London private equity & banking law firm Crefovi is delighted to bring you this M&A, private equity & banking law blog, to provide you with forward-thinking and insightful information on the financial and corporate issues for the creative industries.
This M&A, private equity & banking law blog provides regular news and updates, and features summaries of recent news reports, on legal issues facing the global banking, finance and private equity community, in particular in the United Kingdom and France. This blog also provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the capital markets and mergers & acquisitions sectors. It is curated by the finance lawyers of our law firm, who specialise in advising our finance, banking, mergers & acquisitions, capital markets & private equity clients in London, Paris and internationally on all their legal issues.
London banking & finance law firm Crefovi advises its clients on all their financing needs, in particular, those related to the fashion and luxury goods sectors, the entertainment, music and film sectors, the art world & high tech market. Crefovi writes and curates this M&A, private equity & banking law blog to guide its clients through the complexities of banking & finance law.
We support our clients out of London, Paris and globally, in finding the best solutions to their various legal issues relating to banking and finance law, either on contentious or non-contentious matters. We also advise our clients on private equity and private equity financing matters, capital markets issuances and mergers & acquisitions.
Crefovi has experience representing either lenders and financiers, or borrowers and invested businesses (which are all trading in the creative industries), in which equity or debt is injected.
Moreover, Crefovi has industry teams, built by experienced lawyers with a wide range of practice and geographic backgrounds. These industry teams apply their extensive industry expertise to best serve clients’ business needs. Some of these industry teams are the Banking & finance, Mergers & acquisitions, Capital markets and Private equity departments, which curate this M&A, private equity & banking law blog below for you.
Annabelle Gauberti, founding and managing partner of London private equity & banking law firm Crefovi, is also the president of the International association of lawyers for creative industries (ialci). This association is instrumental in providing very high quality seminars, webinars & brainstorming sessions on legal & business issues to which the creative industries are confronted.
As explained in our two previous articles relating to Brexit, ‟How to protect your creative business after Brexit?” and ‟Brexit legal implications: the road less travelled”, the European Union (‟EU”) regulations and conventions on the jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, ceased to apply in the United Kingdom (‟UK”) once it no longer was a EU member-state. Therefore, since 1 January 2021 (the ‟Transition date”), no clear legal system is in place, to enforce civil and commercial judgments after Brexit, in a EU member-state, or in the UK. Creative businesses now have to rely on domestic recognition regimes in the UK and each EU member-state, if in existence. This introduces additional procedural steps before a foreign judgment is recognised, which makes the enforcement of EU civil and commercial judgments in the UK, and of UK civil and commercial judgments in the EU, more time-consuming, complex and expensive.
1. How things worked before Brexit, with respect to the enforcement of civil and commercial judgments between the EU and the UK
a. The EU legal framework
Before the Transition date on which the UK ceased to be a EU member-state, there were, and there still are between the 27 remaining EU member-states, four main regimes that are applicable to civil and commercial judgments obtained from EU member-states, depending on when, and where, the relevant proceedings were started.
Each regime applies to civil and commercial matters, and therefore excludes matters relating to revenue, customs and administrative law. There are also separate EU regimes applicable to matrimonial relationships, wills, successions, bankruptcy and social security.
The most recent enforcement regime applicable to civil and commercial judgments is EU regulation n. 1215/2012 of the European parliament and of the council dated 12 December 2012 on the jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the ‟Recast Brussels regulation”). It applies to EU member-states’ judgments handed down in proceedings started on or after 10 January 2015.
The original Council regulation n. 44/2001 dated 22 December 2000 on the jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the ‟Original Brussels regulation”), although no longer in force upon the implementation of the Recast Brussels regulation on 9 January 2015, still applies to EU member-states’ judgments handed down in proceedings started before 10 January 2015.
Moreover, the Brussels convention dated 27 September 1968 on the jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the ‟Brussels convention”), also continues to apply in relation to civil and commercial judgments between the 15 pre-2004 EU member-states and certain territories of EU member-states which are located outside the EU, such as Aruba, Caribbean Netherlands, Curacao, the French overseas territories and Mayotte. Before the Transition date, the Brussels convention also applied to judgments handed down in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory.
Finally, the Lugano convention dated 16 September 1988 on the jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the ‟Lugano convention”), which was replaced on 21 December 2007 by the Lugano convention dated 30 October 2007 on the jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the ‟2007 Lugano convention”), govern the recognition and enforcement of civil and commercial judgments between the EU and certain member-states of the European Free Trade Association (‟EFTA”), namely Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark but not Liechtenstein, which never signed the Lugano convention.
The 2007 Lugano convention was intended to replace both the Lugano convention and the Brussels convention. As such it was open to signature to both EFTA members-states and to EU member-states on behalf of their extra-EU territories. While the former purpose was achieved in 2010 with the ratification of the 2007 Lugano convention by all EFTA member-states (except Liechtenstein, as explained above), no EU member-state has yet acceded to the 2007 Lugano convention on behalf of its extra-EU territories.
The UK has applied to join the 2007 Lugano convention after the Transition date, as we will explain in more details in section 2 below.
b. Enforceability of remedies ordered by a EU court
Before Brexit, the Recast Brussels regulation, the Original Brussels regulation, the Brussels convention, the Lugano convention and the 2007 Lugano convention (together, the ‟EU instruments”) provided, and still provide with respect to the 27 remaining EU member-states, for the enforcement of any judgment in a civil or commercial matter given by a court of tribunal of a EU member-state, whatever it is called by the original court. For example, article 2(a) of the Recast Brussels regulation provides for the enforcement of any ‟decree, order, decision or writ of execution, as well as a decision on the determination of costs or expenses by an officer of the court”.
The Original Brussels regulation also extends to interim, provisional or protective relief (including injunctions), when ordered by a court which has jurisdiction by virtue of this regulation.
c. Competent courts
Before the Transition date, proceedings seeking recognition and enforcement of EU foreign judgments in the UK should be brought before the high court in England and Wales, the court of session in Scotland and the high court of Northern Ireland.
Article 32 of the Brussels convention provides that the proceedings seeking recognition and enforcement of EU foreign judgments in France should be brought before the president of the ‟tribunal judiciaire”. Therefore, before the Transition date, a UK judgment had to be brought before such president, in order to be recognised and enforced in France.
d. Separation of recognition and enforcement
Before the Transition date, and for judgments that fell within the EU instruments other than the Recast Brussels regulation, the process for obtaining recognition of a EU judgment was set out in detail in Part 74 of the UK civil procedure rules (‟CPR”). The process involved applying to a high court master with the support of written evidence. The application should include, among other things, a verified or certified copy of the EU judgment and a certified translation (if necessary). The judgment debtor then had an opportunity to oppose appeal registration on certain limited grounds. Assuming the judgment debtor did not successfully oppose appeal registration, the judgment creditor could then take steps to enforce the judgment.
Before the Transition date, and for judgments that fell within the Recast Brussels regulation, the position was different. Under article 36 of the Recast Brussels regulation, judgments from EU member-states are automatically recognised as if they were a judgment of a court in the state in which the judgment is being enforced; no special procedure is required for the judgment to be recognised. Therefore, prior to Brexit, all EU judgments that fell within the Recast Brussels regulation were automatically recognised as if they were UK judgments, by the high court in England and Wales, the court of session in Scotland and the high court of Northern Ireland. Similarly, all UK judgments that fell within the Recast Brussels regulation were automatically recognised as if they were French judgments, by the presidents of the French ‟tribunal judiciaires”.
Under the EU instruments, any judgment handed down by a court or tribunal from a EU member-state can be recognised. There is no requirement that the judgment must be final and conclusive, and both monetary and non-monetary judgments are eligible to be recognised. Therefore, neither the UK courts, nor the French courts, are entitled to investigate the jurisdiction of the originating EU court. Such foreign judgments shall be recognised without any special procedures, subject to the grounds for non-recognition set out in article 45 of the Recast Brussels regulation, article 34 of the Original Brussels regulation and article 34 of the Lugano convention, as discussed in paragraph e. (Defences) below.
For the EU judgment to be enforced in the UK, prior to the Transition date, and pursuant to article 42 of the Recast Brussels regulation and Part 74.4A of the CPR, the applicant had to provide the documents set out in above-mentioned article 42 to the UK court, i.e.
- a copy of the judgment which satisfies the conditions necessary to establish its authenticity;
- the certificate issued pursuant to article 53 of the Recast Brussels regulation, certifying that the above-mentioned judgment is enforceable and containing an extract of the judgment as well as, where appropriate, relevant information on the recoverable costs of the proceedings and the calculation of interest, and
- if required by the court, a translation of the certificate and judgment.
It was incumbent on the party resisting enforcement to apply for refusal of recognition of the EU judgment, pursuant to article 45 of the Recast Brussels regulation.
Similarly, for UK judgments to be enforced in France, prior to the Transition date, the applicant had to provide the documents set out in above-mentioned article 42 to the French court, which would trigger the automatic enforcement of the UK judgment, in compliance with the principle of direct enforcement.
While a UK defendant may have raised merits-based defences to liability or to the scope of the award entered in the EU jurisdiction, the EU instruments contain express prohibitions on the review of the merits of a judgment from another EU member-state. Consequently, while a judgment debtor may have objected to the registration of a judgment under the EU instruments (or, in the case of the Recast Brussels regulation, which does not require such registration, appeal the recognition or enforcement of the foreign judgment), he or she could have done so only on strictly limited grounds.
In the case of the Recast Brussels regulation, there are set out in above-mentioned article 45 and include:
- if recognition of the judgment would be manifestly contrary to public policy;
- if the judgment debtor was not served with proceedings in time to enable the preparation of a proper defence, or
- if conflicting judgments exist in the UK or other EU member-states.
Equivalent defences are set out in articles 34 to 35 of the Original Brussels regulation and the 2007 Lugano convention, respectively. The court may not have refused a declaration of enforceability on any other grounds.
Another ground for challenging the recognition and enforcement of EU judgments is the breach of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‟ECHR”), which is the right to a fair trial. However, since a fundamental objective underlying the EU regime is to facilitate the free movement of judgments by providing a simple and rapid procedure, and since it was established in Maronier v Larmer  QB 620 that this objective would be frustrated if EU courts of an enforcing EU member-state could be required to carry out a detailed review of whether the procedures that resulted in the judgment had complied with article 6 of the ECHR, there is a strong presumption that the EU court procedures of other signatories of the ECHR are compliant with article 6. Nonetheless, the presumption can be rebutted, in which case it would be contrary to public policy to enforce the judgment.
To conclude, pre-Brexit, the EU regime (and, predominantly, the Recast Brussels regulation) was an integral part of the system of recognition and enforcement of judgments in the UK. However, after the Transition date, the UK left the EU regime as found in the Recast Brussels regulation, the Original Brussels regulation and the Brussels convention, since these instruments are only available to EU member-states.
So what happens now?
2. How things work after Brexit, with respect to the enforcement of civil and commercial judgments between the EU and the UK
In an attempt to prepare the inevitable, the EU commission published on 27 August 2020 a revised notice setting out its views on how various conflicts of laws issues will be determined post-Brexit, including jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments (the ‟EU notice”), while the UK ministry of justice published on 30 September 2020 ‟Cross-border civil and commercial legal cases: guidance for legal professionals from 1 January 2021” (the ‟MoJ guidance”).
a. The UK accessing the 2007 Lugano convention
As mentioned above, the UK applied to join the 2007 Lugano convention on 8 April 2020, as this is the UK’s preferred regime for governing questions of jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments with the 27 remaining EU member-states, after the Transition date.
However, accessing the 2007 Lugano convention is a four-step process and the UK has not executed those four stages in full yet.
While step one was accomplished on 8 April 2020 when the UK applied to join, step two requires the EU (along with the other contracting parties, ie the EFTA member-states Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark) to approve the UK’s application to join, followed in step three by the UK depositing the instrument of accession. Step four is a three-month period, during which the EU (or any other contracting state) may object, in which case the 2007 Lugano convention will not enter into force between the UK and that party. Only after that three-month period has expired, does the 2007 Lugano convention enter into force in the UK.
Therefore, in order for the 2007 Lugano convention to have entered into force by the Transition date, the UK had to have received the EU’s approval and deposited its instrument of accession by 1 October 2020. Neither have occured.
Since the EU’s negotiating position, throughout Brexit, has always been ‟nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, and in light of the recent collision course between the EU and the UK relating to trade in Northern Ireland, it is unlikely that the UK’s request to join the 2007 Lugano convention will be approved by the EU any time soon.
b. The UK accessing the Hague convention
Without the 2007 Lugano convention, the default position after the Transition date is that jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments for new cases issued in the UK will be determined by the domestic law of each UK jurisdiction (i.e. the common law of England and Wales, the common law of Scotland and the common law of Northern Ireland), supplemented by the Hague convention dated 30 June 2005 on choice of court agreements (‟The Hague convention”).
I. At common law rules
The common law relating to recognition and enforcement of judgments applies where the jurisdiction from which the judgment relates does not have an applicable treaty in place with the UK, or in the absence of any applicable UK statute. Prominent examples include judgments of the courts of the United States, China, Russia and Brazil. And now of the EU and its 27 remaining EU member-states.
At common law, a foreign judgment is not directly enforceable in the UK, but instead will be treated as if it creates a contract debt between the parties. The foreign judgment must be final and conclusive, as well as for a specific monetary sum, and on the merits of the action. The creditor will then need to bring an action in the relevant UK jurisdiction for a simple debt, to obtain judicial recognition in accordance with Part 7 CPR, and an English judgment.
Once the judgment creditor has obtained an English judgment in respect of the foreign judgment, that English judgment will be enforceable in the same way as any other judgment of a court in England.
However, courts in the UK will not give judgment on such a debt, where the original court lacked jurisdiction according to the relevant UK conflict of law rules, if it was obtained by fraud, or is contrary to public policy or the requirements of natural justice.
With such blurry and vague contours to the UK common law rules, no wonder that many lawyers and legal academics, on both sides of the Channel, decry the ‟mess” and ‟legal void” left by Brexit, as far as the enforcement and recognition of civil and commercial judgments in the UK are concerned.
II. The Hague convention
As mentioned above, from the Transition date onwards, the jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments for new cases issued in England and Wales will be determined by its common law, supplemented by the Hague convention.
The Hague convention gives effect to exclusive choice of court clauses, and provides for judgments given by courts that are designated by such clauses to be recognised and enforced in other contracting states. The contracting states include the EU, Singapore, Mexico and Montenegro. The USA, China and Ukraine have signed the Hague convention but not ratified or acceded to it, and it therefore does not currently apply in those countries.
Prior to the Transition date, the UK was a contracting party to the Hague convention because it continued to benefit from the EU’s status as a contracting party. The EU acceded on 1 October 2015. By re-depositing the instrument of accession on 28 September 2020, the UK acceded in its own right to the Hague convention on 1 January 2021, thereby ensuring that the Hague convention would continue to apply seamlessly from 1 January 2021.
As far as types of enforceable orders are concerned, under the Hague convention, the convention applies to final decisions on the merits, but not interim, provisional or protective relief (article 7). Under article 8(3) of the Hague convention, if a foreign judgment is enforceable in the country of origin, it may be enforced in England. However, article 8(3) of the Hague convention allows an English court to postpone or refuse recognition if the foreign judgment is subject to appeal in the country of origin.
However, there are two major contentious issues with regards to the material and temporal scope of the Hague convention, and the EU’s and UK’s positions differ on those issues. They are likely to provoke litigation in the near future.
The first area of contention relates to the material scope of the Hague convention: more specifically, what is an ‟exclusive choice of court agreement”?
Article 1 of the Hague convention provides that the convention only applies to exclusive choice of courts agreements, so the issue of whether a choice of court agreement is ‟exclusive” or not is critical as to whether such convention applies.
Exclusive choice of court agreements are defined in article 3(a) of the Hague convention as those that designate ‟for the purpose of deciding disputes which have arisen or may arise in connection with a particular legal relationship, the courts of one Contracting state or one or more specific courts of one Contracting state, to the exclusion of the jurisdiction of any other courts”.
Non-exclusive choice of court agreements are defined in article 22(1) of the The Hague convention as choice of court agreements which designate ‟a court or courts of one or more Contracting states”.
Although this is a fairly clear distinction for ‟simple” choice of court agreements, ‟asymmetric” or ‟unilateral” agreements are not so easily categorised. These types of jurisdiction agreements are a common feature of English law-governed finance documents, such as the Loan Market Association standard forms. They generally give one contracting party (the lender) the choice of a range of courts in which to sue, while limiting the other party (the borrower) to the courts of a single state (usually, the lender’s home state).
There are divergent views as to whether asymmetric choice of court agreements are exclusive or non-exclusive for the purposes of the Hague convention. While two English high court judges have expressed the view that choice of court agreements should be regarded as exclusive, within the scope of the Hague convention, the explanatory report accompanying the Hague convention, case law in EU member-states and academic commentary all suggest the opposite.
This issue will probably be resolved in court, if and when the time comes to decide whether asymmetric or unilateral agreements are deemed to be exclusive choice of court agreements, susceptible to fall within the remit of the Hague convention.
The second area of contention relates to the temporal scope of the Hague convention: more specifically, when did the Hague convention ‟enter into force” in the UK?
Pursuant to article 16 of the Hague convention, such convention only applies to exclusive choice of court agreements concluded ‟after its entry into force, for the State of the chosen court”.
There is a difference of opinion as to the application of the Hague convention to exclusive jurisdiction clauses in favour of UK courts entered into between 1 October 2015 and 1 January 2021, when the UK was a party to the Hague convention by virtue of its EU membership.
Indeed, while the EU notice states that the Hague convention will only apply between the EU and UK to exclusive choice of court agreements ‟concluded after the convention enters into force in the UK as a party in its own right to the convention” – i.e. from the Transition date; the MoJ guidance sets out that the Hague convention ‟will continue to apply to the UK (without interruption) from its original entry into force date of 1 October 2015”, which is when the EU became a signatory to the convention, at which time the convention also entered into force in the UK by virtue of the UK being a EU member-state.
To conclude, the new regime of enforcement and recognition of EU judgments in the UK, and vice versa, is uncertain and fraught with possible litigation with respect to the scope of application of the Hague convention, at best.
Therefore, and since these legal issues relating to how to enforce civil and commercial judgments after Brexit are here to stay for the medium term, it is high time for the creative industries to ensure that any dispute arising out of their new contractual agreements are resolved through arbitration.
Indeed, as explained in our article ‟Alternative dispute resolution in the creative industries”, arbitral awards are recognised and enforced by the Convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards 1958 (the ‟New York convention”). Such convention is unaffected by Brexit and London, the UK capital, is one of the most popular and trusted arbitral seats in the world.
Until the dust settles, with respect to the recognition and enforcement of EU judgments in the UK, and vice versa, it is wise to resolve any civil or commercial dispute by way of arbitration, to obtain swift, time-effective and cost-effective resolution of matters, while preserving the cross-border relationships, established with your trade partners, between the UK and the European continent.
Since its inception in 2003, the law of luxury goods and fashion law have evolved, matured, and become institutionalised as a standalone area of specialisation in the legal profession. Here is Crefovi’s 2020 status update for fashion law in France, detailing each legal practice area relevant to such creative industry.
1. Market spotlight & state of the market
1 | What is the current state of the luxury fashion market in your jurisdiction?
France is the number one player worldwide in the luxury fashion sector, as it is home to three major luxury goods conglomerates, namely:
• LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton SE (full year (‟FY”) 2017 luxury goods sales US$27.995 billion and the number one luxury goods company by sales FY2017, with a selection of luxury brands, such as: Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Loro Piana, Emilio Pucci, Acqua di Parma, Loewe, Marc Jacobs, TAG Heuer, Benefit Cosmetics);
• Kering SA (FY2017 luxury goods sales US$12.168 billion and the number four luxury goods company by sales FY2017, with a selection of luxury brands, such as: Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Brioni, Pomellato, Girard-Perregaux, Ulysse Nardin); and
• L’Oreal Luxe (FY2017 luxury goods sales estimate US$9.549 billion and the number seven luxury goods company by sales FY2017, with a selection of luxury brands, such as: Lancome, Kiehl’s, Urban Decay, Biotherm, IT cosmetics).
2. Manufacture and distribution
2.1. Manufacture and supply chain
2 | What legal framework governs the development, manufacture and supply chain for fashion goods? What are the usual contractual arrangements for these relationships?
The French law on duty of vigilance of parent and outsourcing companies, dated 27 March 2017 (article L 225-102-4 inserted in the French commercial code), is the French response to the UK Modern Slavery Act and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.
This is a due diligence measure that requires large French companies to create and implement a ‟vigilance plan” aimed at identifying and preventing potential human rights violations – including those associated with subsidiaries and supply chain members.
The law applies to any company headquartered in France that has (i) 5,000 or more employees, including employees of any French subsidiaries; or (ii) 10,000 or more employees, including French and foreign subsidiaries.
The law requires that the vigilance plan address activities by the company’s subcontractors and suppliers (‟supply chain entities”), where the company maintains an ongoing business relationship with these supply chain entities, and such activities involve its business relationship. The vigilance plan, as well as the minutes related to its implementation, must be made available to the public.
As of February 2019, the enforceability of this new French law was mitigated, at best. Certain corporations had still not published a vigilance plan regardless of their legal obligation to do so (eg, Lactalis, Credit Agricole, Zara or H&M). Those that had published vigilance plans merely included them in their chapter on social and environmental responsibility within their company’s annual report. Such vigilance plans were vague and had gaps, the actions and measures were not detailed enough and only very partially addressed the risks mentioned in the risk mapping. There is, therefore, room for improvement.
The usual contractual arrangements for the relationships relating to the development, manufacture and supply chain for fashion goods in France are standard French law-governed manufacturing agreements or supplier agreements.
