first opportunity, it has tended to mean a right of the grantee to make a proposal to the grantor at some defined point in time (for example, when the grantor decides to grant rights) but with the provision that the grantor has no obligation to accept the grantee’s proposal or negotiate exclusively with the grantee. Sometimes this level of right is described as having a (nonexclusive) seat at the negotiating table. As with other types of options, the precise meaning and extent of any right of first opportunity, and the procedure to be followed when exercising it, should be clearly set out in an agreement.

Sometimes one encounters heavyweight clauses that are a composite of both an option and a right of first refusal. For example, there may be an option to negotiate a further agreement, and if the parties cannot agree on terms, then the university can grant the rights elsewhere but must come back to the other party before entering into an agreement with terms that are no better for the university than those that the other party offered. Any such clauses need to be carefully scrutinized to ensure that they are workable and do not prejudice discussions with the third party.

1.3 What is a pipeline agreement?

A pipeline agreement is normally encountered only in contracts involving the formation of a university spinout company. Under these circumstances, the university (or its technology transfer office) would have assigned or licensed certain intellectual property to the spinout. The intellectual property in question usually has its origins in the laboratory/department of the academics who created it. These academics usually end up being the founders of the new spinout company.

A pipeline agreement is basically a sophisticated form of option agreement, the purpose of which is to set out the rights the spinout has to future intellectual property generated in the founders department. Under such an agreement, the recipient of the option (the spinout company) is obtaining a “pipeline” to enable it to obtain rights in the intellectual property from the originating university department.

A typical pipeline agreement is therefore normally entered into by three parties:

  1. The technology transfer company/office (TTO) of the academic organization
  2. The spinout company
  3. The original inventors/academics (often defined as the founders in company-formation agreements) involved in the creation of the invention or technology that has been assigned or licensed to the spinout company

A scenario that normally generates a pipeline agreement might include the following parts:

  • The founders or their laboratory identifies or creates further intellectual property related to an original invention or technology, or, possibly, not related to the original invention or technology.
  • The further intellectual property is created within a limited time span (for example, one or three years from the date of the pipeline agreement).
  • The spinout company gets an option to obtain an assignment or license of the further intellectual property.

Furthermore, pipeline agreements generally include:

  • a requirement for the founders to report regularly on their work and to identify any intellectual property that will be covered under the option
  • a clause allowing the company to identify intellectual property suitable to be covered under the option
  • clauses dealing with intellectual property created during the term of the agreement that may involve third-party rights or third-party funding, that incorporates third-party intellectual property (or technology), or that has been developed subject to third-party restrictions (for example, on assignment or licensing), or is subject to third-party licensing, assignment, or option requirements
  • provisions giving the university a license back to (or reservation of rights over) any IP or technology licensed to the company under the pipeline agreement (for example, for research and/or teaching or for “non-commercial” use [setting out the parties’ understanding of noncommercial] or for use outside a defined field)
  • provisions imposing, on the company, an obligation to develop and commercially exploit the intellectual property and technology assigned, or licensed, to it under the pipeline agreement
  • provisions stating which party is responsible for obtaining IP protection and bearing the costs of IP protection and when the protection should be sought and the costs borne

The negotiation and drafting of a good option agreement, right of first refusal agreement, and especially pipeline agreement are substantial tasks, during which consideration must be given to many issues—legal issues as well as commercial ones.

Options and similar agreements should never be taken lightly and should be clearly and comprehensively negotiated and drafted, in order to reflect fully the intentions and expectations of the parties.

2. Summary of Best Practice in Dealing with Options

The practices described in this section are put forward for consideration as possible best practice (some of the practices, readers may feel, are ideal practice) with respect to the preparation of options.

Policy. Have in place an institutional policy for the different types of options, covering such matters as:

  • whether to enter into them at all, and if so, which type is appropriate—that is, a basic option, a right of first refusal, or a pipeline
  • what “due diligence” should be carried out to ensure that obligations under an option do not conflict with obligations under other existing agreements and to ensure that the terms of each option do not conflict with, or prejudice, an IP commercialization strategy
  • use of questionnaires to be completed by the relevant researcher/department, to provide information relevant to the option and/or surrounding intellectual property
  • who has authority to sign the option for the institution

Templates. Have in place templates for each type of option agreement ready for use in individual transactions.

Negotiation. Decide who has responsibility for negotiating the terms of options. Does that person have the required level of training and skill? Set out a procedure for referring difficult issues to a more specialist advisor (for example, an in-house lawyer).

Terms. Have in place clear “bottom lines” regarding terms that must, or cannot, be accepted in each type of option agreement. Possible key issues might include:

  • law and jurisdiction (is it covered by relevant insurance policies?)
  • duration of option
  • exactly how the option is exercised
  • clarification of what happens when the option is exercised (that is, there may be a need to enter into a further agreement)
  • whether warranties or indemnities can be accepted in the different types of options

Monitoring. Implement procedures to monitor obligations under option agreements, including maintaining a database of options (and other agreements).

3. Completing A Template Agreement

The following section provides a quick step-by-step list of points to be noted when drafting/completing a standard option agreement, or option clause comprising part of a larger agreement. The assumption, for purposes of this text, is that the basic starting point is an agreement similar to, or the same as, the templates set out in Box 1, although the comments below are generic enough to be of universal value. The issues referred to here have already been dealt with in the main text, but it seems appropriate to state them briefly again, so that one may have a one-shot view of the drafting of suitable option wording.

Signature Date. This is the date of the agreement and is usually (unless otherwise agreed) the date on which the last person/party signs. It is not advisable to backdate the agreement by merely inserting an earlier date at the beginning of the agreement; if one wishes the agreement to cover periods prior to the date of the agreement, one should insert, in the definitions section, a separate definition of a commencement date, effective date, that is, a date after which the rights and obligations under the agreement are effective.