Such contractual arrangements are subject to the French civil code on contract law, and the general regime and proof of obligations, which was reformed in October 2016, thanks to Order No. 2016-131 of 10 February 2016. The order codified principles that had emerged from the case law of French courts, but also created a number of new rules applicable to pre-contractual, and contractual, relationships, such as:
• new article 1104 of the French civil code, which provides that contracts must be negotiated, concluded and performed in good faith, and failure to comply with such obligation can not only trigger the payment of damages, but also result in the nullification of the contract;
• new article 1112-1 provides that if a party to the contractual obligations is aware of information, the significance of which would be determinative for the consent of the other party, it must inform such other party thereof if such other party is legitimately unaware of such information, or relies on the first party;
• new article 1119 provides that general conditions invoked by a party have no effect against the other party, unless they have been made known to such other party and accepted by it. In the event of a ‘battle of the forms’, between two series of general conditions (eg, general sales conditions and general purchase conditions), those conditions that conflict are without effect;
• new article 1124, which provides that a contract concluded in violation of a unilateral promise, with a third party that knew of the existence thereof, is null and void; and
• new article 1143 provides that violence exists when a party abusing the state of dependency in which its co-contracting party finds itself, obtains from such co-contracting party an undertaking which such co-contracting party would not have otherwise agreed to in the absence of such constraint, and benefits thereby from a manifestly excessive advantage.
2.2. Distribution and agency agreements
3 | What legal framework governs distribution and agency agreements for fashion goods?
In addition to the reform of the French civil code on contract law and the general regime and proof of obligations explained in question 2 above, distribution and agency agreements for fashion goods need to comply with the following legal framework:
• European regulation (‟EU”) No. 330/2010 dated 20 April 2010 on the application of article 101(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‟TFEU”), which places limits on restrictions that a supplier could place on a distributor or agent (the ‟Regulation”);
• article L134-1 of the French commercial code, which sets out what the agency relationship consists of;
• article L134-12 of of the French commercial code, which sets out that a commercial agent is entitled to a termination payment at the end of the agency agreement;
• books III and IV, and article L442-6 of the French commercial code, which set out that a relationship between two commercial partners needs to be governed by fairness and which prohibit any strong imbalance between the parties; and
• the law No. 78-17 dated 6 January 1978 relating to IT, databases and freedom (the ‟French Data Protection Act”) and its implementation decree No. 2005-1309.
French luxury houses often use selective distribution to sell their products. It is, indeed, the most-used distribution technique for perfumes, cosmetics, leather accessories or even ready-to-wear.
The Regulation provides for an exemption system to the general prohibition of vertical agreements set out in article 101(1) of the TFEU. The lawfulness of selective distribution agreements is always assessed via the fundamental rules applying to competition law, in particular article 101 of the TFEU.
Selective distribution systems may qualify for block exemption treatment under the vertical agreements block exemption set out in article 101(3) of the TFEU.
4 | What are the most commonly used distribution and agency structures for fashion goods, and what contractual terms and provisions usually apply?
Under French law, it is essential to avoid any confusion between a distribution agreement and an agency agreement.
French law sets out that a distributor is an independent natural person or legal entity, who buys goods and products from the manufacturer or supplier and resells them to third parties, upon the agreed trading conditions, and at a profit margin set by such distributor.
A distributor may be appointed for a particular territory, either on an exclusive, or non-exclusive, basis.
Under French law, there is no statutory compensation for the loss of clientele and business due to the distributor upon expiry or termination of a distribution agreement. However, French case law has recently recognised that some compensation may be due when some major investments had been made by the distributor, on behalf of the manufacturer or supplier, in the designated territory.
Moreover, there is no statutory notice period to terminate a distribution agreement under French law. However, most distribution agreements set out a three-to-six-month termination notice period. French law sets out a detailed legal framework relating to the role of commercial agent, which is of a ‘public policy’ nature (ie, one cannot opt out from such statutory legal provisions). In particular, commercial agents must be registered as such, on a special list held by the registrar of the competent French commercial court.
Under French law, not only is it very difficult to terminate a commercial agent (except for proven serious misconduct), but also there is a statutory considerable compensation for the loss of clientele and business that is due to the terminated agent by the manufacturer or supplier.
Selective distribution is the most commonly used distribution structure for luxury goods in France, as explained in question 3.
Such selective distribution systems of luxury products can escape the qualification of anticompetitive agreements, pursuant to article 101(3) of the TFEU (individual and block exemption). However, in 2011, the European Court of Justice (‟ECJ”) held that the selective distribution agreement that has as its object the restriction of passive sales to online end-users outside of the dealer’s area excluded the application of the block exemption in its decision in Pierre Fabre Dermo-Cosmétique SAS v Président de l’Autorité de la concurrence and Ministre de l’Économie, de l’Industrie et de l’Emploi. The ECJ ruled that it was down to the French courts to determine whether an individual exemption may benefit such selective distribution agreement imposed by French company Pierre Fabre Dermo-Cosmétique SAS to its distributors. To conclude, it is clear that the ECJ set out that the prohibition of internet sales, in a distribution agreement, constitutes an anticompetitive restriction.
2.3. Import and export
5 | Do any special import and export rules and restrictions apply to fashion goods?
A French company, upon incorporation, will be provided with the following numbers by the French authorities:
• an intra-community VAT number, provided to all companies incorporated in a EU member state;
• a SIRET number, which is a unique French business identification number; and
• an EORI number, which is assigned to importers and exporters by the French tax authorities, and is used in the process of customs entry declaration and customs clearance for both import and export shipments, travelling to and from the EU and countries outside the EU.
Fashion and luxury products manufactured outside of the EU, and brought into the EU, will be deemed to be imports, by French customs authorities.
In case such fashion and luxury products are transferred from France, or another member state of the EU, to a third party country in the rest of the world (outside of the EU), then these products will be deemed to be exports by French customs authorities.
For imports of fashion and luxury products, (ie, when they enter the EU), the French importer will have to pay some customs duties or other taxes when it imports these products from a third-party country to France or another member state of the EU.
Such customs duties are the same in each of the 27 member states of the EU because they are set by EU institutions. The importer can compute such customs duties by accessing the RITA encyclopedia, which sets out the integrated referential to an automated tarif, for each luxury and fashion product.
Through rather complex manipulations on the RITA encyclopedia, the importer can find out the relevant customs duties, additional taxes and any other fees (such as anti-dumping rights) payable for each type of fashion product and other imported merchandise.
For example, if you are importing a man’s shirt in France or any other EU member state from China, there will be a 12 percent customs duty to pay (the ‟Customs duty”).
Such Customs duty will be payable on the price paid to the Chinese manufacturer for the man’s shirt in China plus all transportation costs from China to France (or another EU member state).
Therefore, if the man’s shirt has a manufacturing price (set out on the invoice of the Chinese manufacturer) of €100, and if there are €50 of transportation costs, the customs value basis will be €150 and the customs duty amount will be €18 (€150 multiplied by 12 per cent).
The computation of Customs duties, additional taxes and other charges being such a complicated and specialised area, and the filling out of customs declarations being done only on the Delta software that is accessible only to legal entities that have received an authorisation to use such software, most EU companies that sell fashion and luxury goods use the services of registered customs representatives, also called customs brokers or customs agents.
For exports of fashion and luxury products (ie, when they leave the EU to go to a third party in the rest of the world), a French company will not have to pay any Customs duties or other taxes. However, it is also important to check whether such third-party country will charge the French exporter some Customs duties, additional taxes and other charges, upon the luxury and fashion products entering its territory.
In addition, it is important for the importers to double check whether the EU, and consequently France, may be giving preferential treatment to fashion and luxury products imported from certain developing countries, which names are set out on the list entitled ‟Système Généralisé de Préférence” (‟SPG”). SPG is a programme of trade preferences for goods coming from developing countries, such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. It may be financially more advantageous to manufacture luxury and fashion products in the countries that are included on the SPG list, to ensure that lower tariffs and Customs duties will apply when importing these products to the EU.
Finally, and especially if the goods are in the luxury bracket, it may be possible to put a ‟Made in France” label on them, provided that such products were assembled in France.
2.4. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability
6 | What are the requirements and disclosure obligations in relation to corporate social responsibility and sustainability for fashion and luxury brands in your jurisdiction? What due diligence in this regard is advised or required?
As explained in question 2 above, the French law on duty of vigilance for parent and outsourcing companies, dated 27 March 2017 (article L 225-102-4 inserted in the French commercial code) is the legal framework that applies to disclosure obligations in relation to corporate social responsibility and sustainability for fashion and luxury brands in France.
The vigilance plan made compulsory by such French law must set out a detailed risk mapping stating the risks for third parties (ie, employees, the general population) and the environment. French companies subject to this law must then publish their risk mapping, explicitly and clearly stating the serious risks and severe impacts on health and safety of individuals and on the environment. In particular, the vigilance plan should provide detailed lists of risks for each type of activity, product and service.
It is these substantial risks (ie, negative impacts on third parties and the environment deriving from general activities) on which vigilance must be exercised and which the plan must cover. Moreover, the vigilance plan must include the evaluated severity criteria regarding the level, size and reversible or irreversible nature of the impacts, or the probability of the risk. This prioritisation should allow the French company to structure how it implements its measures to resolve the impacts or risks of impact.
The vigilance plan, as well as the minutes related to its implementation, must be made available to the public.
The French law on duty of vigilance of parent and outsourcing companies sets out some stringent enforcement mechanisms. Any person with a demonstrable interest may demand that a company comply with the due diligence requirements (i.e. creating and implementing a vigilance plan) and, if the French company fails to comply, a court may fine the offending company up to €10 million, depending on the severity of the breach and other circumstances. Additionally, if the activities of a French company – or the activities of its supply chain entities – cause harm that could have been avoided by implementing its vigilance plan, the size of the fine can be trebled (up to €30 million), depending on the severity and circumstances of the breach and the damage caused, and the company can be ordered to pay damages to the victims.
7 | What occupational health and safety laws should fashion companies be aware of across their supply chains?
As set out above in our answers to the questions set out in sub-paragraphs 2.2. and 2.4. above, the French law on duty of vigilance of parent and outsourcing companies, dated 27 March 2017 (article L 225-102-4 inserted in the French commercial code) is the legal framework that applies to disclosure obligations in relation to occupational health and safety across their supply chains, for fashion and luxury brands in France.
In addition, the main legislation on occupational health and safety in France is set out in Part IV of the French labour code, entitled ‟Health and Safety at Work”. Health and safety at work legislation is supplemented by other parts of this labour code (ie, work time legislation, daily rest period, respect of fundamental freedoms, bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, execution in good faith of the employment agreement, work council competencies, employee delegates’ abilities).
Collective bargaining is also a source of health and safety legislation (via inter-branch agreements, branch agreements, company-level agreements) in France. These collective agreements regulate employer versus employee relationships, in particular as far as occupation health and safety are concerned.
3. Online retail
8 | What legal framework governs the launch of an online fashion marketplace or store?
The Hamon law dated 17 March 2014 (‟Hamon law”) transposes the provisions of the Directive 2011/83/EU on consumer rights, which aims at achieving a real business-to-consumer internal market, striking the right balance between a high level of consumer protection and the competitiveness of businesses. This law strengthened pre-contractual information requirements, in relation to:
• the general duty to give information that applies to any sales of goods or services agreement entered into on a business-to- consumer basis (for on-premises sales, distance sales and off-premises sales); and
• information specific to distance contracts about the existence of a withdrawal right.
Thanks to this law, the withdrawal period has been extended from 7 to 14 days. It introduced the use of a standard form that can be used by consumers to exercise their withdrawal rights. Such form must be made available to consumers online or sent to them before the contract is entered into. If a consumer exercises this right, the business must refund the consumer for all amounts paid, including delivery costs, within a period of 14 calendar days.
With respect to the cookies policy, e-commerce stores must comply with the cookies and other tracking devices guidelines published by the CNIL in July 2019.
3.2. Sourcing and distribution
9 | How does e-commerce implicate retailers’ sourcing and distribution arrangements (or other contractual arrangements) in your jurisdiction?
As explained in our answer to question 4, luxury and fashion brands (manufacturers, suppliers) cannot ban their distributors from selling their products online, through e-commerce, since this would be a competition law breach under article 101 of the TFEU, entitled an anticompetitive restriction.
However, luxury and fashion brands may impose some criteria and conditions for their distributors to be able to sell their products online, in order to preserve the luxury aura and prestige of their products sold online, via the terms of their distribution agreements.
3.3. Terms and conditions
10 | What special considerations would you take into account when drafting online terms and conditions for customers when launching an e-commerce website in your jurisdiction?
As explained in our answer to question 8, these terms and conditions for customers of an e-commerce website must comply with the GDPR, the French Data Protection Act and the cookies and other tracking devices guidelines from the CNIL.
Therefore, those terms must comply with the following principles:
• privacy by design, which means that fashion and luxury businesses must take a proactive and preventive approach in relation to the protection of privacy and personal data;
• accountability, which means that data controllers, such as an e-commerce website, as well as its data processors, must take appropriate legal, organisational and technical measures allowing them to comply with the GDPR. They must be able to demonstrate the execution of such measures to the CNIL;
• privacy impact assessment, which means that an e-commerce business must execute an analysis relating to the protection of personal data, on its data assets, to track and map risks inherent to each data process and treatment put in place, according to their plausibility and seriousness;
• a data protection officer must be appointed, to ensure the compliance of treatment of personal data by fashion businesses whose data treatments present a strong risk of breach of privacy;
• profiling, which is an automated processing of personal data allowing the construction of complex information about a particular person, such as his or her preferences, productivity at work and whereabouts. This type of data processing may constitute a risk to civil liberties; therefore, online businesses doing profiling must limit their risks and guarantee the rights of individuals subjected to such profiling, in particular by allowing them to request human intervention or contest the automated decision; and
• right to be forgotten, which allows an individual to avoid that information about his or her past that interferes with their current, actual life. In the digital world, that right encompasses the right to erasure, as well as the right to dereferencing.
11 | Are online sales taxed differently than sales in retail stores in your jurisdiction?
No, online sales are not taxed differently than sales executed in brick-and- mortar stores. They are all subjected to a 20 percent VAT rate, which is the standard VAT rate in France, and which is applicable on all fashion and luxury products.
4. Intellectual property
4.1. Design protection
12 | Which IP rights are applicable to fashion designs? What rules and procedures apply to obtaining protection?
French fashion designs are usually protected via the registration of a design right in France, with the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (‟INPI”). Articles L 512-1 et seq and R 511-1 et seq of the French intellectual property code govern the design application and registration process.
Of course, this French design protection applies in addition to any registered or unregistered community design right that may exist.
To qualify for protection through the French design right, the design must be novel and have individual character. Functional forms, as well as designs in breach of public policy or morality, are excluded from protection.
French fashion designs are protected by copyright, as long as they meet the originality criteria. Indeed, article L 112-2 14 of the French intellectual property code provides that ‟the creations of the seasonal industries of garments and dresses” fall within the remit of copyright, as ‟works of the mind”.
Copyright being an unregistrable intellectual property right in France, the existence of copyright on fashion products is often proven via the filing of an ‟enveloppe SOLEAU” with INPI, or by keeping all prototypes, drawings and research documents on file, to be able to prove the date on which such copyright arose.
Indeed, under the traditional principle of unity of art, a creation can be protected by copyright and design law. Recent case law distinguishes between these IP rights, by stating that the originality required for copyright protection differs from the individual character required for design protection, and that both rights do not necessarily overlap.
In the same way, the scope of copyright protection is determined by the reproduction of the creation’s main features; while in design law the same overall visual impression on the informed user is required.
As far as the ownership of commissioned works is concerned, the default regime in France is that both an independent creator (i.e. a fashion freelancer, contractor, creative director) and an employee of any French fashion house is automatically deemed to be the lawful owner of all intellectual property rights on a fashion and luxury item that he or she has created during the course of his or her service or employment. Therefore, it is essential in all French law-governed service providers agreements entered into with third-party consultants, and in all French law-governed employment agreements entered into with employees, to set out that an automatic and irrevocable assignment of all intellectual property rights in any fashion creation will always occur, upon creation.
13 | What difficulties arise in obtaining IP protection for fashion goods?
France enjoys the most extensive and longstanding intellectual property rights in connection with fashion designs. As explained in our answer to question 12, copyright protection is extended to any original work of the mind.
Even spare parts are protectable under French design law, which means that a design protecting only a spare part (eg, a bag clip) is valid without taking into consideration the product as a whole (ie, the bag).
Therefore, IP protection for fashion goods is very achievable in France, and it is important for applicants to systematically register their designs (not rely simply on copyright law) to be on the safe side.
4.2. Brand protection
14 | How are luxury and fashion brands legally protected in your jurisdiction?
Luxury and fashion brands are usually protected by a French trade mark registration filed with INPI.
French trade marks are governed mainly by law 1991-7, which implements the EU first council directive related to trade marks (89/104/EEC) and is codified in the French intellectual property code. This code was amended several times, in particular by Law 2007-1544, which implements the EU IP rights enforcement directive (2004/48/EC).
Ownership of a trade mark is acquired through registration, except for well-known trademarks within the meaning of article 6 bis of the Paris convention for the protection of industrial property dated 20 March 1883. Such unregistered well-known trademarks may be protected under French law if an unauthorised use of the trade mark by a third party is likely to cause damage to the trade mark owner or such use constitutes an unjustified exploitation of the trade mark.
To be registered as a trademark, a sign must be:
• represented in a way that allows any person to determine precisely and clearly the subject-matter of the trade mark protection granted to its owner;
• not deceptive;
• lawful; and
French trademarks, registered with INPI, may coincide with EU trademarks (filed with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (‟EUIPO”)) and international trademarks (filed with the Word Intellectual Property Office (‟WIPO”), through the Madrid protocol).
Under French law, unauthorised use of a trade mark on the internet also constitutes trade mark infringement. The rights holder may sue those that unlawfully use its trade mark on the ground of trade mark infringement or unfair competition.
Moreover, luxury and fashion brands are also protected by domain names, which may be purchased from domain name registrars for a limited period of time on a regular basis.
French domain names finishing in .fr can only be purchased for one year, once a year, pursuant to the regulations of the French registry for .fr top level domains, Afnic.
It is the responsibility of the person purchasing, or using, the domain name in .fr to ensure that he or she does not breach any third party rights by doing so.
A dispute resolution procedure called Syreli is available for disputes relating to .fr domains, along with judiciary actions. This procedure is managed by Afnic and decisions are issued within two months from receipt of the complaint.
With online ransom, a proliferation of websites being used for counterfeit sales, fraud, phishing and other forms of online trade mark abuse, most French luxury and fashion companies take the management and enforcement of domain name portfolios very seriously.
With the advent of new generic top-level domains (generic top-level domains or ‟gTLDs”), it is now an essential strategy for all French luxury and fashion houses to buy and hold onto all available gTLDs relating to fashion and luxury (eg, .luxury, .fashion, .luxe).
15 | What rules, restrictions and best practices apply to IP licensing in the fashion industry?
French IP rights may be assigned, licensed or pledged. The French intellectual property code refers to licences over trade marks, patents, designs and models, as well as databases. With respect to copyright, this code only refers to the assignment of the patrimonial rights of the author (ie, representation right and reproduction right) in its article L122-7. In practice, copyright licences often occur, especially over software.
When it involves French design rights, the corresponding deed, contract or judgment must be recorded in the French Design register, to be enforceable against third parties. The documents must be in French (or a translation must be provided). Tax will be incurred only up to the 10th design, in a recordal request filed with INPI. For community designs, recordal must be made with EUIPO. For the French designation of an international design, recordal must be requested through WIPO for all or part of the designation.
When it involves French trade marks, the corresponding deed, contract or judgment should be recorded in the INPI French trade mark register, especially for evidentiary and opposability purposes, for the licensee to be able to act in infringement litigation and for such deed, contract or judgment to be enforceable against third parties. Again, the copy or abstract of the deed, or agreement, setting out the change in ownership or use of the trade marks should be in French (or a French translation be provided).
Of course, copyright of fashion products does not have to be recorded in any French register, as there is no registration requirement for French copyright. However, best practice is for the parties to the deed, agreement or judgment to keep, on record, for the duration of the copyright (70 years after the death of the creator of the copyright) such documents, so that the copyright assignment, pledge or licence may be enforceable against third parties.
Fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Benetton and Ermenegildo Zegna use franchising to access new markets, increase their online presence and develop flagship stores. Franchise agreements generally include a trade mark, trade name or service mark licence, as well as the transfer of knowhow by the franchisor, to the franchisee. On this note, knowhow licences exist in France, although knowhow does not constitute a proprietary right benefiting from specific protection under the French intellectual property code.
A licensor must make some pre-contractual disclosure to prospective licensees, pursuant to article L330-3 of the French commercial code, when he or she makes available to another person a trade name or a trademark, and requires from such other person an exclusivity undertaking with respect to such activity. The precontractual information must be disclosed in a document provided at least 20 days prior to the signature of the licence agreement. Such document must contain truthful information allowing the licensee to commit to the contractual relationship in full knowledge of the facts.
A licensing relationship governed by French law must comply with the general contract law principles, including the negotiation, conclusion and performance of contracts in good faith (article 1104 of the French civil code). This statutory legal provision implies an obligation on each party of loyalty, cooperation and consistency. In case of breach of this good faith principle, the licence may be terminated and damages potentially awarded.
16 | What options do rights holders have when enforcing their IP rights? Are there options for protecting IP rights through enforcement at the borders of your jurisdiction?
Lawsuits involving the infringement or validity of a French design, or the French designation of an international design, may be lodged with one of the 10 competent courts of first instance (Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nanterre, Nancy, Paris, Rennes, Strasbourg and Fort-de-France).
Lawsuits involving the infringement, in France, of a registered or unregistered community design may be lodged only with the Paris court of first instance. An invalidity action against a community design may only be brought before EUIPO. However, invalidity may be claimed as a defence in an infringement action brought before the Paris tribunal.
The scope of protection for the design is determined exclusively by the various filed views, on the design registration, irrespective of actual use. Therefore, applicants should pay great care to those views, when filing a design application, so as to anticipate the interpretation made by the judiciary tribunal.
Infringement is identified when a third-party design produces, on the informed observer, the same overall visual impression as the claimant’s design.
The infringement lawsuit may be lodged by the design owner, or the duly recorded exclusive licensee.
The claimant will be indemnified for lost profits, with the court taking into account: (i) the scope of the infringement; (ii) the proportion of actual business lost by the claimant; and (iii) the claimant’s profit margin for the retail of each unit.
Damages may also be awarded for the dilution or depreciation of a design.
As far as trademarks are concerned, lawsuits may be lodged before the 10 above-mentioned competent courts at first instance if they are French trademarks or the French designation of an international trademark. Lawsuits relating to the infringement of EU trade marks may only be lodged with the Paris judiciary tribunal.
Such infringement proceedings may be lodged by either the trademark owner or the exclusive licensee, provided that the licence was recorded in the trademark register.
To determine trademark infringement, the judiciary tribunal will assess: (i) the similarity of the conflicting trademarks, on the basis of visual, phonetic and intellectual criteria; and (ii) the similarity of the goods or services, bearing such trademarks, concerned. Such trademark infringement may be evidenced by any means.
To secure evidence of the infringement, and to obtain any information related to it, rights holders may ask, and obtain, from the competent judiciary tribunal, an order to carry out a seizure on the premises where the products that infringe the copyright, trademarks, designs, etc. are located. Such order authorises a bailiff to size the suspected infringing products, or to visit the alleged infringer’s premises to collect evidence of the infringement by taking pictures of the suspected infringing products, or by taking samples. The IP rights holder must lodge a lawsuit against the alleged infringer with the competent judiciary tribunal within 20 working days, or 31 calendar days, whichever is the longer, from the date of the seizure. Otherwise, the seizure may be declared null and void on the request of the alleged infringer, who may also ask for some damages.
In addition, IP rights holders may also request an ex parte injunction, to prevent an imminent infringement, which is about to happen, or any further infringement, to the competent judiciary tribunal.
Infringement action, for all IP rights, must be brought within three years of the infringement. There is one exception, for copyright, which statute of limitations is five years from the date on which the copyright owner was made aware, or should have been aware, of such copyright infringement.
There is also an option to protect design rights, copyright, trade marks, patents, etc at French borders, which we often recommend to our fashion and luxury clients. They need to file their IP rights with the Directorate-General of Customs and Indirect Taxes, via a French and EU intervention request, and obtain some certifications from those French customs authorities, that such IP rights are now officially registered on the French and EU customs databases. Therefore, all counterfeit products infringing such IP rights registered on these French and EU customs databases, which enter the EU territory via French borders, will be seized by customs at French borders for 10 days. Potentially, provided that certain conditions are met, French customs may permanently destroy all counterfeit products thus seized, after 10 days.
5. Data privacy and security
17 | What data privacy and security laws are most relevant to fashion and luxury companies?
As explained in questions 8 and 10, fashion and luxury companies must comply with the GDPR, the French Data Protection Act and the cookies and other tracking devices guidelines from the CNIL.
5.2. Compliance challenges
18 | What challenges do data privacy and security laws present to luxury and fashion companies and their business models?
The strict compliance with the GDPR, as well as the amended version of the French Data Protection Act, do present some challenges to luxury and fashion companies and to their business models.
Indeed, on a factual level, most small and medium-sized enterprises (‟SMEs”) incorporated in France are still not in compliance with the GDPR, the French Data Protection Act and the cookies and other tracking devices guidelines from the CNIL. Most of the time this is because such SMEs do not want to allocate time, money and resources to bringing their business in compliance, while they are fully aware that a serious breach may trigger a fine worth up to 4 per cent of their annual worldwide turnover, or €20 million, whichever is greater.
Fashion and luxury companies now have to take ownership of, and full responsibility for, the rigorous management and full protection of their data assets. They can no longer rely on a ‘I was not aware this may happen’ defence strategy, which was very often used by fashion companies before the GDPR entered into force when their internal databases or IT systems got hacked or leaked to the public domain (eg, Hudson’s Bay Co, which owns Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Adidas, Fashion Nexus, Poshmark). The way to rise up to such challenge, though, is to see the GDPR as an opportunity to take stock of what data your company has, and how you can take most advantage of it. The key tenet of GDPR is that it will give any fashion company the ability to find data in its organisation that is highly sensitive and high value, and ensure that it is protected adequately from risks and data breaches.
With the GDPR, almost all fashion and luxury businesses worldwide that sell to EU customers (and therefore French customers), either online or in brick and mortar locations, now have a Data Protection Authority (‟DPA”). Businesses will determine their respective DPA with respect to the place of establishment of their management functions as far as supervision of data processing is concerned, which will allow them to identify the main establishment, including when a sole company manages the operations of a whole group. However, the GDPR sets up a one-stop DPA: in case of absence of a specific national legislation, a DPA located in the EU member state in which such organisation has its main or unique establishment will be in charge of controlling its compliance with the GDPR. This unique one-stop DPA will allow companies to substantially save time and money by simplifying processes.
To favour the European data market and the digital economy, and therefore create a more favourable economic environment, the GDPR reinforces the protection of personal data and civil liberties. This unified regulation will allow businesses to substantially reduce the costs of processing data currently incurred in the 27 member states: organisations will no longer have to comply with multiple national regulations for the collection, harvesting, transfer and storing of data that they use.
The scope of the GDPR extends to companies that are headquartered outside the EU, but intend to market goods and services into the EU market, as long as they put in place processes and treatments of personal data relating to EU citizens. Following these EU residents on the internet to create some profiles is also covered by the scope of the GDPR. Therefore, EU companies, subject to strict and expensive rules, will not be penalised by international competition on the EU single market. In addition, they may buy some data from non-EU companies, which is compliant with GDPR provisions, therefore making the data market wider.
The right to portability of data allows EU citizens subjected to data treatment and processing to gather this data in an exploitable format, or to transfer such data to another data controller, if this is technically possible. Compliance with the right to portability is definitely a challenge for fashion and luxury businesses.
5.3. Innovative technologies
19 | What data privacy and security concerns must luxury and fashion retailers consider when deploying innovative technologies in association with the marketing of goods and services to consumers?
Innovative technologies, such as AI and facial recognition, involve automated decision making, including profiling. The GDPR has provisions on:
• automated individual decision making (making a decision solely by automated means without any human involvement); and
• profiling (automated processing of personal data to evaluate certain things about an individual), which can be part of an automated decision-making process.
These provisions, set out in article 22 of the GDPR, should be taken into account by fashion and luxury businesses when deploying innovative technologies. In particular, they must demonstrate that they have a lawful basis to carry out profiling or automated decision making, and document this in their data protection policy. Their Data Protection Impact Assessment should address the risks, before they start using any new automated decision making or profiling. They should tell their customers about the profiling and automated decision making they carry out, what information they use to create the profiles, and where they get this information from. Preferably, they should use anonymised data in their profiling activities.
5.4. Content personalisation and targeted advertising
20 | What legal and regulatory challenges must luxury and fashion companies address to support personalisation of online content and targeted advertising based on data-driven inferences regarding consumer behaviour?
There is a tension, and irrevocable difference, between the GDPR’s push towards more anonymisation of data, and the personalisation of online content and targeted advertising based on data-driven inferences regarding consumer behaviour. This is because the latter needs data that is not anonymous, but, instead, traceable to each individual user.
Indeed, a fashion and luxury business cannot truly personalise an experience in any channel – a website, a mobile app, through email campaigns, in advertising or events in a store – unless it knows something about that customer, and the luxury business cannot get to know someone digitally unless it collects data about him or her. The GDPR and the increasing concerns around privacy complicate this process.
However, GDPR does not prohibit fashion businesses from collecting any data on customers and prospects. However, they must do so in compliance with the core GDPR principles set out in question 10.
6. Advertising and marketing
6.1. Law and regulation
21 | What laws, regulations and industry codes are applicable to advertising and marketing communications by luxury and fashion companies?
Advertising and marketing communications are regulated by the following French laws:
• law dated 10 January 1991 (‟Evin law”) that prohibits advertising alcohol on French TV channels and in cinemas, and limits such advertising on radio and on the internet;
• law dated 4 August 1994 (‟Toubon law”) that provides that the French language must be used in all advertising in France; and
• decree dated 27 March 1992 that provides for specific rules relating to advertising on TV.
Various legal codes set out some specific rules governing advertising and marketing communications in France, such as: the French consumer code, which prohibits deceptive and misleading advertising, and regulates comparative advertising; or article 9 of the French civil code, which protects individuals’ images and privacy.
Moreover, there are some industry codes of practice, drafted by the French advertising self-regulation agency (‟ARPP”), which represents advertisers, agencies and the media. These codes of practice set out the expected ethical standards and ensure proper implementation of these standards, through advice and pre-clearance, including providing mandatory advice before the broadcast of all TV advertising.
The French consumer and competition governmental authority (‟DGCCRF”) has investigative powers in relation to all matters relating to the protection of consumers, including advertising and marketing practices.
DGCCRF agents are entitled to enter the professional premises of the advertiser, advertising agency or communication agency during business hours to request an immediate review of documents, take copies of these documents, and ask questions.
The ARPP works with an independent jury that handles complaints against advertisements that violate ARPP standards. Its decisions are published on its website.
If there is a data breach within a marketing campaign, the CNIL, the French DPA, may fine the culprit data controller (such as an advertiser or an agency) up to €20 million, or 4 percent of their worldwide annual turnover, whichever is the highest.
6.2. Online marketing and social media
22 | What particular rules and regulations govern online marketing activities and how are such rules enforced?
Online marketing activities are regulated in the same manner as activities conducted in the ‟real world”, pursuant to the French digital economy law dated 21 June 2004. However, more specific to the online world, the digital economy law provides that pop-ups, advert banners, and any other types of online adverts must be clearly identified as such and therefore distinguished from non-commercial information.
Article L121-4-11 of the French consumer code provides that an advertiser who pays for content in the media to promote its products or services must clearly set out that such content is an advertisement, through images or sounds clearly identifiable by consumers. Otherwise, this is a misleading advert or an act of unfair competition.
The ARPP issued a standard relating to digital adverts, communications carried out by influencers, native advertising, etc emphasising the fact that all such online marketing communications and advertising should be clearly distinguishable as such by consumers.
7. Product regulation and consumer protection
7.1. Product safety rules and standards
23 | What product safety rules and standards apply to luxury and fashion goods?
French law dated 19 May 1998, which is now set out in articles 1245 et seq of the French civil code, transposes EU directive 85/374/EEC on the liability for defective products in France.
Alongside this strict civil liability for defective products exists some criminal liability for defective products on the grounds of deceit, involuntary bodily harm, involuntary manslaughter or endangering the lives of others.
Articles 1245 et seq. of the French civil code apply when a product is considered unsafe. Therefore, a fashion business would be liable for damage caused by a defect in its products, regardless of whether or not the parties concluded a contract. Consequently, these statutory rules apply to any end-user in possession of a fashion product, whether or not such end-user had entered into an agreement with the fashion company.
Articles 1245 et seq. of the French civil code provide for a strict liability, where the claimant does not need to prove that the ‘producer’ made a mistake, committed an act of negligence or breached a contract. The claimant only has to prove the defect of the product, the damage suffered and the causal link between such defect and such damage.
A defective product is defined in article 1245-3 of the French civil code, as a product that does not provide the safety that any person is entitled to expect from it, taking into account, in particular, the presentation of such product, the use that can reasonably be expected of it and the date on which it was put on the market.
Such strict civil liability rules apply to the ‟producer”, a term that may refer to the manufacturer, the distributor, as well as the importer in the EU, of defective products.
As soon as a risk of a defective product is recognised, the ‟producer” should comply with its duty of care and take all necessary actions to limit harmful consequences, such as a formal public warning, a product recall or the mere withdrawal of such product from the market.
7.2. Product liability
24 | What regime governs product liability for luxury and fashion goods? Has there been any notable recent product liability litigation or enforcement action in the sector?
The regime governing product liability for luxury and fashion goods is described in our answer to question 22.
The Hamon law introduced class action for French consumers. Consequently, an accredited consumer association may take legal action to obtain compensation for individual economic damages suffered by consumers placed in an identical or similar situation, that result from the purchase of goods or services.
There has been no notable recent product liability litigation in the fashion and luxury sectors. However, a health class action matter is currently pending before the Paris judiciary tribunal. A pharmaceutical company was sued by 4,000 French individuals because it sold an anti-epileptic drug without providing adequate information relating to the use of such drug during pregnancy. As a result, some French babies were born with health defects because such drug has detrimental effects on foetal development. The judiciary tribunal should hand down its decision about the laboratory’s liability soon.
8. M&A and competition issues
8.1. M&A and joint ventures
25 | Are there any special considerations for M&A or joint venture transactions that companies should bear in mind when preparing, negotiating or entering into a deal in the luxury fashion industry?
As set out in question 2, the general contract law provisions included in the French civil code, which underwent a major reform in 2016, must be complied with. Therefore, for private M&As, the seller would seek to promote competition between different bidders through a competitive sale process, which conduct must comply with the statutory duty of good faith.
In France, it is compulsory for the transfer of assets and liabilities from the seller to the buyer to cover all employment contracts, commercial leases and insurance policies pertaining to the business. Except from those, all other assets and liabilities relating to the transferred business may be excluded from the transfer transaction by agreement. Furthermore, the transfer of contracts requires the approval from all relevant counterparties, thus making the prior identification of such contracts in the course of the due diligence an important matter for any prospective buyer.
In private M&As, there is no restriction to the transfer of shares in a fashion company, a fashion business or assets in France. However, French merger control regulations (in addition to merger control regulations of other EU member states) may require a transaction to be filed with the French competition authority (‟FCA”) if: (i) the gross worldwide total turnover of all the fashion companies involved in the concentration exceeds €150 million; and (ii) the gross total turnover generated individually in France by each of at least two of the fashion companies involved in the concentration exceeds €50 million.
There are no local ownership requirements in France. However, French authorities may object to foreign investments in some specific sectors that are essential to guarantee France’s interests in relation to public policy, public security and national defence. As of today’s date, fashion and luxury are not part of these sectors that are protected for national security purposes.
In addition to prior agreements, such as non-disclosure agreements or promises, final agreements will set out the terms relating to the transaction; in particular, a description of the transferred assets, the price, the warranties granted by the seller, the conditions precedent, any non-competition or non-solicitation clauses. Asset purchase agreements must set out compulsory provisions, such as the name of the previous owner, some details about the annual turnover, otherwise the buyer may claim that the sale is invalid. Most of these agreements, and most sales of French targets and assets, are governed by French law; in particular, the legal transfer of ownership of the target’s shares or assets.
More specific to the fashion and luxury industries, any sale of a fashion business would entail transferring the ownership of all intellectual property rights tied into that fashion target. As such, the trade marks, which have sometimes been filed on the name of the founding fashion designer of the acquired fashion business (eg, Christian Dior, Chantal Thomass, John Galliano, Ines de la Fressange) would be owned by the buyer, after the sale. Thus, the founding fashion designer would no longer be able to use his or her name to sell fashion and luxury products, without infringing on the trade mark rights of the buyer.
26 | What competition law provisions are particularly relevant for the luxury and fashion industry?
Articles L 420-1 and L 420-2 of the French commercial code are the equivalent to articles 101-1 and 102 TFEU and provide for anticompetitive agreements and abuses of a dominant position, respectively.
Specific provisions of the French commercial code are also applicable, such as article L 410-1 et seq. on pricing, article L 430-1 et seq. on merger control, L 420-2-1 on exclusive rights in French overseas communities, L 420-5 on abusively low prices and L 442-1 et seq. on restrictive practices.
For example, a decision handed down by the Paris court of appeal on 26 January 2012 confirmed the existence of price fixing agreements, and anti competitive behaviour, between 13 perfume and cosmetics producers (including Chanel, Guerlain, Parfums Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent Beaute) and their three French distributors (Sephora, Nocibe France and Marionnaud). The court also upheld the judgment from the FCA, dated 14 March 2006, sentencing each of these luxury goods companies and distributors to fines valued at €40 million overall.
Court action for breach of competition law may be lodged with a French court of the FCA by any person having a legal interest. Class actions have been available since the entering into force of the Hamon law, but only when the action is filed by a limited number of authorised consumer associations.
There has been a rise in antitrust damage claims lodged in France, and French courts are now responsive to such claims. A section of the Paris commercial court has been set up to review summons lodged in English, with English-language exhibits, and can rule on competition cases with proceedings fully conducted in the English language.
As set out in question 4, while selective distribution is tolerated as an exemption, pursuant to article 101(3) TFEU, total restriction of online sales by a manufacturer, to its selective distributors, is a breach under article 101(1) TFEU (Pierre Fabre Dermo-Cosmétique SAS v Président de l’Autorité de la concurrence and Ministre de l’Économie, de l’Industrie et de l’Emploi, ECJ, 2011).
The ECJ has refined its case law (which, of course, applies to France) in its 2017 ruling in Coty Germany GmbH v Parfümerie Akzente GmbH. The ECJ ruled that a contractual clause, set out in the selective distribution agreement entered into between Coty and its selective distributors, and which prohibits members of such selective distribution network from selling Coty cosmetics on online marketplaces, such as Amazon, complies with article 101(1) TFEU. This is because, according to the ECJ, the clause is proportionate in its pursuit of preserving the image of Coty cosmetics and perfumes, and because it does not prohibit distributors from selling Coty products on their own online e-commerce sites, provided that some quality criteria are met.
This new ECJ case law is useful guidance for national courts on how to assess, in pragmatic terms, the prohibition of selling luxury products in marketplaces. Indeed, the Paris court of appeal handed down a judgment in relation to the validity of a similar clause set out in the contracts for Coty France on 28 February 2018, and used the ECJ analysis to confirm the validity of such prohibition, in relation to a marketplace that sold Coty perfumes during private sales.
9. Employment and labour
9.1. Managing employment relationships
27 | What employment law provisions should fashion companies be particularly aware of when managing relationships with employees? What are the usual contractual arrangements for these relationships?
Employer–employee relationships are governed by the following complex set of laws and regulations that leave little room for individual negotiation:
• the French labour code set out a comprehensive legal framework for both individual and collective relationships between employers and employees;
• collective bargaining agreements have been negotiated between employers’ associations and labour unions covering the industry as a whole, or between employers and labour unions covering a company. In the former case, the collective agreement usually applies to the industry sector as a whole, even to companies within that sector that are not part of the employers’ associations (for the fashion and luxury sectors, the ‟clothing industry collective agreement”, the ‘textile industry collective agreement (OETAM)’, or the ‟collective agreement for the footwear industries” may apply, for example); and
• individual employment agreements, which relate only to the aspects of the employer–employee relationship not already covered by the labour code or relevant collective bargaining agreement.
Because more than 90 per cent of French employees are protected by collective bargaining agreements, the rules set out in the French labour code are supplemented by more generous rules in areas such as paid leave, maternity leave, medical cover and even working time.
Under the ‟Aubry law” dated 19 January 2000, a standard 35-hour working week became the rule. Employees working beyond 35 hours are entitled to overtime. A company-wide collective bargaining agreement may provide for a maximum working time of 12 hours, and a maximum weekly working time of 46 hours over 12 consecutive weeks. Extra time is either paid via overtime, or compensating by taking extra days off (called ‟RTT”).
Any dismissal of a French employee must be notified in writing, and based on a ‘real and serious’ cause. A specific procedure must be followed, including inviting the employee to a pre-dismissal meeting, holding such meeting with the employee, and notifying the dismissal by registered letter with an acknowledgement of receipt. Dismissal for economic reasons and dismissals of employee representatives are subject to additional formalities and requirements, such as the implementation of selection criteria to identify the employees to be dismissed, the involvement of, and approval from, the French labour authorities and compulsory consultation with employee representatives. Upon termination, French employees are entitled to a number of indemnities (severance payment, notice period, paid holidays, etc) and, should the dismissal be deemed to be unfair, the ‟Macron scale”, set out in article L 1235-3 of the French labour code, provides that, in case of a court claim for unfair dismissal, French labour courts must allocate damages to former employees ranging between a minimum and a capped amount, based on the length of service with the former employer. Because many regional labour courts were resisting the application of the ‟Macron scale” to their court cases, the French supreme court ruled in July 2019 that such ‟Macron scale” is enforceable and must apply.
Of course, French freelancers and consultants who work for fashion and luxury houses are not protected by the above-mentioned French labour rules applying to employer–employee relationships. However, French labour courts are prompt at requalifying an alleged freelancing relationship into an employment relationship, provided that a subordination link (characterised by work done under the authority of an employer, which has the power to give orders, directives, guidelines, and to control the performance of such work, and may sanction any breach of such performance) exists, between the alleged freelancer and the fashion company. Most creative directors of French fashion houses are consultants, not employees, and therefore have the right to execute other fashion projects or contracts, for other fashion houses (for example, Karl Lagerfeld was the creative director of both Chanel and Fendi).
Article L 124-1 et seq of the French education code provide that a ‟gratification” (not a salary) may be paid to an intern, in France, if the duration of his or her internship is more than two consecutive months. Below that time frame, a French company has no obligation to pay a gratification to an intern. The hourly rate of such gratification is equal to a minimum of €3.90 per internship hour; however, in certain sectors of the industry where collective bargaining agreements apply, the amount may be higher than €3.90.
9.2. Trade unions
28 | Are there any special legal or regulatory considerations for fashion companies when dealing with trade unions or works councils?
As mentioned in question 24, an employer may have to consult employee representatives if it wants to dismiss, for economic reasons, some of its employees. Also, trade unions, either covering a company or a group of companies, or covering an industry as a whole, negotiate, and will renegotiate and amend, any collective bargaining agreements in place in France.