Parties. For a university: parties must be authorized signatories. It is sometimes the case that senior members of an academic department may think they have authority to enter into legally binding agreements on behalf of the university, when they, in fact, do not.

For U.K. companies: The full address of the company should appear (this may be a registered address or business address; it must be stated which address is being provided). Consideration should be given to providing the company number.3

For individuals: The home address should be provided (people move from one employer to another, which can prove problematic if they need to be found to sign further documents or in the event of a dispute).

The “Recitals,” or “Whereas” section. The section generally appears on the first page of the agreement, after the “Parties” section, but before the main body of the agreement (the part that usually commences with “It is agreed as follows” or similar language). Recitals are intended to give some background to the agreement, but, strictly speaking, they are not necessary.

Definitions. This may or may not be a separate clause in the agreement. Quite often definitions are found throughout the document; the standard way of providing definitions is to follow a definition with its term, with initial caps and inside parenthesis. Thereafter, throughout the agreement, the phrase Effective Date would be used in place of the actual date. If a separate clause is used for definitions, the convention generally is to place the defined term in between quotation marks. For example:

1.4 “Contract Period” shall mean the period beginning on the Effective Date and ending on the [third] anniversary of the Effective Date, subject to any earlier or later termination in accordance with Clause 8;

From a drafting, as well as a contractual interpretation point of view, both versions are very efficient approaches.

Obligations: The option agreement needs to set out clearly:

  • the intellectual property covered by the agreement, or if it is future intellectual property in a pipeline agreement, it needs to be properly ring-fenced by, for example, defining it as intellectual property in a particular field, generated by a specific research group, during a limited period
  • the duration period of the option
  • how the option can be exercised
  • what happens if it is not exercised
  • what happens to any materials/software transferred under the option agreement once agreement is terminated

Jurisdiction: The law governing the agreement should as far as possible be English law, while jurisdiction should be the “Non-Exclusive Jurisdiction of the English Courts,” as discussed earlier.

4. Key Negotiating Issues in Options

4.1 Key terms of a typical option agreement

Although the detailed terms of option agreements vary, they often include provisions covering the following points:

  • a description of the general subject matter of the option
  • a detailed definition of “option intellectual property/pipeline intellectual property” (that may refer to existing intellectual property or future intellectual property based on some existing intellectual property)
  • stating what the option is for, for example, to take an exclusive license or assignment
  • in an evaluation agreement, obligations to use the intellectual property only for a defined purpose
  • the option exercise period (for example, “for a period of three months from the date of the agreement”; or “within one month of the Company being informed of new intellectual property arising under a pipeline agreement”)
  • the method of how the option is actually exercised
  • a statement of what happens after the exercise of the option, for example, obligations of the parties:

    - to execute a formal assignment of specific patents

    - to enter into a detailed license agreement on pre-agreed terms, for example, those terms set out in a schedule accompanying the option agreement

    - to negotiate the terms of further agreements, for example, a license agreement or assignment, including any time limit for such negotiations and what would result if the parties are unable to reach agreement

  • payments clause setting out the option fee, including the reimbursement of any historic patent costs
  • general confidentiality obligations
  • various IP-related provisions, including ownership of intellectual property, any warranties that may be given, or a provision that no warranties are given relating to any information/IP provided for evaluation (that is, the material, information or IP license is provided as is)
  • in an evaluation agreement, or a research agreement containing option provisions, obligations to disclose the results of research or evaluation
  • in a pipeline agreement, obligations to promptly inform the spinout company of arising intellectual property that may fall within the pipeline
  • standard boilerplate provisions
  • termination provisions

4.2 What are the common areas of negotiation?

The terms that are often negotiated in option agreements include the following:

  • the extent of the intellectual property covered by the agreement, especially in pipeline situations, where the university needs to keep the pipeline narrow (defined by inventors and research groups, field, sources of funding of the research, and so on), often against the wishes of the spinout company (and their investors)
  • the option fee
  • the duration of the option
  • the name of the party who has control over (and pays for) patenting during the option period
  • the detailed terms of the “further agreement” (for example, license agreement) or, if these have not yet been agreed to at the time the option agreement is negotiated, the extent to which the parties are required to negotiate, in good faith, the terms of the further agreement, for example, the actual final license of the intellectual property and the consequences of failing to agree those terms (for example, whether the terms are settled by an expert and whether the grantee receives a right of first refusal

Sometimes, as a halfway point between items entering into a detailed license agreement and negotiating the terms of further agreements, certain key commercial terms of the future license or assignment are agreed to as part of the option agreement, for example, that there will be an exclusive license, with royalty payments. However, certain provisions, such as the actual percentage figure for royalties, may be left for agreement at a later stage (with provisions for referral to an expert where the parties cannot agree).

5. A Checklist Of Option Provisions

A checklist in Table 1 (see end of chapter) lists:

TABLE 1: CHECKLIST OF PRELIMINARY ISSUES AND CONSIDERATIONS COMMONLY FOUND IN OPTION AGREEMENTS

CLAUSES

CONSIDERATIONS

PRELIMINARY

 

Parties

Are the parties the correct ones? For example, in a pipeline, the parties should comprise the technology transfer office/department of the university, the spinout company, and the founder academics

 

Have their correct legal names and addresses been included?

Authorized signatory

Does the option need to be signed by a central part of the organization, for example, a technology transfer office?

 

Do you need to remind the other party about their authorized signatory?

Are materials or software are under evaluation

Have the materials/software and intended uses been correctly identified?

Have the materials/software been adequately described?

THE OPTION AGREEMENT

 

Recitals

Is it useful/appropriate to cross-refer to a parallel agreement (for example, a research collaboration agreement, in the case of a pipeline)?

Check the terms of the other agreement to ensure no conflicts exist.

Is there anything in the recitals that should really be in the body of the contract? (Recitals may not be legally binding.)