Unsurprisingly, employee representatives play a very important role, in French employer–employee relationships. Depending on the size of a company, some employee delegates or a works council, as well as a health and safety committee, may have to be appointed and set up. Such employee representatives not only have an important say on significant business issues such as large-scale dismissals, but must be consulted prior to a variety of changes in the business, such as acquisitions, or disposals, of business lines or of the company itself. In French companies with work councils, employee representatives are entitled to attend meetings of the board of directors, but are not allowed to take part in any votes at such meetings. As a result, most strategic decisions are made outside of board of directors’ meetings.
Dismissals of employee representatives are subject to additional formalities and requirements, such as the approval given by French labour authorities.
While the top creative management of French fashion houses may be terminated at will, because most creative directors are freelancers, the core labour force of most French fashion and luxury houses (eg, blue-collar workers on the shop floor (seamstresses etc), lower to middle management, etc) is almost immovable because of the above-mentioned strict French labour laws relating to hiring and firing. One advantage of such ‟job security” is that French students and the young labour force do not hesitate to train for, and take on, highly specialised and technical manual jobs, which are necessary to creative and exceptionally high-quality luxury products (eg, embroiderers working for Chanel-owned Lesage, bag makers working for Hermes, feather workers employed by Chanel-owned Lemarie and all the seamstresses working for Chanel and all the haute couture houses in Paris).
29 | Are there any special immigration law considerations for fashion companies seeking to move staff across borders or hire and retain talent?
Yes, the multi-year ‟passeport talent” residence permit was created to attract foreign employees and self-employed persons with a particular skillset (eg, qualified or highly qualified employee, self-employed professional, performer or author of a literary or artistic work) in France.
Such residence permit provides the right to stay for a maximum of four years in France, starting from the date of arrival in France. A multi-year residence permit may also be granted to the spouse and children of the ‟talented individual”.
10. Update and trends
30 | What are the current trends and future prospects for the luxury fashion industry in your jurisdiction? Have there been any notable recent market, legal and or regulatory developments in the sector? What changes in law, regulation, or enforcement should luxury and fashion companies be preparing for?
The future prospects of the luxury and fashion sectors in France are extremely high, because the Macron reforms are slowly but surely transforming the French economy into a liberalised and free-trade powerhouse, bringing flexibility and innovation at the forefront of the political reform agenda. However, the downside to these sweeping changes is the resistance, violence and riots that have taken place, and still regularly happen, in France, and in Paris in particular, emanating from a French people unsettled about, and scared of, a more free and competitive economic market.
Fashion and luxury businesses are the first to bear the brunt of these violent acts of resistance, as their retail points on the Champs Elysees and other luxurious locations in Paris and in the provinces have been heavily disrupted (and sometimes ransacked) by rioters, some ‟yellow vests” and ‟anti-pension reforms” social unrest movements.
However, in the medium to long term, fashion and luxury businesses will be among the first to benefit from those sweeping reforms, thanks to a highly productive, and more flexible, French workforce, better contractual and trade conditions to conduct business in France and abroad, and a highly efficient legal framework and court system that are among the most protective of IP rights owners, in the world.
Reproduced with permission from Law Business Research Ltd. This article was first published in Lexology Getting the Deal Through – Luxury & Fashion 2020 (Published: April 2020).
Why the valuation of intangible assets matters: the unstoppable rise of intangibles’ reporting in the 21st century’s corporate environmentCrefovi : 15/04/2020 8:00 am : Antitrust & competition, Art law, Articles, Banking & finance, Capital markets, Consumer goods & retail, Copyright litigation, Emerging companies, Entertainment & media, Fashion law, Gaming, Hospitality, Hostile takeovers, Information technology - hardware, software & services, Insolvency & workouts, Intellectual property & IP litigation, Internet & digital media, Law of luxury goods, Life sciences, Litigation & dispute resolution, Mergers & acquisitions, Music law, Outsourcing, Private equity & private equity finance, Restructuring, Tax, Technology transactions, Trademark litigation, Unsolicited bids
It is high time France and the UK up their game in terms of accounting for, reporting and leveraging the intangible assets owned by their national businesses and companies, while Asia and the US currently lead the race, here. European lenders need to do their bit, too, to empower creative and innovative SMEs, and provide them with adequate financing to sustain their growth and ambitions, by way of intangible assets backed-lending.
Back in May 2004, I published an in-depth study on the financing of luxury brands, and how the business model developed by large luxury conglomerates was coming out on top. 16 years down the line, I can testify that everything I said in that 2004 study was in the money: the LVMH, Kering, Richemont and L’Oreal of this word dominate the luxury and fashion sectors today, with their multibrands’ business model which allows them to both make vast economies of scale and diversify their economic as well as financial risks.
However, in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic which constrains us all to work from home through virtual tools such as videoconferencing, emails, chats and sms, I came to realise that I omitted a very important topic from that 2004 study, which is however acutely relevant in the context of developing, and growing, creative businesses in the 21st century. It is that intangible assets are becoming the most important and valuable assets of creative companies (including, of course, luxury and fashion houses).
Indeed, traditionally, tangible and fixed assets, such as land, plants, stock, inventory and receivables were used to assess the intrinsic value of a company, and, in particular, were used as security in loan transactions. Today, most successful businesses out there, in particular in the technology sector (Airbnb, Uber, Facebook) but not only, derive the largest portion of their worth from their intangible assets, such as intellectual property rights (trademarks, patents, designs, copyright), brands, knowhow, reputation, customer loyalty, a trained workforce, contracts, licensing rights, franchises.
Our economy has changed in fundamental ways, as business is now mainly ‟knowledge based”, rather than industrial, and ‟intangibles” are the new drivers of economic activity, the Financial Reporting Council (‟FRC”) set out in its paper ‟Business reporting of intangibles: realistic proposals”, back in February 2019.
However, while such intangibles are becoming the driving force of our businesses and economies worldwide, they are consistently ignored by chartered accountants, bankers and financiers alike. As a result, most companies – in particular, Small and Medium Enterprises (‟SMEs”)- cannot secure any financing with money men because their intangibles are still deemed to … well, in a nutshell … lack physical substance! This limits the scope of growth of many creative businesses; to their detriment of course, but also to the detriment of the UK and French economies in which SMEs account for an astounding 99 percent of private sector business, 59 percent of private sector employment and 48 percent of private sector turnover.
How could this oversight happen and materialise, in the last 20 years? Where did it all go wrong? Why do we need to very swiftly address this lack of visionary thinking, in terms of pragmatically adapting double-entry book keeping and accounting rules to the realities of companies operating in the 21st century?
How could such adjustments in, and updates to, our old ways of thinking about the worth of our businesses, be best implemented, in order to balance the need for realistic valuations of companies operating in the “knowledge economy” and the concern expressed by some stakeholders that intangible assets might peter out at the first reputation blow dealt to any business?
1. What is the valuation and reporting of intangible assets?
1.1. Recognition and measurement of intangible assets within accounting and reporting
In the European Union (‟EU”), there are two levels of accounting regulation:
- the international level, which corresponds to the International Accounting Standards (‟IAS”), and International Financial Reporting Standards (‟IFRS”) issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (‟IASB”), which apply compulsorily to the consolidated financial statements of listed companies and voluntarily to other accounts and entities according to the choices of each country legislator, and
- a national level, where the local regulations are driven by the EU accounting directives, which have been issued from 1978 onwards, and which apply to the remaining accounts and companies in each EU member-state.
The first international standard on recognition and measurement of intangible assets was International Accounting Standard 38 (‟IAS 38”), which was first issued in 1998. Even though it has been amended several times since, there has not been any significant change in its conservative approach to recognition and measurement of intangible assets.
An asset is a resource that is controlled by a company as a result of past events (for example a purchase or self-creation) and from which future economic benefits (such as inflows of cash or other assets) are expected to flow to this company. An intangible asset is defined by IAS 38 as an identifiable non-monetary asset without physical substance.
There is a specific reference to intellectual property rights (‟IPRs”), in the definition of ‟intangible assets” set out in paragraph 9 of IAS 38, as follows: ‟entities frequently expend resources, or incur liabilities, on the acquisition, development, maintenance or enhancement of intangible resources such as scientific or technical knowledge, design and implementation of new processes or systems, licenses, intellectual property, market knowledge and trademarks (including brand names and publishing titles). Common examples of items encompassed by these broad headings are computer software, patents, copyrights, motion picture films, customer lists, mortgage servicing rights, fishing licences, import quotas, franchises, customer or supplier relationships, customer loyalty, market share and marketing rights”.
However, it is later clarified in IAS 38, that in order to recognise an intangible asset on the face of balance sheet, it must be identifiable and controlled, as well as generate future economic benefits flowing to the company that owns it.
The recognition criterion of ‟identifiability” is described in paragraph 12 of IAS 38 as follows.
‟An asset is identifiable if it either:
a. is separable, i.e. capable of being separated or divided from the entity and sold, transferred, licensed, rented or exchanged, either individually or together with a related contract, identifiable asset or liability, regardless of whether the entity intends to do so; or
b. arises from contractual or other legal rights, regardless of whether those rights are transferable or separable from the entity or from other rights and obligations”.
‟Control” is an essential feature in accounting and is described in paragraph 13 of IAS 38.
‟An entity controls an asset if the entity has the power to obtain the future economic benefits flowing from the underlying resource and to restrict the access of others to those benefits. The capacity of an entity to control the future economic benefits from an intangible asset would normally stem from legal rights that are enforceable in a court of law. In the absence of legal rights, it is more difficult to demonstrate control. However, legal enforceability of a right is not a necessary condition for control because an entity may be able to control the future economic benefits in some other way”.
In order to have an intangible asset recognised as an asset on company balance sheet, such intangible has to satisfy also some specific accounting recognition criteria, which are set out in paragraph 21 of IAS 38.
‟An intangible asset shall be recognised if, and only if:
a. it is probable that the expected future economic benefits that are attributable to the asset will flow to the entity; and
b. the cost of the asset can be measured reliably”.
The recognition criteria illustrated above are deemed to be always satisfied when an intangible asset is acquired by a company from an external party at a price. Therefore, there are no particular problems to record an acquired intangible asset on the balance sheet of the acquiring company, at the consideration paid (i.e. historical cost).
1.2. Goodwill v. other intangible assets
Here, before we develop any further, we must draw a distinction between goodwill and other intangible assets, for clarification purposes.
Goodwill is an intangible asset that is associated with the purchase of one company by another. Specifically, goodwill is the portion of the purchase price that is higher than the sum of the net fair value of all of the assets purchased in the acquisition and the liabilities assumed in the process (= purchase price of the acquired company – (net fair market value of identifiable assets – net fair value of identifiable liabilities)).
The value of a company’s brand name, solid customer base, good customer relations, good employee relations, as well as proprietary technology, represent some examples of goodwill, in this context.
The value of goodwill arises in an acquisition, i.e. when an acquirer purchases a target company. Goodwill is then recorded as an intangible asset on the acquiring company’s balance sheet under the long-term assets’ account.
Under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (‟GAAP”) and IFRS, these companies which acquired targets in the past and therefore recorded those targets’ goodwill on their balance sheet, are then required to evaluate the value of goodwill on their financial statements at least once a year, and record any impairments.
Impairment of an asset occurs when its market value drops below historical cost, due to adverse events such as declining cash flows, a reputation backlash, increased competitive environment, etc. Companies assess whether an impairment is needed by performing an impairment test on the intangible asset. If the company’s acquired net assets fall below the book value, or if the company overstated the amount of goodwill, then it must impair or do a write-down on the value of the asset on the balance sheet, after it has assessed that the goodwill is impaired. The impairment expense is calculated as the difference between the current market value and the purchase price of the intangible asset. The impairment results in a decrease in the goodwill account on the balance sheet.
This expense is also recognised as a loss on the income statement, which directly reduces net income for the year. In turn, earnings per share (‟EPS”) and the company’s stock price are also negatively affected.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (‟FASB”), which sets standards for GAAP rules, and the IASB, which sets standards for IFRS rules, are considering a change to how goodwill impairment is calculated. Because of the subjectivity of goodwill impairment, and the cost of testing impairment, FASB and IASB are considering reverting to an older method called ‟goodwill amortisation” in which the value of goodwill is slowly reduced annually over a number of years.
As set out above, goodwill is not the same as other intangible assets because it is a premium paid over fair value during a transaction, and cannot be bought or sold independently. Meanwhile, other intangible assets can be bought and sold independently.
Also, goodwill has an indefinite life, while other intangibles have a definite useful life (i.e. an accounting estimate of the number of years an asset is likely to remain in service for the purpose of cost-effective revenue generation).
1.3. Amortisation, impairment and subsequent measure of intangible assets other than goodwill
That distinction between goodwill and other intangible assets being clearly drawn, let’s get back to the issues revolving around recording intangible assets (other than goodwill) on the balance sheet of a company.
As set out above, if some intangible assets are acquired as a consequence of a business purchase or combination, the acquiring company recognises all these intangible assets, provided that they meet the definition of an intangible asset. This results in the recognition of intangibles – including brand names, IPRs, customer relationships – that would not have been recognised by the acquired company that developed them in the first place. Indeed, paragraph 34 of IAS 38 provides that ‟in accordance with this Standard and IFRS 3 (as revised in 2008), an acquirer recognises at the acquisition date, separately from goodwill, an intangible asset of the acquiree, irrespective of whether the asset had been recognised by the acquiree before the business combination. This means that the acquirer recognises as an asset separately from goodwill an in-process research and development project of the acquiree, if the project meets the definition of an intangible asset. An acquiree’s in-process research and development project meets the definition of an intangible asset when it:
a. meets the definition of an asset, and
b. is identifiable, i.e. separable or arises from contractual or other legal rights.”
Therefore, in a business acquisition or combination, the intangible assets that are ‟identifiable” (either separable or arising from legal rights) can be recognised and capitalised in the balance sheet of the acquiring company.
After initial recognition, the accounting value in the balance sheet of intangible assets with definite useful lives (e.g. IPRs, licenses) has to be amortised over the intangible asset’s expected useful life, and is subject to impairment tests when needed. As explained above, intangible assets with indefinite useful lives (such as goodwill or brands) will not be amortised, but only subject at least annually to an impairment test to verify whether the impairment indicators (‟triggers”) are met.
Alternatively, after initial recognition (at cost or at fair value in the case of business acquisitions or mergers), intangible assets with definite useful lives may be revalued at fair value less amortisation, provided there is an active market for the asset to be referred to, as can be inferred from paragraph 75 of IAS 38:
‟After initial recognition, an intangible asset shall be carried at a revalued amount, being its fair value at the date of the revaluation less any subsequent accumulated amortisation and any subsequent accumulated impairment losses. For the purpose of revaluations under this Standard, fair value shall be measured by reference to an active market. Revaluations shall be made with such regularity that at the end of the reporting period the carrying amount of the asset does not differ materially from its fair value.”
However, this standard indicates that the revaluation model can only be used in rare situations, where there is an active market for these intangible assets.
1.4. The elephant in the room: a lack of recognition and measurement of internally generated intangible assets
All the above about the treatment of intangible assets other than goodwill cannot be said for internally generated intangible assets. Indeed, IAS 38 sets out important differences in the treatment of those internally generated intangibles, which is currently – and rightfully – the subject of much debate among regulators and other stakeholders.
Internally generated intangible assets are prevented from being recognised, from an accounting standpoint, as they are being developed (while a business would normally account for internally generated tangible assets). Therefore, a significant proportion of internally generated intangible assets is not recognised in the balance sheet of a company. As a consequence, stakeholders such as investors, regulators, shareholders, financiers, are not receiving some very relevant information about this enterprise, and its accurate worth.
Why such a standoffish attitude towards internally generated intangible assets? In practice, when the expenditure to develop intangible asset is incurred, it is often very unclear whether that expenditure is going to generate future economic benefits. It is this uncertainty that prevents many intangible assets from being recognised as they are being developed. This perceived lack of reliability of the linkage between expenditures and future benefits pushes towards the treatment of such expenditures as ‟period cost”. It is not until much later, when the uncertainty is resolved (e.g. granting of a patent), that an intangible asset may be capable of recognition. As current accounting requirements primarily focus on transactions, an event such as the resolution of uncertainty surrounding an internally developed IPR is generally not captured in company financial statements.
Let’s take the example of research and development costs (‟R&D”), which is one process of internally creating certain types of intangible assets, to illustrate the accounting treatment of intangible assets created in this way.
Among accounting standard setters, such as IASB with its IAS 38, the most frequent practice is to require the immediate expensing of all R&D. However, France, Italy and Australia are examples of countries where national accounting rule makers allow the capitalisation of R&D, subject to conditions being satisfied.
Therefore, in some circumstances, internally generated intangible assets can be recognised when the relevant set of recognition criteria is met, in particular the existence of a clear linkage of the expenditure to future benefits accruing to the company. This is called condition-based capitalisation. In these cases, the cost that a company has incurred in that financial year, can be capitalised as an asset; the previous costs having already been expensed in earlier income statements. For example, when a patent is finally granted by the relevant intellectual property office, only the expenses incurred during that financial year can be capitalised and disclosed on the face of balance sheet among intangible fixed assets.
To conclude, under the current IFRS and GAAP regimes, internally generated intangible assets, such as IPRs, can only be recognised on balance sheet in very rare instances.
2.Why value and report intangible assets?
As developed in depth by the European Commission (‟EC”) in its 2013 final report from the expert group on intellectual property valuation, the UK intellectual property office (‟UKIPO”) in its 2013 ‟Banking on IP?” report and the FRC in its 2019 discussion paper ‟Business reporting of intangibles: realistic proposals”, the time for radical change to the accounting of intangible assets has come upon us.
2.1. Improving the accurateness and reliability of financial communication
Existing accounting standards should be advanced, updated and modernised to take greater account of intangible assets and consequently improve the relevance, objectivity and reliability of financial statements.
Not only that, but informing stakeholders (i.e. management, employees, shareholders, regulators, financiers, investors) appropriately and reliably is paramount today, in a corporate world where companies are expected to accurately, regularly and expertly manage and broadcast their financial communication to medias and regulators.
As highlighted by Janice Denoncourt in her blog post ‟intellectual property, finance and corporate governance”, no stakeholder wants an iteration of the Theranos’ fiasco, during which inventor and managing director Elizabeth Holmes was indicted for fraud in excess of USD700 million, by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (‟SEC”), for having repeatedly, yet inaccurately, said that Theranos’ patented blood testing technology was both revolutionary and at the last stages of its development. Elizabeth Holmes made those assertions on the basis of the more than 270 patents that her and her team filed with the United States patent and trademark office (‟USPTO”), while making some material omissions and misleading disclosures to the SEC, via Theranos’ financial statements, on the lame justification that ‟Theranos needed to protect its intellectual property” (sic).
Indeed, the stakes of financial communication are so high, in particular for the branding and reputation of any ‟knowledge economy” company, that, back in 2002, LVMH did not hesitate to sue Morgan Stanley, the investment bank advising its nemesis, Kering (at the time, named ‟PPR”), in order to obtain Euros100 million of damages resulting from Morgan Stanley’s alleged breach of conflicts of interests between its investment banking arm (which advised PPR’s top-selling brand, Gucci) and Morgan Stanley’s financial research division. According to LVMH, Clare Kent, Morgan Stanley’s luxury sector-focused analyst, systematically drafted and then published negative and biased research against LVMH share and financial results, in order to favor Gucci, the top-selling brand of the PPR luxury conglomerate and Morgan Stanley’s top client. While this lawsuit – the first of its kind in relation to alleged biased conduct in a bank’s financial analysis – looked far-fetched when it was lodged in 2002, LVMH actually won, both in first instance and on appeal.
Having more streamlined and accurate accounting, reporting and valuation of intangible assets – which are, today, the main and most valuable assets of any 21st century corporation – is therefore paramount for efficient and reliable financial communication.
2.2. Improving and diversifying access to finance
Not only that, but recognising the worth and inherent value of intangible assets, on balance sheet, would greatly improve the chances of any company – in particular, SMEs – to successfully apply for financing.
Debt finance is notoriously famous for shying away from using intangible assets as main collateral against lending because it is too risky.
For example, taking appropriate security controls over a company’s registered IPRs in a lending scenario would involve taking a fixed charge, and recording it properly on the Companies Registry at Companies House (in the UK) and on the appropriate IPRs’ registers. However, this hardly ever happens. Typically, at best, lenders are reliant on a floating charge over IPRs, which will crystallise in case of an event of default being triggered – by which time, important IPRs may have disappeared into thin air, or been disposed of; hence limiting the lender’s recovery prospects.
Alternatively, it is now possible for a lender to take an assignment of an IPR by way of security (generally with a licence back to the assignor to permit his or her continued use of the IPR) by an assignment in writing signed by the assignor. However, this is rarely done in practice. The reason is to avoid ‟maintenance”, i.e. to prevent the multiplicity of actions. Indeed, because intangibles are incapable of being possessed, and rights over them are therefore ultimately enforced by action, it has been considered that the ability to assign such rights would increase the number of actions.
Whilst there are improvements needed to the practicalities and easiness of registering a security interest over intangible assets, the basic step that is missing is a clear inventory of IPRs and other intangible assets, on balance sheet and/or on yearly financial statements, without which lenders can never be certain that these assets are in fact to hand.
Cases of intangible asset- backed lending (‟IABL”) have occurred, whereby a bank provided a loan to a pension fund against tangible assets, and the pension fund then provided a sale and leaseback arrangement against intangible assets. Therefore, IABL from pension funds (on a sale and leaseback arrangement), rather than banks, provides a route for SMEs to obtain loans.
There have also been instances where specialist lenders have entered into sale and licence-back agreements, or sale and leaseback agreements, secured against intangible assets, including trademarks and software copyright.
Some other types of funders than lenders, however, are already making the ‟intangible assets” link, such as equity investors (business angels, venture capital companies and private equity funds). They know that IPRs and other intangibles represent part of the ‟skin in the game” for SMEs owners and managers, who have often expended significant time and money in their creation, development and protection. Therefore, when equity investors assess the quality and attractiveness of investment opportunities, they invariably include consideration of the underlying intangible assets, and IPRs in particular. They want to understand the extent to which intangible assets owned by one of the companies they are potentially interested investing in, represent a barrier to entry, create freedom to operate and meet a real market need.