CONTRACT TERMS

 

Date of the agreement

This is the date when the option is signed. The official/legal date will be the date when the last party signs, and this should be the date entered onto any contracts database.

 

Do the parties want to have a particular date from which the agreement is effective? If so, agree and define an “Effective Date” or “Commencement Date” to be used as the starting point of any option period. It is bad practice to try and backdate an agreement by entering a prior date in the signature block.

Term

  • Does the agreement specify a time period?
  • Should it?
  • Are there any obligations (for example, return of materials/software) when the term ends?
  • Is there any obligation to seek to renew the option (for example, three months) prior to expiry?
  • Are there any confidentiality obligations that extend beyond the term?
  • Should termination provisions be included?

Meaning of the rights that would be subject to the option:

  • Would all the intellectual property arising from a particular research project be covered?
  • Should only certain intellectual property be covered (for example, within a defined field—or that related to materials that have been provided for evaluation)?

What exactly is the option for?

  • to negotiate a further agreement
  • to evaluate materials/products
  • to obtain a product, material or right
  • to enter into an agreement on set terms

How will payment (option fee) be handled?

  • Is the option fee separate to any other payments being made under the agreement by the person being granted the option?
  • If it is a separate payment, when is it to be paid? Upon signing the agreement, or upon exercise of the option?
  • What is the method of payment? By check or by direct transfer?

When is the option exercised?

  • a set number of days from the date of the agreement?
  • on the occurrence of a particular event or result (“trigger event”), such as

    - a patent is filed

    - an invention is made or new or improved technology or intellectual property is created resulting from, for example, research work

    - a proof of concept is shown

    - software development reaches beta stage

    - another specified event

  • at any time during the existence of the option agreement (or the agreement in which the option is incorporated)

What if a trigger event occurs?

  • Is the party creating the trigger event under an obligation to notify the other party?
  • Within what period must the other party be notified? (for example, within 30 days of the trigger event occurring)
  • How must the other party be notified? (for example, by written notice)
  • Must the written notice clearly specify certain matters? (for example, describe exactly what the trigger event is, providing details)

How is the option to be exercised?

  • by written notice
  • by such notice being given to a specified representative of the other party

When does the option period start?

  • when sent by the party exercising it
  • when received by the other party

What follows exercise of the option?

  • parties are to negotiate
  • parties are to negotiate in good faith or using their best or other specified endeavors
  • parties are to negotiate for a fixed period, for example, a period of [X] days from receipt of notice by the other party
  • parties are to negotiate to achieve some achievable outcome such as entering into a further agreement

What if a further agreement is to be negotiated?

  • Is there a specified set of terms to be used during the negotiations?
  • Are there minimum conditions (such as milestones and payments) that must be included in any agreement?

What happens if there is a failure to agree?

  • the option lapses
  • the provisions of the agreement are settled by a third party
  • a right of first refusal arises

Questions regarding settlement by a third party:

  • Is the third party to have the final decision on the terms?
  • How is the third party to be chosen? By the parties themselves, or by another third party or by a specific organization (a professional body such as the Law Society of England and Wales)?
  • Are the terms that are to be settled based on an agreed minimum set of terms (such as those attached to the option agreement)?

Right of first refusal:

  • If the option lapses, and there is a right of first refusal, what are the circumstances that will bring the right of first refusal into play?
  • What must the optionee be offered? (for example, the right to match the terms offered to the third party)
  • For how long can the parties negotiate once the right of first refusal has arisen?
  • When must the third party be informed about the right of first refusal?

Confidentiality provisions:

  • Are there any? Should there be?
  • Is it more appropriate to have a separate confidentiality agreement, which could be cross-referenced?
  • What is covered by the definition of confidential information
  • Does confidential information include any information generated by a party evaluating materials/software provided to it?
  • For how long do any confidentiality obligations extend?

Considerations involving materials or software:

  • What exactly is to be supplied and when is it to be evaluated? Are these points clearly stated in the agreement?
  • What endeavors/efforts would the supplier to use to supply them?
  • Is the responsibility for shipping, packaging, and insurance allocated?
  • Who is responsible for the costs if materials are to be returned when the term ends?
  • Are there any regulations governing materials use (for example, the regulations governing the use of genetically modified organisms)? Which party is responsible for compliance?
  • If software is being evaluated, have appropriate disclaimers been included?
  • Generally, should any warranties or disclaimers be given by either party?
  • Does the definition of materials/software include confidential information/documents? If so, check relevant intellectual property, publication, and confidentiality clauses.
  • What exactly is the receiving party to do with the materials?

    - perform (specified) experiments with the materials

    - determine whether the materials can be used for creating new products

    - prepare business, marketing, and scientific reports

    - specify how the material can be (commercially) exploited at the end of the option/evaluation period

    - inform the supplier whether the receiving party wishes to enter into a further agreement, for example, a license agreement

  • Do the stated nature and purpose of the evaluation reflect the parties’ understanding of what is to be carried out in relation to the materials?
  • Should the receiving party have a duty to disclose information generated during the course of the evaluation?

Liability and indemnity

  • Are any warranties being given in relation to the subject matter of the option? Should liability be limited?
  • Are any indemnities being given? If so, are they (1) appropriate and (2) covered by your institution’s insurance policies?
  • In cases in which your institution is giving an indemnity, should you insist on having control of any proceedings brought by a third party (against the other [indemnified] party)?
  • Should indemnities be restricted only to third-party claims?

Law and jurisdiction

  • Has the law governing the option been stated?
  • Has jurisdiction also been specified (that is, which party’s courts would hear any dispute)?
  • Is it appropriate to specify exclusive or nonexclusive jurisdiction?
  • If confidentiality provisions are important, should a right to obtain an injunction in any jurisdiction be included?

Boilerplate provisions

  • entire agreement
  • force majeure
  • notices (may be useful if option notices should go to technology transfer office rather than address of legal entity)

Schedules

  • Is a schedule appropriate for a description of the materials/software to be evaluated?
  • Have the contents been agreed/checked with the relevant academic/department?
  • Is it attached?
  • Has the intellectual property that is the subject of the option been described in sufficient detail?
  • preliminary points that may need consideration
  • the main clauses usually found in an option together with the main issues that should be addressed regarding each provision

6. Special Legal Issues in Options

Note: the following comments are based on English law, and different considerations may apply in other jurisdictions, e.g. as to the enforceability of obligations to negotiate in good faith.

The enforcement of option agreements depends on both (1) the terms of the agreement and (2) the effect of the underlying law relating to such matters as “agreements to agree” among others. The manner in which an option agreement is drafted might have a similar effect as when parties use and characterize documents as letters of intent or “heads of terms” in the course of negotiations—the document is not as much setting out all of the details of the overall transaction as it is anticipating future events (and perhaps further written agreements too) down the line.

Generally, where substantial and necessary terms of an option agreement are left open for future negotiations, a contract has not been created. Ideally (from the point of view of legal enforcement) all the terms of the further agreement (for example, license agreement) will be set out as a schedule to the option agreement, so that all the parties have to do when the option is exercised is sign the further agreement. However, the parties do not always wish to spend time negotiating detailed license terms at the time of negotiating the option agreement. An alternative is to specify that the parties will negotiate the detailed terms once the option is exercised. Unless carefully drafted (in particular, with a default mechanism stating what happens if the parties cannot reach agreement, for example, referring the terms for settlement by an independent expert), this may amount to an unenforceable agreement to agree.

Where a party intends to create a legally binding option agreement, it should refrain from merely agreeing to “agree in the future,” even if future agreements will be necessary corollaries to the contract at issue. Instead, the parties should specifically describe the responsibilities and obligations of each party, clearly stating the consideration for each party’s obligations. By avoiding the inclusion of uncertain terms requiring future negotiation, a party can help ensure that a binding contract has been formed.

If certain commercial terms cannot be determined at the time of the execution of the option agreement, the parties should provide a method for determining the matter. For example, in relation to any options fees or other payments to be paid at a later date, the parties can agree upon a formula that permits the calculation of fees/prices in the future, or such fees/prices will be determined by a specified independent person, that is referred to an expert. These matters should not be left for the court to decide.

7. Detailed Discussion Of Commercial Issues In Options

Compared with other topics covered in the UNICO Practical Guides, there are relatively few detailed commercial issues to discuss, once the key drafting and negotiating issues have been resolved, that is, the scope and duration of the option and the procedure for exercising it.

7.1 Option for license or option for assignment?

As has already been noted, there are many different types of options and many different subject matters these options can address—for example, acquisition of shares, intellectual property, contractual rights, and income streams. In the context of technology transfer activities, and where the subject matter of the option is intellectual property, a key question is whether an option should give the grantee the ownership of the intellectual property (that is, by means of an assignment) or merely a license, with ownership remaining with the university.

From the university’s perspective, the main advantage of retaining ownership (that is, licensing rather than assigning) is the degree of control (or at least influence) that ownership gives. The main areas of control may be:

  • control over patenting (the licensee or assignee’s interests may not always coincide with those of the university)
  • control over development and commercial exploitation of the intellectual property
  • recovery of rights if the company becomes insolvent

Diligence obligations can, of course, be included in an assignment agreement. However, if the grantee obtains outright ownership of the intellectual property, regaining control of the intellectual property may be more difficult (if the assignee is in breach of contract) than if only a license had been granted. A license can be terminated; an obligation to assign back intellectual property may be more difficult to enforce. If the grantee owns the intellectual property and then sells it (for example, through the grantee’s liquidator, as part of a winding-up process), the new owner may be able to avoid complying with the obligations under the assignment agreement (and this is an even greater risk if the new owner were not aware of these obligations).

In the case of pipeline agreements with spinout companies, the company’s investors may push hard for an assignment rather than a license of intellectual property (both in relation to the original package of intellectual property that is being acquired from the university and in relation to any further intellectual property that is acquired under a pipeline agreement). A few universities are becoming more resistant to such pressure and granting only a license, or, in some cases, granting only a license initially, but converting the license to an assignment once the company has generated a certain level of investment.

7.2 Options as part of research agreements

Take the example of an agreement under which a company sponsors a program of research at a university. Such an agreement will usually include provisions that determine which of the parties would own the results of the research, including any resulting intellectual property. Sometimes, the agreement will specify that the results are owned by the university and that the sponsor is granted an option to acquire a license to develop and commercialize the results. Some of the “Lambert” agreements (agreement number 2, Clause 4.6) include such option terms.4

This approach—the grant of an option to acquire a license to commercialize results—is just one of a number of possible ways of “carving up” any intellectual property generated from a sponsored research program. The Lambert agreements offer some alternative ways of dealing with this issue. Other possible approaches include:

  • sponsor owns all the results (solely or jointly with the university)
  • sponsor has an automatic license to the results (either for all purposes, including commercialization, or for research purposes only)
  • sponsor gets no automatic rights to, or option over, the results

Other variations include granting rights in specific fields or territories.

7.3 No automatic offer of license or assignment: the U.S. approach

Although Lambert may assist U.K. universities in developing a more standardized approach to the question of intellectual property arising from research contracts, U.K. universities have not yet become as consistent in their approach as many U.S. universities are. Generally, in the United States, the policy of most universities is to only grant options to arising intellectual property that is generated under a research contract.

Although exceptions may be made in certain (rare) circumstances, U.S. universities generally retain ownership of any intellectual property that arises from the results of its own research. However, they are willing to negotiate the grant of commercial rights to a sponsor through an appropriate license, so that the sponsor may commercialize the intellectual property. This approach has evolved for two reasons—first, universities feel the need to have a certain degree of control of the discoveries made in-house (no matter who funded the research), and second, the Bayh-Dole Act prohibits universities from transferring ownership of intellectual property to a company if federal funding has helped support the work—instead, the law encourages the transfer of technologies to industry through licensing.