Accordingly, many private equity funds, in particular, have delved into investing in luxury companies, attracted by their high gross margins and net profit rates, as I explained in my 2013 article ‟Financing luxury companies: the quest of the Holy Grail (not!)”. Today, some of the most active venture capital firms investing in the European creative industries are Accel, Advent Venture Partners, Index Ventures, Experienced Capital, to name a few.
2.3. Adopting a systematic, consistent and streamlined approach to the valuation of intangible assets, which levels the playing field
If intangible assets are to be recognised in financial statements, in order to adopt a systematic and streamlined approach to their valuation, then fair value is the most obvious alternative to cost, as explained in paragraph 1.3. above.
How could we use fair value more widely, in order to capitalise intangible assets in financial statements?
IFRS 13 ‟Fair Value Measurements” identifies three widely-used valuation techniques: the market approach, the cost approach and the income approach.
The market approach ‟uses prices and other relevant information generated by market transactions involving identical or comparable” assets. However, this approach is difficult in practice, since when transactions in intangibles occur, the prices are rarely made public. Publicly traded data usually represents a market capitalisation of the enterprise, not singular intangible assets. Market data from market participants is often used in income based models such as determining reasonable royalty rates and discount rates. Direct market evidence is usually available in the valuation of internet domain names, carbon emission rights and national licences (for radio stations, for example). Other relevant market data include sale/licence transactional data, price multiples and royalty rates.
The cost approach ‟reflects the amount that would be required currently to replace the service capacity of an asset”. Deriving fair value under this approach therefore requires estimating the costs of developing an equivalent intangible asset. In practice, it is often difficult to estimate in advance the costs of developing an intangible. In most cases, replacement cost new is the most direct and meaningful cost based means of estimating the value of an intangible asset. Once replacement cost new is estimated, various forms of obsolescence must be considered, such as functional, technological and economic. Cost based models are best used for valuing an assembled workforce, engineering drawings or designs and internally developed software where no direct cash flow is generated.
The income approach essentially converts future cash flows (or income and expenses) to a single, discounted present value, usually as a result of increased turnover of cost savings. Income based models are best used when the intangible asset is income producing or when it allows an asset to generate cash flow. The calculation may be similar to that of value in use. However, to arrive at fair value, the future income must be estimated from the perspective of market participants rather than that of the entity. Therefore, applying the income approach requires an insight into how market participants would assess the benefits (cash flows) that will be obtained uniquely from an intangible asset (where such cash flows are different from the cash flows related to the whole company). Income based methods are usually employed to value customer related intangibles, trade names, patents, technology, copyrights, and covenants not to compete.
An example of IPRs’ valuation by way of fair value, using the cost and income approaches in particular, is given in the excellent presentation by Austin Jacobs, made during ialci’s latest law of luxury goods and fashion seminar on intellectual property rights in the fashion and luxury sectors.
In order to make these three above-mentioned valuation techniques more effective, with regards to intangible assets, and because many intangibles will not be recognised in financial statements as they fail to meet the definition of an asset or the recognition criteria, a reconsideration to the ‟Conceptual Framework to Financial Reporting” needs being implemented by the IASB.
These amendments to the Conceptual Framework would permit more intangibles to be recognised within financial statements, in a systematic, consistent, uniform and streamlined manner, therefore levelling the playing field among companies from the knowledge economy.
Let’s not forget that one of the reasons WeWork co founder, Adam Neumann, was violently criticised, during WeWork’s failed IPO attempt, and then finally ousted, in 2019, was the fact that he was paid nearly USD6 million for granting the right to use his registered word trademark ‟We”, to his own company WeWork. In its IPO filing prospectus, which provided the first in-depth look at WeWork’s financial results, WeWork characterised the nearly USD6 million payment as ‟fair market value”. Many analysts, among which Scott Galloway, begged to differ, outraged by the lack of rigour and realism in the valuation of the WeWork brand, and the clearly opportunistic attitude adopted by Adam Neumann to get even richer, faster.
2.4. Creating a liquid, established and free secondary market of intangible assets
IAS 38 currently permits intangible assets to be recognised at fair value, as discussed above in paragraphs 1.3. and 2.3., measured by reference to an active market.
While acknowledging that such markets may exist for assets such as ‟freely transferable taxi licences, fishing licences or production quotas”, IAS 38 states that ‟it is uncommon for an active market to exist for an intangible asset”. It is even set out, in paragraph 78 of IAS 38 that ‟an active market cannot exist for brands, newspaper mastheads, music and film publishing rights, patents or trademarks, because each such asset is unique”.
Markets for resale of intangible assets and IPRs do exist, but are presently less formalised and offer less certainty on realisable values. There is no firmly established secondary transaction market for intangible assets (even though some assets are being sold out of insolvency) where value can be realised. In addition, in the case of forced liquidation, intangible assets’ value can be eroded, as highlighted in paragraph 2.2. above.
Therefore, markets for intangible assets are currently imperfect, in particular because there is an absence of mature marketplaces in which intangible assets may be sold in the event of default, insolvency or liquidation. There is not yet the same tradition of disposal, or the same volume of transaction data, as that which has historically existed with tangible fixed assets.
Be that as it may, the rise of liquid secondary markets of intangible assets is unstoppable. In the last 15 years, the USA have been at the forefront of IPRs auctions, mainly with patent auctions managed by specialist auctioneers such as ICAP Ocean Tomo and Racebrook. For example, in 2006, ICAP Ocean Tomo sold 78 patent lots at auction for USD8.5 million, while 6,000 patents were sold at auction by Canadian company Nortel Networks for USD4.5 billion in 2011.
However, auctions are not limited to patents, as demonstrated by the New York auction, successfully organised by ICAP Ocean Tomo in 2006, on lots composed of patents, trademarks, copyrights, musical rights and domain names, where the sellers were IBM, Motorola, Siemens AG, Kimberly Clark, etc. In 2010, Racebrook auctioned 150 American famous brands from the retail and consumer goods’ sectors.
In Europe, in 2012, Vogica successfully sold its trademarks and domain names at auction to competitor Parisot Group, upon its liquidation.
In addition, global licensing activity leaves not doubt that intangible assets, in particular IPRs, are, in fact, very valuable, highly tradable and a very portable asset class.
It is high time to remove all market’s imperfections, make trading more transparent and offer options to the demand side, to get properly tested.
3. Next steps to improve the valuation and reporting of intangible assets
3.1. Adjust IAS 38 and the Conceptual Framework to Financial Reporting to the realities of intangible assets’ reporting
Mainstream lenders, as well as other stakeholders, need cost-effective, standardised approaches in order to capture and process information on intangibles and IPRs (which is not currently being presented by SMEs).
This can be achieved by reforming IAS 38 and the ‟Conceptual Framework to Financial Reporting”, at the earliest convenience, in order to make most intangible assets capitalised on financial statements at realistic and consistent valuations.
In particular, the reintroduction of amortisation of goodwill may be a pragmatic way to reduce the impact of different accounting treatment for acquired and internally generated intangibles.
In addition, narrative reporting (i.e. reports with titles such as ‟Management Commentary” or ‟Strategic Report”, which generally form part of the annual report, and other financial communication documents such as ‟Preliminary Earnings Announcements” that a company provides primarily for the information of investors) must set out detailed information on unrecognised intangibles, as well as amplify what is reported within the financial statements.
3.2. Use standardised and consistent metrics within financial statements and other financial communication documents
The usefulness and credibility of narrative information would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of metrics (i.e. numerical measures that are relevant to an assessment of the company’s intangibles) standardised by industry. The following are examples of objective and verifiable metrics that may be disclosed through narrative reporting:
- a company that identifies customer loyalty as critical to the success of its business model might disclose measures of customer satisfaction, such as the percentage of customers that make repeat purchases;
- if the ability to innovate is a key competitive advantage, the proportion of sales from new products may be a relevant metric;
- where the skill of employees is a key driver of value, employee turnover may be disclosed, together with information about their training.
3.3. Make companies’ boards accountable for intangibles’ reporting
Within a company, at least one appropriately qualified person should be appointed and publicly reported as having oversight and responsibility for intangibles’ auditing, valuation, due diligence and reporting (for example a director, specialist advisory board or an external professional adviser).
This would enhance the importance of corporate governance and board oversight, in addition to reporting, with respect to intangible assets.
In particular, some impairment tests could be introduced, to ensure that businesses are well informed and motivated to adopt appropriate intangibles’ management practices, which should be overseen by the above-mentioned appointed board member.
3.4. Create a body that trains about, and regulates, the field of intangible assets’ valuation and reporting
The creation of a professional organisation for the intangible assets’ valuation profession would increase transparency of intangibles’ valuations and trust towards valuation professionals (i.e. lawyers, IP attorneys, accountants, economists, etc).
This valuation professional organisation would set some key objectives that will protect the public interest in all matters that pertain to the profession, establish professional standards (especially standards of professional conduct) and represent professional valuers.
This organisation would, in addition, offer training and education on intangibles’ valuations. Therefore, the creation of informative material and the development of intangible assets’ training programmes would be a priority, and would guarantee the high quality valuation of IPRs and other intangibles as a way of boosting confidence for the field.
Company board members who are going to be appointed as having accountability and responsibility for intangibles’ valuation within the business, as mentioned above in paragraph 3.3., could greatly benefit from regular training sessions offered by this future valuation professional organisation, in particular for continuing professional development purposes.
3.5. Create a powerful register of expert intangible assets’ valuers
In order to build trust, the creation of a register of expert intangibles’ valuers, whose ability must first be certified by passing relevant knowledge tests, is key.
Inclusion on this list would involve having to pass certain aptitudes tests and, to remain on it, valuers would have to maintain a standard of quality in the valuations carried out, whereby the body that manages this registry would be authorised to expel members whose reports are not up to standard. This is essential in order to maintain confidence in the quality and skill of the valuers included on the register.
The entity that manages this body of valuers would have the power to review the valuations conducted by the valuers certified by this institution as a ‟second instance”. The body would need to have the power to re-examine the assessments made by these valuers (inspection programme), and even eliminate them if it is considered that the assessment is overtly incorrect (fair disciplinary mechanism).
3.6. Establish an intangible assets’ marketplace and data-source
The development most likely to transform IPRs and intangibles as an asset class is the emergence of more transparent and accessible marketplaces where they can be traded.
In particular, as IPRs and intangible assets become clearly identified and are more freely licensed, bought and sold (together with or separate to the business), the systems available to register and track financial interests will need to be improved. This will require the cooperation of official registries and the establishment of administrative protocols.
Indeed, the credibility of intangibles’ valuations would be greatly enhanced by improving valuation information, especially by collecting information and data on actual and real intangibles’ transactions in a suitable form, so that it can be used, for example, to support IPRs asset-based lending decisions. If this information is made available, lenders and expert valuers will be able to base their estimates on more widely accepted and verified assumptions, and consequently, their valuation results – and valuation reports – would gain greater acceptance and reliability from the market at large.
The wide accessibility of complete, quality information which is based on real negotiations and transactions, via this open data-source, would help to boost confidence in the validity and accuracy of valuations, which will have a very positive effect on transactions involving IPRs and other intangibles.
3.7. Introduce a risk sharing loan guarantee scheme for banks to facilitate intangibles’ secured lending
A dedicated loan guarantee scheme needs being introduced, to facilitate intangible assets’ secured lending to innovative and creative SMEs.
Asia is currently setting the pace in intangibles-backed lending. In 2014, the intellectual property office of Singapore (‟IPOS”) launched a USD100 million ‟IP financing scheme” designed to support local SMEs to use their granted IPRs as collateral for bank loans. A panel of IPOS-appointed valuers assess the applicant’s IPR portfolio using standard guidelines to provide lenders with a basis on which to determine the amount of funds to be advanced. The development of a national valuation model is a noteworthy aspect of the scheme and could lead to an accepted valuation methodology in the future.
The Chinese intellectual property office (‟CIPO”) has developed some patent-backed debt finance initiatives. Only 6 years after the ‟IP pledge financing” programme was launched by CIPO in 2008, CIPO reported that Chinese companies had secured over GBP6 billion in IPRs-backed loans since the programme launched. The Chinese government having way more direct control and input into commercial bank lending policy and capital adequacy requirements, it can vigorously and potently implement its strategic goal of increasing IPRs-backed lending.
It is high time Europe follows suit, at least by putting in place some loan guarantees that would increase lender’s confidence in making investments by sharing the risks related to the investment. A guarantor assumes a debt obligation if the borrower defaults. Most loan guarantee schemes are established to correct perceived market failures by which small borrowers, regardless of creditworthiness, lack access to the credit resources available to large borrowers. Loan guarantee schemes level the playing field.
The proposed risk sharing loan guarantee scheme set up by the European Commission or by a national government fund (in particular in the UK, who is brexiting) would be specifically targeted at commercial banks in order to stimulate intangibles-secured lending to innovative SMEs. The guarantor would fully guarantee the intangibles-secured loan and share the risk of lending to SMEs (which have suitable IPRs and intangibles) with the commercial bank.
The professional valuer serves an important purpose, in this future loan guarantee scheme, since he or she will fill the knowledge gap relating to the IPRs and intangibles, as well as their value, in the bank’s loan procedure. If required, the expert intangibles’ valuer provides intangibles’ valuation expertise and technology transfer to the bank, until such bank has built the relevant capacity to perform intangible assets’ valuations. Such valuations would be performed, either by valuers and/or banks, according to agreed, consistent, homogenised and accepted methods/standards and a standardised intangible asset’s valuation methodology.
To conclude, in this era of ultra-competitiveness and hyper-globalisation, France and the UK, and Europe in general, must immediately jump on the saddle of progress, by reforming outdated and obsolete accounting and reporting standards, as well as by implementing all the above-mentioned new measures and strategies, to realistically and consistently value, report and leverage intangible assets in the 21st century economy.
 ‟Lingard’s bank security documents”, Timothy N. Parsons, 4th edition, LexisNexis, page 450 and seq.
 ‟Taking security – law and practice”, Richard Calnan, Jordans, page 74 and seq.
What are business owners obligations, in terms of registering beneficial ownership of their companies? How do these obligations differ, in France and the United Kingdom, even though such obligations stem from the same European legislation, i.e. the European Directive 2015/849 dated 20 May 2015 on money laundering?
1. What is this all about?
On 20 May 2015, the Directive (EU) 2015/849 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing, amending Regulation (EU) No 648/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Directive 2005/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, was published (the ‟Directive”).
As set out in the recitals of the Directive, and in order to better fight against money laundering, terrorism financing and organised crime, ‟there is a need to identify any natural person who exercises ownership or control over a legal entity (…). Identification and verification of beneficial owners should, where relevant, extend to legal entities that own other legal entities, and obliged entities should look for the natural person(s) who ultimately exercises control through ownership or through other means of the legal entity that is the customer”.
In addition, ‟the need for accurate and up-to-date information on the beneficial owner is a key factor in tracing criminals who might otherwise hide their identity behind the corporate structure”.
Chapter III (Beneficial ownership information) of the Directive relates to such topic.
In particular, article 30 of the Directive provides that ‟member states shall ensure that the information (on beneficial ownership) is held in a central register in each member state, for example a commercial register, companies register or a public register (…). Member states shall ensure that the information on the beneficial ownership is adequate, accurate and current” and accessible ‟to competent authorities, without any restriction; (…) and to any person or organisation that can demonstrate a legitimate interest”.
These persons or organisations shall access at least the name, the month and year of birth, the nationality and the country of residence of the beneficial owner as well as the nature and extent of the beneficial interest held.
2. Registration of beneficial ownership in French companies
With typical Gallic nonchalance, and while the deadline to transpose the Directive in each member-state was 26 June 2017, France transposed the Directive almost one year later, through its Ordinance n. 2016-1635 of 1 December 2016 reinforcing the French mechanism against money laundering and the financing of terrorism and of the Decree n. 2017-1094 of 12 June 2017 relating to the registry of effective beneficiaries as defined in article L. 561-2-2 of the French monetary and financial code (the ‟Ordinance” and the ‟Decree” respectively), with a compliance deadline of 1 April 2018.
The Ordinance and Decree, which have now been incorporated in the French monetary and financial code, compel all companies operating in France to register their beneficial owners with the Registry of Commerce and Companies of the competent Commercial court (the ‟Registry”).
2.1. Beneficial ownership and filing with the Registry
The notion of beneficial ownership is not defined in the Decree, although is it defined in the Directive as including each natural person who either ultimately owns, directly or indirectly, more than 25% of the share capital or voting rights of the company, or exercises, by any other means, a supervisory power on the managing, administrative or executive bodies of the company or on the shareholders general assembly.
The information that must be filed is essentially identical to that required by financial institutions and other entities such as law firms, in order for them to carry out their mandatory Know-Your-Client (KYC) procedures.
2.2. The initial filings
The declaration of beneficial ownership must be filed at the Registry when a company is first registered with the Registry or, at the latest, within 15 days as of the date of issuance of the receipt of registration (article R. 561-55 of the French monetary and financial code) i.e. when it is created or opens a branch in France.
2.3. Corrective filings
For companies already registered, the deadline for the declaration is 1 April 2018. If subsequent updates are required, new filing must be made within 30 days as of the fact or the act giving rise to a required update (article R. 561-55 of the French monetary and financial code).
2.4. On the beneficial owner
The declaration must set out the owner’s name and particulars, as well as the means of control exercised by the beneficial owner and the date on which s/he became a beneficial owner (article R. 561-56, 2. of the French monetary and financial code).
2.5. Persons having access to the register of beneficial owners
Access to the register of beneficial owners is limited to magistrates of the civil courts and the Ministry of Justice; investigators working for the ‟Autorité des Marchés Financiers” (French financial markets regulator); agents of the ‟Direction Générale des Finances Publiques” (Directorate-General for Public Finances); qualifying credit institutions, insurance and mutual insurance companies and investment services providers; and any person authorised by a court decision to this effect.
2.6. Penalties for non-compliance
The new provisions of the French monetary and financial code provide remedial penalties with the possibility for any person having a legitimate interest to bring an action in order to force the defaulting company to fulfil its obligation to declare its beneficial owners (article R. 561-48 of the French monetary and financial code).
Punitive provisions have also been introduced: failure to declare the beneficial owners to the Registry or filing a declaration involving incomplete or inaccurate information is punishable by 6 months of imprisonment and a fine of Euros 7,500 (article 561-49 of the French monetary and financial code).
3. Registration of beneficial ownership in British companies
Well within the deadline to transpose the Directive in each member-state of 26 June 2017, the United Kingdom transposed the Directive on time, through its new paragraph 24(3) of Schedule 1A of the Companies Act 2006, as amended by Schedule 3 to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 (the ‟Companies Act” and ‟Enterprise Act” respectively), with a compliance deadline of 30 June 2016.
The Companies Act and Enterprise Act, compel all companies operating in the United Kingdom to keep a register of Persons with Significant Control (‟PSC register”) and to file this PSC information via their confirmation statements, upon the due filing date of their respective confirmation statements with Companies House, i.e. the British equivalent to the French Registry of Commerce and Companies of the competent Commercial court (‟Companies House”).
3.1. Beneficial ownership and filing with Companies House
The notion of beneficial ownership, or significant influence or control, as set out in the Companies Act, is defined in the Companies Act as including each natural person who either ultimately owns, directly or indirectly, more than 25 percent of the share capital or voting rights of the company, or exercises, by any other means, a supervisory power on the managing, administrative or executive bodies of the company or on the shareholders general assembly.
UK companies, ‟Societates Europae” (‟SEs”), Limited liability partnerships (‟LLPs”) and eligible Scottish partnerships (‟ESPs”), will be required to identify and record the people with significant control.
3.2. The initial filings
The PSC information must be filed with the central public register at Companies House when a company is first registered with Companies House, i.e. when it is created or opens a branch in the UK.
In addition, new companies, SEs, LLPs need to draft and keep a PSC register in relation to them, in addition to existing registers such as the register of directors and the register of members (i.e. shareholders).
3.3. Corrective filings
For companies already registered, on 6 April 2016, the Companies Act required all companies to keep a PSC register and, from 30 June 2016, companies started to file this PSC information via their confirmation statements.
As each company has a different filing date, based on the anniversary of their respective incorporation, it took up to 12 months (i.e. 30 June 2017) to develop a full picture of all UK companies’ PSCs.
3.4. On the beneficial owner
Before a PSC can be entered on the PSC register, you must confirm all the details with them.
The details you require are:
- date of birth;
- country, state or part of the UK where the PSC usually lives;
- service address;
- usual residential address (this must not be disclosed when making your register available for inspection of providing copies of the PSC register);
- the date s/he became a PSC in relation to the company (for existing companies, the 6 April 2016 was used);
- which conditions for being a PSC are met;
- this must include the level of shares and/or voting rights, within the following categories:
- over 25 percent up to (and including) 50 percent;
- more than 50 percent and less than 75 percent;
- 75 percent or more;
- the company is only required to identify whether a PSC meets the condition relating to the control and significant influence, if they do not exercise control through the shareholding and voting rights conditions;
- this must include the level of shares and/or voting rights, within the following categories:
- whether an application has been made for the individual’s information to be protected from public disclosure.
3.5. Persons having access to the register of beneficial owners
A company’s PSC register should contain the information listed in paragraph 3.4 above, for each PSC of the company. However, that may not always be possible. Where, for some reason, the PSC information cannot be provided, other statements will need to be made instead, explaining why the PSC information is not available. The PSC register can never be blank and such information must be provided to Companies House.
Unlike in France PSC information is freely available, for each company, on Companies House’s website.
As the PSC register is one of the company’s statutory registers, each UK company must keep it at its registered office (or alternative inspection location). Anyone with a proper purpose may have access to the PSC register without charge or have a copy of it for which companies may charge GBP12.
If compared with the French situation, it is therefore much easier to obtain the PSC register for a UK company, than for a French company.