The Bayh-Dole Act was passed in 1980 in the United States, and the policy set down in the act encourages the utilization of inventions produced under U.S. federal funding. The policy promotes the participation of universities and small businesses in the development and commercialization process. The policy permits exclusive licensing with the transfer of an invention to the marketplace for the public good. The U.S. government enjoys royalty-free, nonexclusive licenses to use such inventions for government purposes (including for use by government contractors).

Some licenses granted by U.S. universities must be nonexclusive either because federal requirements demand it or because the research has had multiple sponsors. Under some circumstances, U.S. universities are willing to grant an exclusive license to a company. However, care is taken to ensure that, first, the field of use specified in the license is limited to the application of commercial interest to the company (so that the university researchers can continue to conduct research on other applications and develop other licensing possibilities), and second, the university will wish to ensure that the company is diligent in pursuing commercialization opportunities (a diligence clause is normally inserted into license agreements to allow the university to terminate the license if the company does not take the promised steps to develop or market the product).

In addition, licenses granted by U.S. universities normally obligate the company to pay or to reimburse the university for historic expenses associated with obtaining patents, as well as paying to the university licensing fees and/or royalties on the sale of products. If the company and the university are unable to reach agreement, or the company does not wish to obtain a license, the university is then generally free to negotiate with other parties.

In cases in which research is sponsored by a private company, a U.S. university might consider granting the sponsor a free, nonexclusive, nontransferable, royalty-free license, for internal research purposes only, to intellectual property generated by academics under the agreement. In addition, the university could, in consideration for a fixed annual fee (or royalties), grant the company the option to a nonexclusive, nontransferable, royalty-free license without the right to sublicense for the company to make products using the intellectual property.

A good example of the U.S. model is Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). In the majority of cases where M.I.T. research agreements involve a single sponsor, the sponsors accept M.I.T.’s standard IP clause, which gives the sponsor a number of options (including an option to an exclusive license) with regard to the licensing of patents and copyrightable materials, including software. In situations in which a sponsor wants to negotiate particular “nonstandard” IP provisions, M.I.T. is willing to enter into further negotiations. If an M.I.T. research agreement involves a consortium, the standard licensing options are limited to nonexclusive licenses.5

In relation to software licensing, whether intellectual property arises from sponsored research or not, companies are often willing to accept nonexclusive licenses. Also, because of the large number of patents involved in a typical electronic consumer product and because accounting for the use of each patent in such a product is onerous, many companies do not like royalty-bearing licenses in such cases. Therefore, universities might consider offering royalty-free licenses but with an upfront fee—a good example of the use of such an approach is Stanford University’s EPIC (Engineering Portfolio of Inventions for Commercialization) Program, a subscription-type system with standard fees.6 Such an approach should increase a university’s chances of licensing its software technologies.

7.4 When is an option agreement a pipeline agreement?

An agreement will generally be described as a pipeline agreement if the party wishing to obtain rights in the intellectual property is a university spinout company and the intellectual property that is the subject of the agreement is future intellectual property that may be generated by the university (normally developed in the spinout of the department of the founding academics, or founders). Most standard option agreements, on the other hand, quite often relate to a discrete, existing item of intellectual property that a party wishes to evaluate and, possibly, obtain a license to commercially exploit.

Given that a pipeline agreement involves different pieces of (as yet unidentified) intellectual property, and also serves to set out the future relationship of the spinout and the university (and/ or the university’s technology transfer office), the pipeline agreement is necessarily a more complex type of agreement than a straight forward option.

Pipeline agreements usually grant an option to obtain an assignment or license of intellectual property. A pipeline agreement will usually include a definition of “pipeline IP” that will serve to define and limit the intellectual property that is to flow through the pipeline. Usually, a university will wish to limit the pipeline flow to intellectual property generated by the founders, or their laboratory, during a defined period. The university may wish to exclude from the definition any intellectual property that is subject to obligations to third parties, for example, obligations to sponsors, or to that in which any third party owns rights (for example, joint inventions made with academics employed by other universities). The method by which new intellectual property is correctly identified as pipeline IP needs to be set out in detail—that is, provisions should be set out for the submission of regular reports, by the university/founders about their relevant research, to the spinout company, in order that the company may then choose to exercise its options.

In addition, a pipeline agreement will address which of the parties is responsible for IP protection going forward, as well as certain diligence obligations on the company in relation to its commercial exploitation of the intellectual property.

7.5 Should the university be entering into a pipeline agreement at all?

In ascertaining whether it is really in the university’s interest to grant a pipeline to a spinout company, various factors need to be taken into account. A fundamental point is whether the university spinout in question is really the best company to commercialize the intellectual property coming out of the pipeline. Often, the assumption is made that a spinout is the automatic licensee for further developments made by the university in the same field as the intellectual property on which the spinout is based (and bearing in mind that the academic inventors of the new intellectual property in question are also involved in the spinout and have a close relationship with the technology in question). However, this assumption may not always be correct. Another company may be better able to develop the new items of intellectual property, for example, because of its greater resources or because of its complementary product offerings.

Another scenario where a spinout may not be the “licensee of choice” is one in that the university may decide to grant nonexclusive licenses—for example, if several companies are possible infringers of the university intellectual property in question and may be interested in taking out a license.

7.6 Scope, duration, and procedure for exercise

The option agreement should be clear in relation to:

  • the period of time during which the option can be exercised—the option agreement should clearly set out the relevant commencement and termination dates for exercise of the option. Options sometimes have provisions covering several different periods:

    - the period during which the grantee can decide to exercise the option, for example, during the period of a research program and for a defined period after the final report is produced

    - if the grantee exercises the option, the period during which the parties are required to negotiate the terms of a further agreement, for example, a license agreement (Sometimes, this period is vaguely specified, and there is merely an obligation on the parties to negotiate, with no clear cut-off point. From the university’s point of view this approach is highly undesirable.)