3.6. Penalties for non-compliance
Company officers who fail to take all reasonable steps to disclose their PSCs are liable to be fined or imprisoned (by way of a prison sentence of up to two years) or both. If an investigated person fails to respond to the company’s request for information, the company is allowed to ‟freeze” the relevant shares by stopping proposed transfers and dividends in relation to those shares.
Crefovi is here to support you, in the drafting of documents relating to the registration of beneficial ownership.
While at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2016, we could not help noticing that one of the hottest topics discussed by all film professionals in attendance was film finance, or lack thereof. Also, Crefovi film clients regularly ask for our input on this touchy subject. How to finance your film production nowadays? What are the best strategies to get your film funded and produced, in this day and age?
Well, here is the lowdown: it’s not easy. You will have to work hard and in an efficient and professional manner to secure the trust and hard-won cash of all those stakeholders who can finance your film project or, at least, allow you to save money while producing your film.
1. What do you need film financing for exactly?
The cost items for a film project are vast, both in numbers and sizes, and can be divided according to the various stages of filmmaking, as follows.
1.1. The idea
All films start with a moment of inspiration. Good ideas and story concepts are the foundation of any solid film project. Screenwriters usually have the initial idea or story but producers, who are in charge of raising money for a film project, frequently come up with ideas as well.
Ideas for films can be original or adapted from plays, novels or real-life events, which make up approximately half of all Hollywood films.
Ideas cannot be protected by copyright – or any other intellectual property right for that matter – because copyright subsists only in the tangible expression of ideas. This is referred to as the idea/expression dichotomy.
Therefore, film makers must take all adequate measures to protect their ideas and stories, by only divulging them after having taken some prior protective measures (such as having the recipient of the information relating to the idea sign a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement) and/or by even subscribing to producer errors and omissions insurance and multimedia risk insurance which cover legal liability and defence for the film production company against lawsuits alleging unauthorised uses, plagiarism or copying of titles, formats, ideas, characters, plots, as well as unfair competition or breach of privacy or contract.
1.2. Development finance
The next stage in the development of a film project is to turn a rough idea or story into a final script ready for production.
Development money is the financial sum that you need to invest in your idea, until it is in a form suitable for presenting to investors and capable of attracting production financing. Development money is used, for example, to pay the writer, while the script is being written or re-written, as well as the producer’s travel expenses to film markets to arrange pre-sales financing from investors, as well as location scouting and camera tests. It also covers the cost of administration and overheads until the film is officially in pre-production.
Producers typically pitch to secure the money for the development of the script, or, if they can afford it, put up development money themselves.
Indeed, development finance is the most expensive and financiers who put up development money typically expect a 50% bonus plus 5 percent from the producer’s fees. Bonus payment is usually scheduled to be paid on the first day of principal photography (i.e. the shoot or production), along with the 5 percent of the producer’s profits as the film starts to recoup.
1.3. Script development
Once development finance is secured, and once a story idea is firmly in place, the negotiation process between the screenwriter and the producer (or production company or film studio) begins.
The writer hires an agent who represents him and plays a critical role in ensuring that the writer’s interests are represented in the negotiation process. The agent also ensures that the writer is paid appropriately in accordance with what the writer’s intellectual property rights may be worth in the future.
The producer has an alternative, in order to move the film project forward on the script development front: either he can buy the rights to the story idea or the material (a novel or play) from which the script was adapted outright, or he can buy an option of the film rights. The first transaction is an assignment of copyright. Buying an option of the film rights means that the producer owns the right to develop the film but only for a certain amount of time, it is therefore an exclusive licence of copyright.
In either cases, the producer is the only person allowed to develop the film idea into a screenplay. He pays the writer in smaller, agreed-upon instalments throughout this period, and may also agree to pay such writer a significant higher amount for all film rights once shooting begins. After the terms are negotiated, the writer can finally start working on the screenplay.
The scriptwriter then enters into action and, if needed, may first write a screenplay synopsis, also called ‟concept”. Unlike a ‟treatment”, which is a narrative of everything that happens in a screenplay, a synopsis includes only the most important or interesting parts of the story. A synopsis is a short summary of the basic elements in your story. It describes the dramatic engine that will drive the story in no more than a few sentences.
If the producer likes the synopsis, then the writer will proceed onto drafting the treatment, which, as mentioned above, is a prose description of the plot, written in present tense, as the film will unfold for the audience, scene by scene. A treatment is a story draft where the writer can hammer out the basis actions and plot structure of the story before going into the complexities of realising fully developed scenes with dialogue, precise actions, and setting descriptions. The treatment is the equivalent of a painter’s sketch that can be worked and reworked before committing to the actual painting. It’s much easier to cut, add, and rearrange scenes in this form, than in a fully detailed screenplay.
The author’s draft is the first complete version of the narrative in proper screenplay format. The emphasis of the author’s draft is on the story, the development of characters, and the conflict, actions, settings and dialogue. The author’s draft goes through a number of rewrites and revisions on its way to becoming a final draft, which is the last version of the author’s draft before being turned into a shooting script. The aim of an author’s draft is to remain streamlined, flexible and readable. Therefore, technical information (such as detailed camera angles, performance cues, blocking, or detailed set description) is kept to an absolute minimum. It is important not to attempt to direct the entire film, shot-for-shot, in the author’s draft. The detailed visualisation and interpretation of the screenplay occur during later preproduction and production stages.
Once you have completed your rewrites and arrived at a final draft, you will be ready to take that script into production by transforming it into a shooting script. The shooting script is the version of the screenplay you take into production, meaning the script from which your creative team (cinematographer, production designer, etc.) will work and from which the film will be shot. A shooting script communicates, in specific terms, the director’s visual approach to the film. All the scenes are numbered on a shooting script to facilitate breaking down the script and organising the production of the film. This version also includes specific technical information about the visualisation of the movie, like camera angles, shot sizes, camera moves, etc.
Once the script is completed, the producer sends it to film directors to gauge their interest and find the appropriate director for his film project.
The director and the producer then decide how they want to film the movie and who they will employ to support them in achieving this result.
One common way to make the film project more commercial is to attach well-known stars to the script.
In order to turn the film into a proper business proposition, the producer must know how much the film will actually cost to be made.
Potential investors would want to know how the producer plans to raise the money and how the producer plans to pay them back.
Agents and agencies are the lifeblood of the film business. They structure the deals, they hold the keys to each and every gate and often make or break projects. Having strong relationships in this space, for a film producer, is as important as having a strong story on which to base your project.
Agency packaging refers to the fact that an agency will assist in one/all of the following: talent packaging, financing, sales and international representation. Keep in mind that agencies earn their revenue based on a 10 to 15 percent commission of their client’s fees (not only talent, but also writers, producers, directors, etc) and therefore having an agency package an entire project as opposed to having them simply have a single member of their roster involved, will go a long way.
The underlying principle to remember is that agents are looking at each opportunity as a business transaction: regardless of the project, it still boils down to a decision based on the bottom line. As such, finding the right agency (the big agencies are not always the right fit for smaller projects) and incentivising agents by offering full packaging capacities will yield the best results both financially and strategically.
Filmmaking is an expensive business, and the producer must secure enough funding to make the film at the highest possible standards.
To obtain the investment needed to make the film, the producer must travel to, and meet with, potential investors and successfully pitch his project.
The producer’s lawyer will then draw up contracts to seal financing deals between the producer and investors or financiers. Indeed, there are departments of banks that specialise in film finance and offer film production loans.
The producer can also make money from pre-sales, selling the rights to the film before it has even been made. For example, during the Cannes film festival and market 2016, motion picture and television studio STX landed the big prize by plunking down roughly USD50 million for international rights to Martin Scorsese’s next film project, ‟The Irishman”.
Once the financing is in place, the production company hires the full cast and crew and detailed preparation for the shoot begins.
A distinction is made between above-the-line personnel (such as the director, the screenwriter and the producers) who began their involvement during the film project’s development stage, and the below-the-line ‟technical” crew involved only with the production stage.
It is worth noting that, in France, most film directors do not only direct but also produce, co-produce and almost always write the screenplays for their films. Therefore, their income is made up of a salary, as director-technician, to which is added a minimum guarantee as director and another minimum guarantee as screenwriter of the film, with or without additional screenwriters.
All heads of department are hired, such as the location manager, director of photography, casting director, script supervisor, gaffer, production sound mixer, production designer, art director, set decorator, construction coordinator, property master, costume designer, key makeup artist, special effects supervisor, stunt coordinator, post-production supervisor, film editor, visual effects producer, sound designer. The shooting script is circulated to all of them as pre-production begins.
The casting director, director and producer begin to identify and cast the actors.
Storyboards are made, out of the final script. They are used as blueprints for the film where every shot is planned in advance by the director and director of photography. They have a sequence of graphic illustrations of shots visualising a video production. Most high budget films will have a very detailed storyboard. Those storyboards can really smooth out the post-production process too, when it is time for editing.
The production designer plans every aspect of how the film will look and hires people to design and build each part.
All other heads of department also go through this planning process and hiring process, for their respective department.
Effect shots are planned in much more detail than normal shots and could potentially take months to design and build.
1.7. The shoot or production
Filmmakers and producers must take a careful approach to green lighting the film project and moving forward with production, by requiring unanimous consent from producers, sales agents and board of directors of the film specially-incorporated company, before proceeding.
Shooting starts and funding is released, which is a key stage in filmmaking.
A large film production can involve hundreds of people, and it is a constant struggle to keep up with the shooting schedule and budget. Film productions are ran with strict precision. Production schedules are typically between 9 to 30 days, and you usually spend 12 to 14 hours on set, shooting from dawn to dusk. If film productions fall behind schedule, financiers and insurers may step in.
A 90 page script produced on a 24 day shooting schedule allows the director proper time on set, while keeping overall costs minimum – averaging under 4 pages per day.
The camera department is responsible for getting all the footage that the director and editor need, to tell the story.
Once lighting and sound are set up, and hair and makeup have been checked, the shoot can begin.
Every special effect is carefully constructed and must be filmed with minimum risk of injury to cast and crew.
Production is a very intense and stressful process, especially for the producers and film director.
Post production usually starts during the shoot, as soon as the first ‟rushes” – raw footage – and sound are available. As the processed footage comes in, the editor turns it into scenes and assembles it together, into a narrative sequence for the film.
The editor will read your script and storyboards, and look at the rushes, and from this information, cut the film according to their opinion of what makes the story better.
There are two ways of doing post-production:
- the old way, i.e. celluloid film way. Shoot film and edit, or splice film on film editing equipment. There are few filmmakers who edit this way today;
- the new way is the digital way. You get all your rushes digitised (if shot on film, you will need them telecined, or scanned to a digital format).
The normal schedule for editing a feature is 8 to 10 weeks. During this time, your editor will create different drafts of your film. The first is called the ‟rough cut”, and last is the ‟answer print”.
There are two conclusions to an edit, the first when you are happy with the visual images (locking picture) and the second when you are happy with the sound (sound lock).
Once the picture is ‟locked”, the sound department works on the audio track laying, creating and editing every sound.
Digital effects are added by specialist effects professionals and titles and credits are added.
The final stage of the picture edit is to adjust the colour and establish the final aesthetic of the film.
During that post-production phase, it is also usual to get:
- a digital cinema package – a hard drive which contains the final copy of your film encoded so it can play in cinemas;
- a dialogue script, so that foreign territories can dub or subtitle your film, which has the precise time code for each piece of dialogue so the subtitler or dubbing artist knows exactly where to place their dialogue;
- a campaign image (with titles and credits), which is the first thing a prospective distributor or festival programmer will see of your film and which should let the viewer know exactly what your film is about, and
- a 90 to 120 second trailer that conveys the mood and atmosphere of your film, knowing that programming and distribution decisions will be often be based on the strength of your trailer.
While the film is still in post-production, the producer will try to sell it to distributors (if he has not already sold the rights at the financing stage).
Filmmakers and producers must have a pre-sales distribution and market strategy in place, that optimises back end profitability of the film. Targeting major film markets – Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance, Tribeca, Venice and emerging South by South West – is key to a successful B-to-B marketing strategy, while the same sales agent who packaged the film oversees the final sale.
The film sales world is split up as the domestic market and international market and there are specific sales companies for both specific markets.
Producers tend to work without sales assistance on the domestic deals as it is in the best interest of the producer to form these relationships and close the deal personally, to have an open door for future projects that will need similar distribution.
To help sell the film internationally to distributors, the producer secures the services of a sales agent and markets his film by sending it to film festivals. High profile screenings at top film festivals can be great to generate ‟clout” for the film.
The trailer is used to show buyers the most marketable aspects of the film.
Distributors are fickle in many senses. The business has changed (think of the recent growth of video on demand streaming services) and international versus domestic deals are becoming challenging. Indeed, being a distributor is still a risky business: if the film is a success, distributors only earn their commissions; while if it is a failure, they lose their minimum guarantees, prints and advertising expenses (P&A). This is why the best way to be a successful distributor, nowadays, is to be also the producer, or at least co-producer because you then earn money on the much higher residuals and international rights, compared to domestic theatrical rights only.
Finding the right distributor takes time. Example of boutique distributors are HBO, IFC, Magnolia, Focus Features or Miramax for broadcast, VOD and content streaming. The search process of the most appropriate distributor for your film project, will give you practice pitching it, as well as the ability to review many different sellers to gauge style, ability and creative fit.
Just as the agencies are self-motivated, so too are sales agents (international film brokers) and distributors (buyers and exhibitors) motivated by the bottom line economics of the deal. Yes, there are buyers and sellers who specialise in content-focused for the art-house driven markets, but they are becoming fewer and fewer.
As the finishing touches are being made to the film, the distributors plan their marketing strategy to ‟sell” the movie to the public.
Knowing the audience is essential and the marketing team runs test screenings to see how the film is received.
Press kits, posters and other advertising materials are published, and the film is advertised and promoted. A b-roll clip may be released to the press, based on raw footage shot for a ‟making of” documentary, which may include making-of clips as well as on-set interviews.
Cinema expedition, also called theatrical release, is still the primary channel for films to reach their audiences.
Indeed, box office success equals financial success.
Film distributors usually release a film with a launch party, a red-carpet premiere, press releases, interviews with the press, press preview screenings, and film festival screenings.
Most films are also promoted with their own special website separate from those of the production company or distributor.
For major films, key personnel are often contractually required to participate in promotional tours in which they appear at premieres and festivals, and sit for interviews with many TV, print and online journalists.
The largest productions may require more than one promotional tour, in order to rejuvenate audience demand at each release window.
1.12. Other windows
A successful run in cinemas makes the film a sought-after product, which can be sold through other more lucrative channels such as DVDs and games.
Since the advent of home video in the early 1980s, most major films have followed a pattern of having several distinct release windows. A film may first be released to a few select cinemas (limited theatrical), or if it tests well enough, may go directly into wide release.
A popular option, to develop the domestic sales potential of a film, is to have a first phase initial release on a limited theatrical platform, paired with a joint digital download release on iTunes and Amazon – sales are driven by major market theatre visits and digital downloads in smaller markets. The second phase release via VOD and pay cablers such as HBO, Showtime and potentially Hulu – sales are then driven by word of mouth built from first phase. This is often followed by a third phase, which pairs Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming with a wide DVD release to drive streaming view and build DVD purchases. Finally, in its fourth phase, the film builds upon steady sales and word of mouth audience reception, to gain network television sales and eventual syndication. In broadcasting parlance, syndication is the licensing of the right to broadcast television programs by multiple TV stations, without going through a broadcast network.
Next, the film is released, normally at different times several weeks (or months) apart, into different market segments like rental, retail, pay-per-view, in-flight entertainment, cable, satellite, or free-to-air broadcast television. Indeed, the film may be released in cinemas or, occasionally, directly to consumer media (DVD, VCD, VHS, Blu-ray) or direct download from a digital media provider. Hospitality sales for hotel channels and in-flight entertainment can bring in millions of additional revenues.
Indeed, today, residuals, or neighbouring rights, as those additional revenues are called, bring in most of the profit for the film, not theatrical rights. Those residuals are collected by collection agents, such as Fintage House and RightBack, which adds transparency to the process of collecting revenues generated by the film.
The distributor rights for the film are usually sold for worldwide distribution.
The distributors and the production company then share profits.
As a film producer, you should ‟trust the shuffler but cut the deck”, by ensuring that you have an audit clause inserted in the distribution agreement, which will allow you to audit the accounts of the distributor in order to check that all collected revenues, from all sources, are indeed included in the residuals statements that you received from such distributor.
It is worth noting that, in at least 10 countries from the European Union, including France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, distributors of pay-TV services and/or operators of VOD services are required by law to contribute to the funding of production, either through contributions to support funds or by means of direct investments in production. The arrangements are generally complimentary to and extend tax law provisions requiring contributions from exhibitors, broadcasters and video distributors: all distribution activities must contribute to the funding of production.
2. How do you finance a film nowadays?
First things first: have you made a business plan? Creating a business plan is almost as important as finding a terrific script. You need to prepare a plan of attack to get the money to shoot your film. Indeed, as a producer or filmmaker, you need to make creating a viable and realistic business plan your first priority. Many filmmakers create an outline business plan first, and then find a script that matches what they think they can raise.
2.1. The studio model
The strategy, here, is to get 3 to 5 films together of a similar genre, and approach investors with a slate of similar films. If one of these films is successful, it will pay off for itself and the other 2 to 4 other film projects on the slate.
While this strategy consisting in hedging your risks by having more than one egg in your basket sounds great, a reality check is necessary: do you really think that you can get more than one project together? You may want to collaborate with some like-minded filmmakers with similar projects.
2.2. Government funding
Many nations now have attractive tax and investment incentives for filmmakers. Individual state and country legislation unable producers to subsidise spent costs for production.
For example, Europe’s MEDIA programme has twenty-odd programmes for media and filmmakers. You need to apply for the funding and lobby decisions makers until you get your soft money.
Many European filmmakers design a business plan around the rules and regulations surrounding the MEDIA money. The same applies for soft money from other countries as well.
Another example is the UK government, which pumps tens of millions of pound sterling into British film every year (using National Lottery funds!). Following the heavily criticised demise of the UK Film Council, UK public money is now distributed by the British Film Institute (‟BFI”). Film London has also put in place a Production Finance Market (‟PFM”), its annual two-day film financing event, run in association with the BFI London Film Festival. PFM encourages new business relationships, between UK filmmakers, producers and investors, attaching international sales companies and securing various forms of investments in companies and film projects.
As soft public money funds are always heavily oversubscribed and lobbied for by competing filmmakers and producers, you should not be over-reliant on getting government funding. In addition, those funds will impose restrictions, that could easily compromise your creative integrity.
Hard cash investments made to your film project by a single investor, a group of investors and personal investments from colleagues, friends and family.
Equity investments require that investors own a stake in the film (i.e. the operating structure, special purpose vehicle incorporated for that particular film project). They also must be paid back (typically on their principal investment plus 20 percent) before profit is seen on the side of the filmmakers and producers.
2.4. Tax finance
It’s all about de-risking your film package.
Through its Enterprise Investment Scheme (‟EIS”) and Small Enterprise Investment Scheme (‟SEIS”), the UK government has created one of the world’s best environments for de-leveraging the risk of investments made in small businesses up to 98 percent (depending on the investors profile). EIS is designed to support smaller higher-risk trading companies to raise finance by offering a range of tax reliefs to investors who purchase new shares in those companies.
Film projects are qualifying business for EIS and SEIS, however we heard that the European Commission has audited the UK EIS and SEIS schemes and only wants long-term UK small businesses to benefit from such schemes, ruling out special purpose vehicles incorporated for each film project. With a Brexit in the works though, it is likely that EIS and SEIS will still be used to finance UK film projects, in the future.
To get all EIS or SEIS up and running, you need to get a strong business plan together with a budget and schedule. Fill in a few online tax forms and get your UK limited company registered for EIS. If you get stuck, phone a really nice lady in Wales who will make sure your secure the paperwork.
While investing in a film is seen as ‟sexy” by many private investors, the recent economic downturn, Brexit and the competitiveness of securing EIS and SEIS among filmmakers and producers, make investors shy and cautious. It may be worth speaking to UK film financiers, such as the Fyzz Facility (now merged with Tea Shop), who have a pool of private investors who are ready to invest, via gap funding (as this term is defined below in paragraph 2.6 (Gap financing)), through EIS and SEIS.
In France, ‟Sociétés de financement de l’industrie cinématographique et de l’audiovisuel” (‟SOFICAS”) are the equivalent tax-wrappers to EIS and SEIS. They are equity funds financed with tax-related money and are allowed to invest in both films and TV productions, on a selective basis. Their money comes from banks which are allowed to collect, from French tax resident private investors who want to pay less income tax in France. As SOFICAS want their money back, they tend to do mostly gap funding (as this term is defined below at paragraph 2.6), providing producers with the last (and most expensive) money. SOFICAS generally stand behind the distributors in the recoupment order. Only part of the SOFICAS money is invested in independent film productions. Each SOFICA can invest 20 percent of its money in foreign-speaking (qualified) co-productions, as long as the film’s language matches the foreign co-producer’s country’s language. In 2015, SOFICAS invested Euros37 million in 112 movies, 11 of which were majority foreign co-productions, mostly from British or Belgian producers. A top manager of SOFICAS for the media and entertainment sector in France, is Back-up Media.
Tax incentives require a producer to hire a certain number of local crew employees, rent from local vendors and run payroll through local services. Tax credits are based on an application process and are often lengthy (12 to 18 months) and difficult (as they may involve a substantial amount of tedious paperwork) to procure.
For example, UK film tax relief ensures that, for film spending GBP20 million or less, production companies can claim a cash rebate of up to 25 percent of qualifying expenditure. For films spending more than GBP20 million, production companies can claim a cash rebate of up to 20 percent of qualifying expenditure. The UK film tax relief is largely responsible for the recent influx of international blockbuster movies into the UK: ‟Star Wars: the force awakens” (LucasFilm), ‟Avengers: age of Ultron” (Marvel Studios) and the latest James Bond film ‟Spectre” (EON) have all been shot in the UK, mostly out of Pinewood Studios.
In France, the Tax Rebate for International Productions (‟TRIP”) concerns projects wholly or partly made in France and initiated by a non-French film production company. It it selectively granted by the French national centre for cinema (‟CNC”) to a French production services company. TRIP amount up to 30 percent of the qualifying expenditures incurred in France: it can total a maximum of Euros30 million per project. The French government refunds the applicant company, which must have its registered office in France. ‟Thor” (Marvel Studios), ‟Despicable Me” and ‟The Minions” (Universal Animation Studios) and ‟Inception” (Warner Bros) have benefited from TRIP.
For French film productions, the ‟Crédit d’impôt cinéma et audiovisuel” (‟CICA”) benefits French producers for expenses incurred in France for the production of films or TV programmes. The CICA tax credit is equal to 20 percent of eligible expenses – increased to 30 percent for films for which the production budget is less than Euros4 million.
Certain tax credits are sellable, transferable and even trade-able based on the local legislation. US states such as New Mexico, North Carolina, Georgia, New York and Michigan offer the strongest solutions here.
It is really worth for film producers to organise a “competition” between various countries and territories as well, based on available tax rebates and government funding, before deciding in which country to produce and post-produce a film. Indeed, the UK and France are always in rivalry, Film France CEO Valerie Lepine-Karnik noting that ‟last year (in 2014), American blockbusters spent more than Euros1.6 billion in the UK, which is half a million more than the total amount of money invested in French domestic film production in 2014”.
2.5. Pre sales and co-productions
The strategy, here, is to sell your film cheap up front (pre-sales) and hook up with producers in other countries to secure soft public money in other territories. Indeed, by co-producing, you can take advantage of soft money otherwise not normally accessible to your film production.
Pre-sales agreements are pre-arranged and executed contracts made with distributors before the film is produced. These agreements are based on the strength of the project’s marketability and sales potential in each given territory. A distributor will generate a value for your film project, given the script, the attached talent and crew, as well as the marketing approach, and then enable you to take out a bank loan using the pre-sales deal as collateral. Pre-sales can also result in direct payment (at a discounted rate) from the buyer themselves. Pre-sales investments require that the producer pay back the bank its loaned capital before profiting on their respective upside.
Both the UK and France have bilateral co-production treaties in place with certain countries such as:
- Australia, Canada, China, India, Israel, France, Jamaica, Morocco, New Zealand, Occupied Palestinian Territories and South Africa, for the UK;
- and Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, South-Korea, Lebanon, Luxemburg, Morocco, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Palestinian Territories, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Venezuela, for France.
For example, Ken Loach’s films, mainly produced in the UK, benefit from French funds through French production company Why Not since ‟Looking for Eric” in 2009. ‟Mr Turner” by Mike Leigh was co-produced by Diaphana.
Moreover, the European Convention on cinematographic co-productions applies for now, in both countries, although this will cease to be the case for the UK after Brexit.
While co-production can work, it can be difficult to set up co-productions and you will now have financial partners in various territories who will probably all want to exercise creative control. Also, you, the producer, will have to share any revenues generated by your film not only with the distributors, but also with your co-producers scattered in various countries.
2.6. Gap financing
With partial equity raised, you are then able to procure a loan from a bank or a private lender on the unsold territories of the film (and additional elements of collateral, such as the intellectual property or corporate guarantees).
Gap financing is only available when other elements have been assembled and there is adequate security for the investor to ‟bridge” against.
2.7. Product placement
The strategy is to team up with brands and get cash for including their products on set.
For example, Heineken reportedly paid a third of ‟Skyfall” ‘s USD150 million budget to turn Daniel Craig’s James Bond into a lager drinker!
Not only do you get some of your film funding through product placement, but the product exposure the brand enjoys may have a far greater value than the cost of the product placement and is generally seen to be cheaper than comparative advertising on TV or print.
However, having a product placement in a film means that you will always be under the scrutiny of brand managers, which may hamper the film creative process. Moreover, few independent filmmakers have the polling power of James Bond! Brands will always want to know what the marketing strategy of your film is, before they invest in, or even allow their products to be used.
Crowdfunding (Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Ulule, Kiss Kiss Bank Bank, etc.) is now a serious contender to raising finance for your film projects. It enables a contributions-based model for capital to be raised without selling equity.
For example, the ‟Veronica Mars” Movie project and Spike Lee’s latest film project ‟Da sweet blood of Jesus”, were all financed through Kickstarter in 2013. Spike Lee raised USD1.4 million for his horror flick on contemporary vampires, not a negligible amount by any means.
The strategy is that you get some rewards (such as DVDs, t-shirts, sharing dinner with the famous film director) together and offer them to friends, family and fools, as well as to the crowd, hoping to entice them into making a contribution to your film project. The idea, here, is to build a community who adheres to your story.
Even the studio biggies are using crowdfunding nowadays: Charlie Kaufman, an American screenwriter, producer, director famous for writing ‟Being John Malkovich” and ‟Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind”, raised over USD400,000 for his new project Anomalisa.
This is crowding the pitch and makes it even tougher to get enough noise directed your way. Therefore, you need a really good business plan in order to successfully approach crowdfunding.
The strategy is to get everybody to work and be paid later, out of profits if any. Indeed, producers are able to avoid nearly all costs on a project if they are able to negotiate a deferred deal.
Convince everyone that in order to get the film made now, you cannot wait for investment. In exchange, you offer up a percentage of the share of profit, meaning that everyone’s salary could potentially increase depending on the success of the film.
Deferred agreements basically state that crew, cast, vendors, locations and services are all rendered upfront at no cost, until the film generates money upon release.
Deferrals may work but are reliant on the trust the producer has with his team. Often, deferrees are unpaid, even though the film goes on to commercial success. There is also the temptation to overstate the value of the deferment which can lead to bitter arguments if the box office returns do not meet expectations. Moreover, deferred financing is difficult because experienced cast and crew are unwilling to work under these types of structures.
2.10. Self-financed film projects
Self-financed movies mean you do not have to deal with investors. It also does mean that you have to be very careful with the money, which is yours.
For example, Tangerine’s director, Sean Baker, shot his feature film entirely on 2 iPhones and went on to become one of the most hyped film directors in 2015, as Tangerine was reviewed by many critics as one the the best films of 2015. In an interview with Bret Easton Ellis in 2015, 45 years old Sean Baker confessed to still be heavily in debt and reliant on the goodwill and empathy of his parents, to make ends meet.
While getting your film done immediately with your own resources is an enticing prospect and very achievable in today’s digital world, it is worth noting that most of these thousands of self-financed movies fail, mostly due to the fact that their scripts are not good enough. By going the self-financed indie route, filmmakers have side stepped the development cycle and no one has told them that their script sucks.
3. How do you make your film project stand out to financiers?
As mentioned in our introduction, it is tough to get films financed in today’s market. Of course, a strong script, a great team with experience and a game plan for success are prerequisites, but that’s not enough. The key factor to equity investors and debt lenders, is to remove risk, financial exposure and speculation – meaning, when are they going to start earning a return or their money back, and can you guarantee that? The more risk and speculation you remove, by utilising the steps below, the better chance you will have of securing capital in “hard money”.
As mentioned above in paragraph 1.4. (Packaging) above, talent agencies are a difficult nut to crack. They are well-guarded, highly established and protected entities. They are the gatekeepers of taste, talent and possibility – and more than anything they are the lifeblood of the independent producer seeking to put projects together with financing.
Once you have a suitable piece of material, get an agent/agency excited about the project as well. The way forward is approaching the major five talent agencies – William Morris Endeavor, United Talent Agency, Creative Artists Agency, The Gersh Agency and International Creative Management – for the packaging of quality source material – script, paired with proven name talent – actors and directors, under the representation of a successful in-house sales agent.
As with most of the entertainment business, agents think in numbers – how much will my firm/I make from this deal? Incentivize the agency by offering them the ability to package the project – place multiple roles with their roster rather than just one or two roles – which gives them the ability to earn 10 to 15 percent of multiple deals across the board.
Furthermore, offer them the ability to have a first look opportunity for domestic sales representation – again, finding ways to incentivise. By packaging these elements early on, you will be able to bring strong talent to the project and gear up to be more ready to approach equity players.
3.2. Strength of team and experience
A first time producer/director/star is a tough sell for many in the film business. Sales teams are unable to project value (pre-sell), agents are unable to place large name talent (packaging) and financiers are unable to gauge project return on investment (‟ROI”).
Therefore, your best bet is to find a director who has carried a project before, find an agency who is interested in packaging and will keep you/your project in the stratosphere of content that matters and you will be in a great starting position.
The team must bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and relationships to the production phase, in order to properly execute feature film’s full production schedule. All the while, the producers and filmmaker must mindfully nurture the creative necessity, without neglecting the overall commercial nature of the film’s back end.
If you have to utilise unknown talents to make your project, then surround them with experience on all fronts. An unknown star with a strong director, director of photography, producer and writer is a reasonable recipe.
3.3. Soft money options
With your packaged talent signed on, a strong team on board, and a well-developed script, you can now approach ‟soft money” options, i.e. tax incentives/pre-sales/debt financings.
Tax incentives offer a percentage of the in-state or in-country spend back in rebate form. This means that you can bankroll/cash-flow this piece of financing to offset your investors’ risk.
Pre-sales offer projections of value based on the elements you have brought together. This, in turn, also implies that you can bankroll/cash-flow this piece of financing to offset your investors’ risk.
The same goes for debt options.
As a filmmaker or producer, you need to find ways to cover 50 cent or pence of every euro or pound your investor is putting up before the cameras even turn on.
Shoot in tax incentive rich states, with a strong pre-sold package, and with a great sales team onboard to execute. You can then reduce the level of speculation and guarantee a return of X percent, based on Y investment in a tangible timeline.
3.4. Plan of execution
With these elements onboard, make your investment proposal personable, professional and tailored to your investors specifics. Do not pitch high level equity film financing to first-time entertainment investors. Keep it simple, honest, and remind equity investors that while smoke and mirrors often run throughout the business, you are putting together a basic structure returning X percent on Y investment over Z timeline.
Lastly, look into completion/guarantor insurance guarantees, as a way to assure your equity investors that the project will be completed on time, schedule and budget, and with the elements they have agreed to finance. The liability is now removed via an insurance company and investors’ return is partially guaranteed via tax incentives and additional soft-money.
Pitch smart, often and confidently knowing that you have done your homework and that the investment is well-structured for a return.
While many fast-growth companies in the creative industries are currently the target of heavy private equity investments and a flurry of mergers and acquisitions, it makes sense, from a tax and financial standpoint, for individuals and corporate investors to go ‟long” on creative startups and SMEs.
1. ‟Good times” are coming back: it’s time to invest in the creative industries
With the global economy recovering from the 2007-2012 recession and a tangible boost of confidence, financial investors and corporates alike are becoming more bullish and enterprising, especially in relation to the creative industries. It is time to invest in the creative industries.
In the luxury goods sector, the historical data is very promising, with 2012 being the third year in a row of double-digit growth for personal luxury goods, at 10 percent annual growth rate, now over the Euro200 billion ceiling (1). There was no recession at all, in the luxury goods sector.
As a reflection of the outperformance of this creative sector, many luxury stalwarts have been either acquired (such as Loro Piana and Bulgari sold to LVMH as well as Christopher Kane and Pomellato sold to Kering), invested into (such as the investment of equity investment funds Ardian and Blackstone into a minority participation stake in Versace (2) and the negotiations for an investment made by buyout firm Permira into a Euro450 million majority stake in Roberto Cavalli (3)) or introduced on the stock market at sky-rocketing valuations, which are ever increasing (Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Michael Kors, Brunello Cucinelli).
The technology sector is also back to acquisitive mode in full swing, with Facebook spending USD19 billion (!) to purchase WhatsApp, a cross-platform mobile messaging app for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia, which allows to send text, video, images, audio messages free of charge.
The USD19 billion figure is split between USD4 billion in cash, USD12 billion in shares and USD3 billion in Facebook shares, which will be distributed to the founders and employees of WhatsApp, spread over four years after the closing of the deal. Sequoia, the investment fund which invested USD8 million for 15% of WhatsApp’s capital in 2011, is about to make USD3.5 billion out of this transaction.
With many sectoral experts saying, and proving, that the creative and cultural industries are the booster to global and, in particular, European, growth and recovery (4), the future looks very bright indeed for all those companies which main assets are their intangibles (knowhow, intellectual property, brand value, reputation, etc).
2. How to benefit from the bullish market in a tax efficient way
If you have some back pocket money (5), i.e. some money sitting around idly in a savings bank account remunerated between 0.5 percent and 1.00 percent, which you absolutely do not need in the short and medium term and which you would not feel badly hurt if you were losing, now is the time to take advantage of the situation.
The taxman is generous to individuals ready to part with their cash to invest in the creative industries, on both sides of the Channel.
In Great Britain, HMRC is only inclined to give tax credits to individuals, the so-called ‟business angels” who are UK tax residents with an entrepreneurial mind. Enterprise Investment Schemes (‟EIS”), Venture Capital Trust (‟VCT”) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (‟SEIS”) are the three tax tools through which individuals can invest in eligible companies (i.e. companies with no more than 250 employees or gross assets lower than GBP15 million, or GBP200,000 for a SEIS) in a tax efficient way.
Tax breaks are summarised below:
Maximum investment: GBP100,000
Inc tax relief/investment: 50 percent
Holding period: 3 years
Capital gain tax: exemption
Maximum investment: GBP1 million
Inc tax relief/investment: 30 percent
Holding period: 3 years
Capital gain tax: exemption
Maximum investment: GBP200,000
Inc tax relief/investment: 30 percent
Holding period: 3 years
Capital gain tax: exemption
In France, individuals who have to pay the French wealth tax (wittily called ‟impôt de solidarité sur la fortune” (‟ISF”), and invest in SMEs, are also rewarded by the French state.
Through the ‟ISF PME” tax breaks, individuals subjected to the ISF can deduct up to 50 percent of the sums invested in French SMEs, up to Euro45,000 per year (6).
For everybody else who pays income tax in France, a new tax break of 18 percent of the cash invested in a French SME, capped at Euro50,000 per taxpayer per year, has been set up (7).
If the SME you have invested in goes bust, you will still have been able to take advantage of the tax breaks. If the SME produces many sparks and is being acquired, at a later stage, by a private equity investment fund, a competitor or any other third party, the early-stage investor individual will be able to cash in and realise a substantial capital gain on its early investment.
In the UK, such capital gain is exempted from taxation, unlike in France. That may explain why there are more than 50,000 business angels in the United Kingdom and around 5,000 (!) in France.
Sadly, corporate venture is not currently actively encouraged by either the French or British governments, which results in Euro230 billion sleeping idly in the coffers of all the companies listed on the French CAC40 index, for example.
More lobbying should be done, by institutions representing the creative industries such as Comité Colbert, Fondazione Altagamma, Walpole and the European Cultural and Creative Industries Alliance, to influence governments to provide tax incentives to companies wishing to invest in SMEs in a tax efficient way.
Positive changes are looming though, since corporate venture should kick off on 1 July 2014 in France, with companies paying taxes in France being able to amortise their corporate venture investments in innovating SMEs over a period of five years (8).
Let’s watch the space and hope that Cameron and Osborne are going to take stock and act accordingly, in the UK soon.
It is time to think carefully how to invest any spare cash that you may have and, with the bright economic outlook and new tax schemes pushed by governments to accelerate growth and recovery, both individuals and corporates have more and more investment options at their disposal, to encourage innovative and creative industries.
(1) Luxury goods worldwide Market Study Spring 2013 Update, Bain & Company
(2) M&A in 2014? Luxury brands on sale or seeking for financial partners, Portolano Cavallo Studio Legale
(3) Sources Say Roberto Cavalli Nearing €450 Million Sale to Permira, Business of Fashion
(4) 1er panorama des industries culturelles et créatives, EY, November 2013
(5) Back pocket money, Jimmy C. Newman
Tax free shopping, in France alone, had a volume of around 4 billion Euros in 2012, progressing between 25 and 30 percent per year. As Chinese tourists spend around 80 percent of their shopping budget in Paris, in particular at ‟Les Galeries Lafayette” and ‟Printemps”, tax free shopping, also called VAT refund, is a bonanza for Paris-based luxury brands and department stores, as well as tax free providers such as Global Blue and Premier Tax Free.
Note from the author on VAT refund: Since 13 February 2015, the French circular dated 26 January 2011 on sales to travellers residing in a country which is not part of the European Community or an assimilated territory and on the process of export sales slips has been abolished and replaced by the circular dated 13 February 2015 relating to the sale to travellers residing in a state outside the European Union or an overseas collectivity from the French republic.
Indeed, Chinese tourists have increased their shopping budget by 80 percent, during the same period, spending 1,500 Euros on average per purchase in 2012.
What is tax free shopping exactly? How does it work? Who benefits from it? Below are answers to these questions and more.
1. Legal framework of the French tax free shopping system
1.a. Article 147 of Directive 2006/112/EC of 28 November 2006
Set out in article 147 of Directive 2006/112/EC of 28 November 2006 on the common system of value added tax (the “Directive” and ‟VAT”, respectively), the process of export sales slips (‟bordereaux de vente à l’exportation”) allows tourists who have their main residence outside the European Union (‟UE”) to benefit from, under certain conditions, tax removal on exports for purchases destined to their personal use and which are transported outside the EU in their personal luggage.
Point (b) of article 146 (1) of the Directive provides that:
‟1. Member-states shall exempt the following transaction(s):
(b) the supply of goods dispatched or transported to a destination outside the Community by or on behalf of a customer not established within their respective territory, with the exception of goods transported by the customer himself for the equipping, fuelling and provisioning of pleasure boats and private aircrafts or any other means of transport for private use. (…)”.
Article 147 of the Directive provides that:
‟1. Where the supply of goods referred to in point (b) of Article 146(1) relates to goods to be carried in the personal luggage of travellers, the exemption shall apply if the following conditions are met:
(a) the traveller is not established within the Community;
(b) the goods are transported out of the Community before the end of the third month following that in which the supply takes place;
(c) the total value of the supply, including VAT, is more than 175 Euros or the equivalent in national currency, fixed annually by applying the conversion rate obtained on the first working day of October with effect from 1 January of the following year.
However, Member States may exempt a supply with a total value of less than the amount specified in point (c) of the first subparagraph.
2. For the purposes of paragraph 1, ‟a traveller who is not established within the Community” shall mean a traveller whose permanent address or habitual residence is not located within the Community. In that case ‘permanent address or habitual residence’ means the place entered as such in a passport, identity card or other document recognised as an identity document by the Member State within whose territory the supply takes place.
Proof of exportation shall be furnished by means of the invoice or other document in lieu thereof, endorsed by the customs office of exit from the Community.
Each Member-state shall send to the Commission specimens of the stamps it uses for the endorsement referred to in the second subparagraph. The Commission shall forward that information to the tax authorities of the other Member-states”.
Article 147 of the Directive allows goods not to be taxed twice, in the country where they were purchased and in the import country, the latter being the place of the real consumption of these goods.
EU Member-states can neither forbid tax refunds on exports, nor limit them beyond what is allowed by the Directive.
1.b. Article 262 of the French general tax code
In France, the provisions set out in article 147 of the Directive have been transposed in article 262 of the French general tax code (‟GTC”).
As a preliminary remark, it is worth mentioning the various VAT rates that currently apply in France:
- 19.6 percent is the standard VAT rate, which applies to the majority of goods and services;
- 7 percent is the intermediary VAT rate, which applies to the following goods and services, among others: restaurants and sale of pre-cooked food stuff (take-away or on site), hotel accommodation, furnished rentals, classified camping, transport services, certain types of renovation works, agricultural products not destined to human consumption, non-refundable medicines, cinemas, sale of original works of art and copyright, entry tickets to museums, zoos, monuments, exhibitions and cultural sites;
- 5.5 percent is the reduced VAT rate, which applies, for example, to food products (except chocolate, candy, vegetal fat, caviar, which are taxed at 19.6 percent), non-alcoholic beverages, gas and electricity subscriptions, and
- 2.1 percent is the particular VAT rate, which applies to medicinal drugs refunded by the French social security, living animals for meat consumption sold to non-producers of meat products, contributions to public entertainment channels and certain press publications.
Goods, which may benefit from the VAT refund process, may fall in the three first VAT categories, at 19.6 percent, 7 percent and 5.5 percent respectively.
From 1 January 2014 onwards, the main French VAT rates will be modified, as follows:
- the reduced VAT rate will be lowered from 5.5 percent to 5 percent;
- the intermediary VAT rate will be increased from 7 percent to 10 percent, and
- the standard VAT rate will be increased from 19.6 percent to 20 percent.
Article 262-I-2º of the GTC provides that deliveries of goods exported or transported by a buyer who is not a resident in France, or on his behalf, outside the European community, as well as service deliveries directly linked to exports, will be exempted from VAT.
Furniture and victualing goods used on cabin cruisers, touristic planes or any other means of transportation with a private use, are excluded from this VAT exemption.
When the delivery relates to goods that are transported within the personal luggage of the travellers, the VAT exemption will only apply if the following conditions are met:
a. the traveller does not have his domicile or usual residence in France or any other Member-state of the European Community;
b. the delivery does not relate to manufactured tobaccos, goods which correspond to, in view of their nature or quality, commercial supply, as well as goods which are prohibited to exit;
c. the goods are transported outside the European Community before the end of the third month following the month during which the delivery was performed, and
d. the global value of the delivery, including the VAT, is above 175 Euros (as specified in the French circular (‟circulaire”) dated 26 January 2011 on sales to travellers residing in a country which is not part of the European Community or an assimilated territory and on the process of export sales slips (the ‟Circular”).