    - if the option incorporates a right of first refusal, the period of that right of first refusal (For example, the clause might provide that if the parties fail to agree the terms of the further agreement within a defined period, the university is free to license to a third party, but must offer to the grantee the terms offered to the third party. Sometimes this right of first refusal will only operate for a specified period of time, for example, a year after the collapse of negotiations with the grantee.)

  • what the option is exactly for, for example, whether it is a right to negotiate something or a right to acquire something, specifying exactly what the subject matter of the option is—a specific piece of technology or a specific patent, for example (Precise definitions on that subject are generally needed.)
  • consequences of any failure to agree to the terms of any further agreement (The two main alternatives are: (1) the option lapses or (2) referral to an expert who will decide the terms of the further agreement.)

7.7 Payments

Sometimes, options are granted without charge. This usually happens in cases in which the grantee of the option is perceived to be in a sufficiently strong bargaining position to demand a period of exclusivity prior to deciding whether to acquire rights to the asset in question.

In many situations, however, the university may take the view that the grant of an option has commercial value that should be recognized in an option fee. One possible argument for such a fee is that if an exclusive option is granted, the university is prevented from pursuing its licensing activities with other companies during the option term. The fee could be either or both of the following:

  • a fee payable for the grant of the option (for example, payable on signature of an option agreement)
  • a fee payable on exercise of the option

The amount that should be charged for the grant of an option is clearly a commercial, rather than a legal, issue. The authors have seen option fees of the order of tens of thousands of pounds, but much will depend on the technology, the market, the extent of rights granted, and so on. Usually, a university will wish to recover its incurred patent costs on exercise of the option, in addition to any option fee. Option fees should not be confused with initial payments under any further agreement (for example, a license agreement). Various standard techniques have been applied for the valuation (and therefore pricing) of technology generally.7

8. Administration of Options

It is important to keep track of options—both during the review and negotiation period and once options agreements have been signed. This task is probably best administered centrally, for greater ease of checking existing options that may have already been signed with the same party, and any other agreements, for potential conflicts with the option under review. Once a party has decided to grant an option, then a number of administrative issues may need to be addressed.

8.1 Standard operating procedure (SOP)

It is extremely helpful to the person negotiating the option if his or her institution has an established written policy, or written standard operating procedure (SOP) for dealing with options, that includes guidelines regarding particular clauses and issues. It is particularly helpful if written guidance exists for nonnegotiable provisions as this enables the negotiator to take a more confident stance. The guidance should be updated regularly and honed in light of practical issues experienced by the negotiators on a daily basis.

In addition to aiding the negotiator, having an SOP is also in the institution’s interest. By issuing clear guidelines (and emphasizing which clauses should be referred to more senior staff or legal advisers) the potential for errors or oversights is reduced. An SOP might usefully include:

  • checklist of provisions that should (or should not) be included
  • guidance on when to refer particular issues to more senior staff
  • reminders to enter certain details of a finalized option on the relevant database and to send a copy to appropriate academics
  • list of authorized signatories and the relevant procedures for holiday cover
  • whether or not to have an option questionnaire for relevant academics to complete (Unlike Material Transfer Agreements, which may be quite complex and require a more structured approach in order to ensure that the university has not granted identical rights to rival sponsors or contaminated its own background, options tend to be more straightforward. In the author’s view, the essential information can probably be captured in an e-mail, with a follow-up telephone conversation if necessary.)

8.2 Getting all the essential information for a new option

The researcher or scientist requesting or receiving the option holds the essential information that enables the negotiator to understand the relevant issues and establish a position that will best protect the interests of the institution (and the academic). Even if the organization does not use a formal questionnaire and, instead, gathers information by e-mail/phone, having a note of the relevant questions on an SOP has the advantage that (1) the negotiator does not need to rely on memory for the appropriate questions to ask and (2) it saves time.

8.3 Deciding which information should be disclosed

Where a suite of confidential information is concerned, it may be safest to provide only some of the confidential information to the recipient and withhold the most valuable, sensitive, and confidential parts of the information. Or, it may be prudent to disclose the most sensitive information at a later date, for example, when a further agreement has been signed or when a patent application has been filed.

Other detailed issues and best practice suggestions in relation to confidential disclosures of information are discussed in the UNICO Practical Guide: Confidentiality Agreements.

8.4 Appointing a coordinator

It may be desirable to appoint someone, for example, a senior secretary or contracts officer, to make sure that an option has been signed prior to disclosure and to oversee the disclosure and receipt of information under the option. Other duties could include:

  • monitoring any deadlines (for example, the expiry date of the option)
  • where appropriate, keeping a log of which employees have received the confidential information of an external party
  • noting any unusual provisions or deviation of an option from one’s own standard option
  • sending a copy of the signed option to the relevant academic together with a covering letter highlighting any particular obligations
  • recording details of the option in a contracts database and filing the original in a safe (or designated area)

8.5 Making employees and others aware of their obligations

It is good practice to ensure that employees are aware of their obligations with respect to options. In order to achieve this, all third-party confidential information should be clearly identified, perhaps by labeling it clearly as confidential. Any employee who receives third-party information should be informed that the information must be kept confidential and not used except as permitted under the option with the third party. In some cases it may be appropriate to provide a copy of that option to the employee.

8.6 Contracts databases

Many universities enter into large numbers of IP contracts, including options, with many different organizations. It can be difficult to keep track of whether, if the university wants to talk to a third party, there is already a option in place between them, and if so, whether it is in force and whether it covers the type of discussions that are contemplated. Maintaining a general contracts database (or even better, having a discrete database just for options) that includes brief details of the terms of each option, and searchable fields, can be of invaluable assistance.

8.7 When to involve the lawyers

Liability and indemnity provisions are probably the main areas where more-specialized legal advice is sought. It is also important to ensure that the procedures for exercising the option are unambiguously worded and do not leave the option in limbo for a prolonged period of time. However, unfamiliar phrasing within any clause is often worth checking. Some institutions may have a set policy that requires a final legal review before signature before certain nonstandard options are passed. Whether or not this is the case, a legal review of a random selection of nonstandard options at regular intervals may be useful as part of a due diligence exercise.

Acknowledgements

Many people and organizations contributed to the creation of the UNICO Practical Guides and we would like to thank all of them. In particular, we would like to recognize:

  • Jeff Skinner, commercial director of University College London, who first came up with the concept of the practical guides.
  • Tom Hockaday, of Isis Innovations, and Phil Clare, of Bournemouth University, who have managed the process of development and delivery on UNICO’s behalf.
  • The Department of Trade and Industry, London, U.K., who generously funded the production of the practical guides.
  • All of the universities and individuals, inside the profession, who have contributed to and helped to review the UNICO Practical Guides.

UNICO is based on, and thrives upon, the sharing of ideas within the profession. We believe that the UNICO Practical Guides, and this chapter, are the latest tangible example of this. We thank everyone who has contributed to them, and we thank you for taking the time to read and use them.

Box 1: Sample option Agreement

Box 1: Sample option Agreement

Box 1: Sample option Agreement

Box 2: Sample Software evaluation Agreement

Box 2: Sample Software evaluation Agreement

Box 2: Sample Software evaluation Agreement

Box 2: Sample Software evaluation Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 3: Sample pipeline Agreement

Box 4: examples of options, Rights of first Refusal (and Similar provisions)

Box 4: examples of options, Rights of first Refusal (and Similar provisions)

Box 4: examples of options, Rights of first Refusal (and Similar provisions)

TABLE 1: CHECKLIST OF PRELIMINARY ISSUES AND CONSIDERATIONS COMMONLY FOUND IN OPTION AGREEMENTS

CLAUSES

CONSIDERATIONS

PRELIMINARY

 

Parties

Are the parties the correct ones? For example, in a pipeline, the parties should comprise the technology transfer office/department of the university, the spinout company, and the founder academics

 

Have their correct legal names and addresses been included?

Authorized signatory

Does the option need to be signed by a central part of the organization, for example, a technology transfer office?

 

Do you need to remind the other party about their authorized signatory?

Are materials or software are under evaluation

Have the materials/software and intended uses been correctly identified?

Have the materials/software been adequately described?

THE OPTION AGREEMENT

 

Recitals

Is it useful/appropriate to cross-refer to a parallel agreement (for example, a research collaboration agreement, in the case of a pipeline)?

Check the terms of the other agreement to ensure no conflicts exist.

Is there anything in the recitals that should really be in the body of the contract? (Recitals may not be legally binding.)

CONTRACT TERMS

 

Date of the agreement

This is the date when the option is signed. The official/legal date will be the date when the last party signs, and this should be the date entered onto any contracts database.

 

Do the parties want to have a particular date from which the agreement is effective? If so, agree and define an “Effective Date” or “Commencement Date” to be used as the starting point of any option period. It is bad practice to try and backdate an agreement by entering a prior date in the signature block.

Term

  • Does the agreement specify a time period?
  • Should it?
  • Are there any obligations (for example, return of materials/software) when the term ends?
  • Is there any obligation to seek to renew the option (for example, three months) prior to expiry?
  • Are there any confidentiality obligations that extend beyond the term?
  • Should termination provisions be included?

Meaning of the rights that would be subject to the option:

  • Would all the intellectual property arising from a particular research project be covered?
  • Should only certain intellectual property be covered (for example, within a defined field—or that related to materials that have been provided for evaluation)?

What exactly is the option for?

  • to negotiate a further agreement
  • to evaluate materials/products
  • to obtain a product, material or right
  • to enter into an agreement on set terms

How will payment (option fee) be handled?

  • Is the option fee separate to any other payments being made under the agreement by the person being granted the option?
  • If it is a separate payment, when is it to be paid? Upon signing the agreement, or upon exercise of the option?
  • What is the method of payment? By check or by direct transfer?

When is the option exercised?

  • a set number of days from the date of the agreement?
  • on the occurrence of a particular event or result (“trigger event”), such as

    - a patent is filed

    - an invention is made or new or improved technology or intellectual property is created resulting from, for example, research work

    - a proof of concept is shown

    - software development reaches beta stage

    - another specified event

  • at any time during the existence of the option agreement (or the agreement in which the option is incorporated)

What if a trigger event occurs?

  • Is the party creating the trigger event under an obligation to notify the other party?
  • Within what period must the other party be notified? (for example, within 30 days of the trigger event occurring)
  • How must the other party be notified? (for example, by written notice)
  • Must the written notice clearly specify certain matters? (for example, describe exactly what the trigger event is, providing details)

How is the option to be exercised?

  • by written notice
  • by such notice being given to a specified representative of the other party

When does the option period start?

  • when sent by the party exercising it
  • when received by the other party

What follows exercise of the option?

  • parties are to negotiate
  • parties are to negotiate in good faith or using their best or other specified endeavors
  • parties are to negotiate for a fixed period, for example, a period of [X] days from receipt of notice by the other party
  • parties are to negotiate to achieve some achievable outcome such as entering into a further agreement

What if a further agreement is to be negotiated?

  • Is there a specified set of terms to be used during the negotiations?
  • Are there minimum conditions (such as milestones and payments) that must be included in any agreement?

What happens if there is a failure to agree?

  • the option lapses
  • the provisions of the agreement are settled by a third party
  • a right of first refusal arises

Questions regarding settlement by a third party:

  • Is the third party to have the final decision on the terms?
  • How is the third party to be chosen? By the parties themselves, or by another third party or by a specific organization (a professional body such as the Law Society of England and Wales)?
  • Are the terms that are to be settled based on an agreed minimum set of terms (such as those attached to the option agreement)?

Right of first refusal:

  • If the option lapses, and there is a right of first refusal, what are the circumstances that will bring the right of first refusal into play?
  • What must the optionee be offered? (for example, the right to match the terms offered to the third party)
  • For how long can the parties negotiate once the right of first refusal has arisen?
  • When must the third party be informed about the right of first refusal?

Confidentiality provisions:

  • Are there any? Should there be?
  • Is it more appropriate to have a separate confidentiality agreement, which could be cross-referenced?
  • What is covered by the definition of confidential information
  • Does confidential information include any information generated by a party evaluating materials/software provided to it?
  • For how long do any confidentiality obligations extend?

Considerations involving materials or software:

  • What exactly is to be supplied and when is it to be evaluated? Are these points clearly stated in the agreement?
  • What endeavors/efforts would the supplier to use to supply them?
  • Is the responsibility for shipping, packaging, and insurance allocated?
  • Who is responsible for the costs if materials are to be returned when the term ends?
  • Are there any regulations governing materials use (for example, the regulations governing the use of genetically modified organisms)? Which party is responsible for compliance?
  • If software is being evaluated, have appropriate disclaimers been included?
  • Generally, should any warranties or disclaimers be given by either party?
  • Does the definition of materials/software include confidential information/documents? If so, check relevant intellectual property, publication, and confidentiality clauses.
  • What exactly is the receiving party to do with the materials?

    - perform (specified) experiments with the materials

    - determine whether the materials can be used for creating new products

    - prepare business, marketing, and scientific reports

    - specify how the material can be (commercially) exploited at the end of the option/evaluation period

    - inform the supplier whether the receiving party wishes to enter into a further agreement, for example, a license agreement

  • Do the stated nature and purpose of the evaluation reflect the parties’ understanding of what is to be carried out in relation to the materials?
  • Should the receiving party have a duty to disclose information generated during the course of the evaluation?

Liability and indemnity

  • Are any warranties being given in relation to the subject matter of the option? Should liability be limited?
  • Are any indemnities being given? If so, are they (1) appropriate and (2) covered by your institution’s insurance policies?
  • In cases in which your institution is giving an indemnity, should you insist on having control of any proceedings brought by a third party (against the other [indemnified] party)?
  • Should indemnities be restricted only to third-party claims?

Law and jurisdiction

  • Has the law governing the option been stated?
  • Has jurisdiction also been specified (that is, which party’s courts would hear any dispute)?
  • Is it appropriate to specify exclusive or nonexclusive jurisdiction?
  • If confidentiality provisions are important, should a right to obtain an injunction in any jurisdiction be included?

Boilerplate provisions

  • entire agreement
  • force majeure
  • notices (may be useful if option notices should go to technology transfer office rather than address of legal entity)

Schedules

  • Is a schedule appropriate for a description of the materials/software to be evaluated?
  • Have the contents been agreed/checked with the relevant academic/department?
  • Is it attached?
  • Has the intellectual property that is the subject of the option been described in sufficient detail?

Endnotes

All referenced Web sites were last accessed between 1 and 10 October 2007.

1 This chapter includes an overview and discussion of certain legal issues from the authors’ perspectives as lawyers who are qualified in England and Wales. This overview and discussion is not intended to be comprehensive and does not constitute and must not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers should consult their institution’s own legal advisers on any specific legal issue that may arise. UNICO members based in Scotland and Northern Ireland should be aware that, whilst some areas of law are the same throughout the United Kingdom, other areas (such as Scots contract law) differ significantly from that in England and Wales. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Anderson & Company nor UNICO nor any of their employees or representatives shall have any liability, whether arising in contract, tort, negligence, breach of statutory duty or otherwise, for any loss or damage (whether direct, indirect or consequential) occasioned to any person acting or omitting to act or refraining from acting upon any advice, recommendations or suggestions contained in this chapter or from using any template or clause contained in this chapter.

2 See http://www.unico.org.uk/ or write to UNICO, St John’s Innovation Centre (Unit 56), Cowley Road, Cambridge CB4 0WS, U.K. info@unico.org.uk.

3 In the U.K., consider inserting the company ‘number’ (a company can change its name, but the original number given to it by Companies House never changes).

4 The Lambert agreements were developed in the UK by a committee consisting of university and industry representatives, and chaired by Mr Richard Lambert (now the Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)). The agreements consist of 5 alternative template agreements with different IP terms; they were designed to reduce the time spent in negotiating IP issues in university research contracts www.innovation.gov.uk/lambertagreements.

5 See also www.mit.edu.

6 http://otl.stanford.edu/industry/resources.html.

7 See, for example, Anderson M. 2003. Technology Transfer: Law, Practice, and Precedents (Second edition), ch. 3. Tottel Publishing: U.K. In this book, techniques such as net present value, benchmarking, and going rate are discussed, and a table of published royalty rates is included.

Anderson M and S Keevey-Kothari. 2007. Commercialization Agreements: Practical Guidelines in Dealing with Options. In Intellectual Property Management in Health and Agricultural Innovation: A Handbook of Best Practices (eds. A Krattiger, RT Mahoney, L Nelsen, et al.). MIHR: Oxford, U.K., and PIPRA: Davis, U.S.A. Available online at www.ipHandbook.org.

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Editors Note: We are grateful to UNICO for having licensed one of its UNICO Practical Guides for inclusion as a chapter in this Handbook. The original version of the Guide was published by UNICO (http://www.unico.org.uk/). The work was prepared by Anderson & Company, the Technology Law Practice, U.K. (www.andlaw.eu), in cooperation with UNICO. The guide was edited by MIHR/PIPRA for this publication.

© 2007. UNICO. Sharing the Art of IP Management: Photocopying and distribution through the Internet for noncommercial purposes is permitted and encouraged.