1.c. Circular dated 26 January 2011 on sales to travellers residing in a country which is not part of the European community or an assimilated territory and on the process of export sales slips
The Circular explains in details the rules that apply to the process of export sales slips in France.
We have detailed below the key rules that are set out in the Circular.
1.c.i. Export sales slip (‟bordereau de vente à l’exportation”)
When a seller, liable to pay VAT, decides to exercise its option to perform the formalities of export sales slips for the benefit of its buyers, in relation to goods destined to exports, this triggers, exclusively, the delivery by this seller, on the day of the sale, of an export sales slip (‟bordereau de vente à l’exportation”) to a buyer of the goods who has his domicile and residence outside the UE.
The process of export sales slips is not mandatory and the buyer cannot impose it to the seller. As mentioned above, it is an option that the seller has, and which it decides to exercise or not.
The seller judges whether it wants to accomplish the formalities of the exemption process and undertake these responsibilities, or whether it prefers to sell at the conditions of the internal market (i.e. at full VAT rate, without any possibility of refunds).
The export sales slip (‟bordereau de vente à l’exportation”) is, all in one, a sales receipt, as well as a simplified export statement (‟déclaration d’exportation simplifiée”) and a statement of the commitment taken by the buyer, who benefits from the VAT refund, to strictly comply with the rules of this exemption process.
Buyers must then present for visa (i.e. review, confirmation of approval and stamping), the export sales slip provided by the seller, as well as the goods that are mentioned in such slip, to the customs authorities of the point of last and definite exit from the EU.
This will be either customs at the exit point in France, if the buyers leave directly France to go to a country that is not in the EU (France – United States, for example), or customs in the last Member-state at the exit point from the EU from another Member-state (France-Belgium-United States, for example).
1.c.ii. Two visa processes
Two visa processes coexist in France: the visa by way of stamp from customs and the electronic visa within the PABLO application.
The electronic visa is possible for VAT refund slips, on which are set out the PABLO logo, at those points of exit from the French territory that have been set up with some electronic visa devices (i.e. French airports, which are Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, Orly, Marseille-Provence, Nice-Côte d’Azur, Lyon-St-Exupery, Geneve-Cointrin, St-Julien en Bardonneix and Marseille-Port).
As far as electronic visas are concerned, travellers who definitely leave the EU, from an exit point equipped with automatic PABLO terminals, present their slips, on which are set out the PABLO logo, to the PABLO terminals.
Those terminals, usually located close to the customs office in the French airport, read the barcodes set out on the VAT refund slip, on which is set out the PABLO logo. Then, the PABLO terminals provide a ‟CONFIRMED” status to the export transaction of the goods, triggering the electronic visa of such export sales slip.
From whatever exit point located in France, the traveller asks customs to review and confirm the approval of those export sales slips that are not identified with a PABLO logo.
1.c.iii. VAT refund process
The seller, in its quality of exporter, must obtain from a printer of its choice, some export sales slips, which comply with the CERFA model nº 10096*03.
Export sales slips must be numbered in continuous series. They contain three identical pages, which must set out mandatory mentions prescribed by decree: the first one is kept by the seller for accounting purposes, the second is to be sent back by the buyer, to the seller, after obtaining the visa, and the third one is for the buyer to keep.
The seller can also use a slip which is in a different format, provided that the content of such slip complies with the provisions set out on the CERFA template model n°10096*03 and that such slip and its content have been reviewed and approved by the Office F/1 from the ‟Direction Générale des Douanes et Droits Indirects”.
Their signatures on export sales slips commit both the buyer and the seller to comply with their respective obligations, as set out below.
A – Seller’s obligations
1. Obligations of the seller, whatever way the visa is granted
From a tax standpoint, the seller acquires the title of exporter.
In addition to its obligations as an exporter, the seller must proceed to the following operations:
a) check the quality of non-resident of the buyer
This check is performed using official documents such as passports, identity cards, consulate cards, etc.
b) set out the following mentions:
- the number and nature of the official document presented, and
- all mentions concerning the buyer’s identity: surname, first name, foreign address, nationality.
c) inform the buyer of the process to follow and the possible applicable sanctions in case an irregularity is discovered. Whenever sellers or buyers do not comply with their respective obligations, which are part of this process, customs will refuse to provide the visa on the slip and, possibly, may apply some penalties.
d) clearly indicate to the buyer, from the moment during which the export sales slip is drafted, the exact total VAT amount, as well as the amount which will be actually refunded to the buyer, if management fees are billed by the seller and/or refund companies, such as Premier Tax Free and Global Blue (the ‟Refund companies”).
The sale transaction becomes effectively exempted from VAT when the seller gets the export sales slip back from the buyer, on which has been set out the visa (either through a stamp provided by French customs, or customs from another Member-state of the EU, or an electronic visa).
However, the seller can provide the VAT refund:
- either at the date of the sale, and in this case, the seller takes the risk of losing the benefit of the VAT exemption if its buyer never justifies the export of the purchased goods;
- or when it gets back the sales slip approved and stamped by customs or an electronic visa.
The seller is contractually bound to pay its buyer the amount to which it committed, as set out on the export sales slip.
e) prepare the export sales slip, which needs to conform with the annexed export sales slip model nº10096*03, setting out its individual VAT identification number, which was attributed to the seller by the French tax authorities.
f) mention, precisely and in a readable manner, on the slip, the exact nature and number of sold goods, in order to allow customs to identify them.
Export sales slips must mention, in addition to their own denomination, the brands and manufacturing numbers set out on jewellery pieces in precious stones and on devices that reproduce sound and picture (cameras, camcorders, dvd players, for example).
However, it is possible for the details relating to the purchased goods to be set out on a separate invoice, provided that the export sales slip expressly mentions the reference number of said invoice.
The French-language wording, set out on the form, of the declaration and undertaking consigned in the D frame (Buyer), must compulsorily be set out on the export sales slip, as well as its translations in the six following languages: English, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.
A pre-stamped envelope, on which is set out the seller’s address, must be provided to the buyer, so that the buyer can post an original export sales slip, on which is set out the visa, to the seller.
2. Obligations of the seller and the authorised VAT refund operator within the PABLO application
Within the PABLO process, the seller prints, for each transaction, an export sales slip on paper, identified by a PABLO logo and a bar code. To this export sales slip, the seller annexes an explanation notice relating to the conditions to obtain the electronic visa.
The seller then generates the following information and transfers it to the French customs’ database, at least once per day:
- transaction identifier (bar code number);
- seller’s identity;
- buyer’s identity;
- buyer’s address;
- type of goods (precise denomination);
- amount inclusive of all taxes (‟montant TTC”);
- VAT amount, and
- publication date.
3. Timeframe within which to keep stamped export sales slips
The stamped original export sales slip, returned by the buyer to the seller, after obtaining a visa from customs, must be preserved by the seller, in case of tax and customs control, until the end of the third year following the year of purchase of the goods.
The original copy of the export sales slip, created under electronic form, can be preserved in electronic format, until the end of the third year, from the year during which such electronic sales slip was created.
B – Buyer’s obligations
1. Formalities to perform, whatever way the visa is granted
The buyer must justify its status of resident outside the EU and sign the confirmation set out on the D frame on the export sales slip, in relation to the performance of the various formalities.
To this effect, he must:
- present, simultaneously, the goods and two originals of the export sales slip, for visa by customs, at his point of definitive exit from the EU, before the end of the third month following the month during which the purchase was performed;
- transfer by himself, outside the EU, in his luggage, the goods which benefit from the VAT refund. This process does not allow the intervention of a third party. Therefore, the buyer cannot transfer the goods through a forwarding agent, a diplomatic pouch, the post office, etc.
If one of these conditions is not complied with, customs will refuse to stamp and put a visa on the export sales slip(s).
2. Formalities to perform, within the frame of the PABLO application
The buyer, in possession of his goods, will proceed, by himself, to the electronic visa of the PABLO marked export sales slips, at one of the PABLO terminals with optical reading available in public areas and close to a customs’ office in French airports.
This action provides a ‟CONFIRMED” status to the transaction of exportation of the goods and equals to the electronic visa of the export sales slip.
1.c.iv. Final provision of the VAT exemption
A. In a manual process
French customs provides the buyer with two originals, original n. 2 (to be posted back to the seller after the visa) and n. 3 (which is a stamped original that justifies the execution of all customs formalities).
It is the buyer’s responsibility to send original n. 2 of the export sales slip, which now has a visa, to the appropriate seller, within six months following the sale.
B. In the PABLO process
The electronic visa confirms the reality and occurrence of the export and clears the export sales slip in the dedicated database.
This status grants to the seller the final benefit from the VAT exemption.
The buyer does not have to send to the seller original n. 2 of the export sales slip.
A. Immediate controls
In adequacy with the Directive, the benefit from VAT refund is subordinated to the visa stamping of the export sales slip (‟bordereau de vente”), or of a document that is equivalent to an export sales slip, by customs at the point of exit from the EU.
It is the responsibility of customs’ agents, to whom the manual or electronic visa of export sales slips is requested, to check that:
- the export sales slips are valid;
- the buyer has a non-resident status;
- all the goods set out on the export sales slips are really being exported;
- the nature and value of the goods do comply with the authorised nature and quantities, set out in paragraph II-3 of the Circular (goods excluded from the process);
- the travel ticket presented by the buyer confirms that the buyer will be travelling directly to a country outside the European Union;
- the export sales slips with a PABLO logo, stamped with an electronic visa;
- the visa is manually stamped on standard export sales slips, when all the conditions are met, and
- a visa be manually stamped, on a PABLO export sales slip, when the PABLO terminals are not functioning properly.
When the customs officers find some irregularities, they may decide to refuse to provide the visa, to invalidate the export sales slip or to inflict a penalty in application with the French customs code.
B. Ex-post controls
Some ex-post controls on the regularity of VAT refund operations may be performed by customs agents, at the head office of sellers and/or the Refund companies, in application with the French customs code.
A dedicated team has been set up, entitled ‟Service d’enquêtes de la Direction Nationale des Recherches et des Enquêtes Douanières” (‟DNRED”), by the French customs authorities, to perform such ex-post controls.
To conclude on the framework relating to the French VAT refund system, meticulously described in the Circular, there are many options available to French shops (sellers), as follows:
- sellers may prefer to sell only at internal market conditions (at the same prices than those paid by tax-residents of the EU, i.e. without providing any VAT refund services); or
- sellers may exercise their option to provide VAT refund services to their buyers who are not tax-resident in the EU. In this instance, they may decide to:
- enter into a private bilateral and exclusive contractual arrangement, with a professional VAT refund services provider that is active on the French market; or
- organise the VAT refund themselves, by manually providing some export sales slips to their buyers (by getting the printed templates of export sales slips at their closest chamber of commerce or authorised printers); or
- organise the VAT refund themselves, by using the electronic process PABLO Indépendants.
2. The beneficiaries of the VAT refund market in France
I understand from the French customs, tax and politics authorities, that the current French framework of VAT refunds is unlikely to change in the near future. As set out in the answers to the written questions n. 32263 and n. 13548 asked at the French National Assembly, on 15 June 2010 and 12 February 2013, France is the first touristic destination in the world. France is increasingly sought after, as THE shopping destination of choice for travellers coming from all over the world. Foreign tour operators include shopping activities in France as part of the attractions in the trips that they propose to their clients. In this context, VAT refunds are an advantage, which is often mentioned in order to boost touristic revenues, for which France stands in the 3rd place, worldwide, behind the United States and Spain. Paris remains at the first European place as far as touristic shopping is concerned, well ahead of London and Milan (76 percent of tax free shopping is done in Paris, 10 percent in the rest of the Ile-de-France region, 7 percent in the French Riviera, 2 percent in the Alps and 5 percent elsewhere in France).
Tightening the legal framework on VAT refunds, and in particular the conditions which apply to these VAT refunds, may trigger an eviction effect of the purchases made by tourists to foreign member-states, in particular Germany and Great Britain. For all these reasons (compliance with the Directive, beneficial effect of the VAT refunds on the business of French sellers and shops), the French congress does not want to amend these rules.
I understand that the only foreseeable change to the current French framework on VAT refunds is that the PABLO process will become compulsory from 1 January 2014. Therefore, all shops will have to use PABLO marked export sales slips, from 1 January 2014, and an electronic visa will be stamped, on these PABLO marked slips, by the PABLO terminals with optical reading, or a visa will be manually stamped, on a PABLO export sales slip, when the PABLO terminals are not functioning properly.
The seller judges whether it wants to accomplish the formalities of the exemption process and undertake these responsibilities, or whether it prefers to sell at the conditions of the internal market (i.e. at full VAT rate, without any possibility of refunds).
The export sales slip (‟bordereau de vente à l’exportation”) is, all in one, a sales receipt, as well as a simplified export statement (‟déclaration d’exportation simplifiée”) and a statement of the commitment taken by the buyer, who benefits from the VAT refund, to strictly comply with the rules of this exemption process.
Buyers must then present for visa (i.e. review, confirmation of approval and stamping), the export sales slip provided by the seller, as well as the goods that are mentioned in such slip, to the customs authorities of the point of last and definite exit from the European Union.
This will be either customs at the exit point in France, if the buyers leave directly France to go to a country that is not in the EU (France – United States, for example), or customs in the last Member-state at the exit point from the EU from another Member-state (France-Belgium-United States, for example).
3. Possible solutions to enter the VAT refund market in France
It is important to note that there are no particular legal conditions or state approval requirements, to be complied with, or obtained, by any company that wants to become a tax refund services provider in France.
Unlike banks or financial institutions, a Refund company, i.e. a tax refund services provider, does not need to be registered with, or approved by, the ‟Autorité des Marchés Financiers” or any other French public institution or regulator. The only requirement is that the new tax refund services provider finds some clients on the French private market, i.e. some shops or sellers that agree to enter into a business relationship and bilateral contractual partnership with the new tax refund services provider. The tax refund services sector is unregulated and free for any new entrant to enter, provided that the provisions set out in the Circular and the template CERFA model n°10096*03 are complied with by such new entrant.
Therefore, to conclude, I think that, at this stage, the best way to enter the tax refund market in France, is to:
- either contact some French shops, which have no agreement in place with any other tax refund services provider and/or Refund company, and which may be susceptible to attract and appeal to tourists, and negotiate with those French shops a partnership relating to tax refund services, or
- provide better and more attractive commercial terms to French sellers (shops), which are already bound by the terms of a contractual relationship with other tax refund services providers, such as leaders on the Refund companies’ market, Global Blue and Premier Tax Free.
I think that these are the two ways in which one should be able to attract new French shops to partner up to offer tax refund services at very attractive rates, to tourists.
To penetrate the French tax refund market, one must first enter into bilateral contractual relationships with attractive French shops before offering tax refund services to tourists who come to France.
We had a great time, on Tuesday 30 July 2013, during the business breakfast during which we presented our proprietary research on fashion finance.
During our presentation on fashion finance law, the audience was really paying attention and asking incisive questions on the tools and tips to get funding!
Please find below our video and slides of the seminar, as well as some information on the content of this cutting-edge presentation on fashion financing.
You will need initial funding to create your first, second or even third collection and set up your fashion business. While family & friends, grants and loans can be a source of financing, don’t underestimate the value of intellectual property (‟IP”) in the context of obtaining funding for your fashion business.
This video was created with the efficient and proactive contribution of the London Film Academy. Thank you LFA!
During this B@B, we covered:
- tools and tips to get funding;
- the different financing sources available to you;
- your business plan – key considerations;
- attracting third party financial investment – and the important role of IP;
- key clauses in partnerships or equity finance agreements, and
- next steps after you secured funding.
The speaker is Annabelle Gauberti, founding and managing partner of London fashion law firm Crefovi, an expert in fashion finance law.
She has more than 10 years of experience practising the law of luxury and fashion law, both in the UK and France. Annabelle advises fashion houses, financiers, security providers, on various aspects of fashion finance law.
Her clients base includes fashion houses, designers & models, artists, film production companies.
She is steeped in finance & corporate law, and has been involved in many matters, either contentious or non-contentious, relating to intellectual property, trademark litigation, selective distribution, franchising, tax & internet law.
Annabelle has more than ten years of experience practising fashion law, also known in France as “droit du luxe” (law of luxury goods) and she has written numerous publications about it.
The main characteristic of a luxury company is the importance of its brand’s value. This is by far the most crucial asset of a luxury business. It is due to the extreme concentration of intangibles that such brand embodies.
Since the value of a luxury business is, above all, the financial valuation of its brand, the luxury company’s management needs to implement a strategy that will boost such brand equity. This is the goal of financing luxury companies.
1. What does it take to build a luxury brand with a strong financial valuation?
This implies that the financial strategy will be to maximise, not the net profit, but the luxury brand’s value. Another consequence is that since brands have never been set out on the balance sheet at their true worth, successful luxury companies generally have a very high return on equity, a phenomenon often accentuated by very high profitability.
So, what does it take to implement a strategy that unlocks a luxury brand’s equity?
It takes a lot of time and money to build a lasting luxury brand. Given the importance of the investment to be made in creation, communication and distribution, which are strongly qualitative and only profitable over the long term, a very high gross margin (in the order of 80 per cent) is crucial to the brand’s survival.
To achieve such high gross margins in the long term, some basic rules must be followed from the inception of a luxury brand.
The first one is to be profitable in the core trade first: the burgeoning luxury brand needs to remain concentrated on the core trade and extend only progressively, and in a controlled manner, to luxury goods beyond its core. A luxury brand is deep in deficit at the beginning, since it cannot waver on the product quality it offers, while its low recognition makes it impossible to sell at high prices. This deficit should be considered as an investment on the brand’s content.
The young luxury company must then set the virtuous spiral in motion by:
- increasing its sales volume, and thus its production;
- lowering its costs, enabled by the experience effect, which leads to a rise in margins, since retail prices are maintained at the same level;
- investing in communication, thanks to the release of the level of finance made, and
- ultimately, increasing sales prices, made possible by ongoing recognition of the luxury brand.
Diversifying into other products before achieving profitability in the core trade would be a mistake, and could even be fatal to the emerging luxury company.
The second rule is to ensure human stability and coherence of teams. These stable teams will bring creativity of consistent quality, hence fostering brand loyalty in the luxury company’s customer base. When the luxury company launches into products’ diversification, its management team should be mindful of troop morale, since such diversification could be perceived as a rejection of existing lines and their teams. Diversification consuming a great deal of cash, to the detriment of the core trade, management must explain its expansion strategy to its teams, and ensure that money is appropriately spent during the implementation of such diversification.
Meanwhile, it is important for the luxury company to keep on investing strongly in its brand and distribution, in order to maintain a very robust brand and thus be shielded from any risks generated by the diversification. Often, part of the royalties, paid by licensees to the luxury company, as a result of products diversification into perfumes, eyewear or children wear, for example, will be reinvested in the luxury brand and distribution.
Achieving high margins for a luxury company always requires seeking the minimum volume of sales beyond its own borders: internationalisation, and then globalisation, is the law of luxury. Only the demand side should be expanded abroad, though, certainly not the production side in order to reduce costs, as this would greatly damage the luxury brand.
When a luxury company consistently follows these rules, it usually generates exceptional profitability on turnover, over time. Initially, it must concentrate the bulk of its small capital on the development of its production volume in order to be profitable at the desired sales price. Then, when the luxury company has reached a reasonable cost price, it should swing the majority of its investment into communication, including the development of a quality distribution network.
2. What types of financing exist, for luxury brands?
Luxury companies, with their high gross margins and net profits rates , have become attractive targets for financiers. Private equity funds, in particular, have delved into the luxury world with enthusiasm. From Jimmy Choo , to Hugo Boss  and La Perla , quite a few luxury brands have been acquired, or heavily invested into, by equity financiers.
For young luxury companies, finding a committed, yet not overbearing, equity finance partner is really a way to kick-start their brand to the next level. For example, England-based ready-to-wear and bespoke tweed company, Dashing Tweeds, was initially backed-up by equity investors, allowing the brand to grow and reach national recognition through a major collaboration with high street chain Topshop.
Equity investments may be easier to secure for UK-based luxury businesses, since there are 50,000 business angels in the UK compared to 8,000 in France, and since London is the largest hub for private equity and venture capital funds in Europe. However, the French business angels community, in particular France Angels, is keen to invest in French emerging luxury companies and has inaugurated the ‟Réseau mode Business Angels” in December 2012, to federate business angels around equity investments for fashion and luxury start-ups.
For luxury and fashion start-ups, which do not have ‟proof of concept” yet, and therefore cannot convince business angels and venture capital funds to invest in their companies, a solution may be crowdfunding. In spring 2013, AudaCity of Fashion, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to fashion and luxury startups, will launch in the UK. This way, individuals will network and pool their money to collectively support efforts initiated by fashion and luxury startups.
Coming back to private equity investments, these may be a way for the founders of a mature luxury company to ‟cash in” and get financially rewarded for all their prior hard work. However, problems arise if the laws of luxury management are not scrupulously complied with. Indeed, if these laws, which are the opposite of traditional marketing laws, are not respected, further to the equity investments, the high profitability of the luxury brand becomes volatile as a result. These laws of luxury management are often unfamiliar to non-specialists and are highly subjective and qualitative, therefore far from the quantitative measures dear to financiers. One of the easy traps to fall into, is to force a reduction in structural expenditure on maintaining the luxury brand, particularly if that brand is undergoing short-term pressure from shareholders because of temporary falling profitability. While these cuts in ‟useless” expenditure may seem to have an immediate positive impact on the operating results of the luxury company, the cuts damage the brand and image in a way which is invisible, at first, but which, a couple of years down the line, may be irreparable.
In addition, the exact valuation of the luxury company may become an issue, during the negotiations between the luxury company’s owners and the private equity financiers, as the valuation of the brand is based on an extreme concentration of intangibles, difficult to measure in factual terms.
Another external strategy to find funding for a luxury company is to get access to debt financing. While this would be a relatively easy move for an established luxury business, because it already has several sets of annual returns and statements to prove its financial stability, an emerging luxury company may struggle.
Mature luxury houses, which can provide evidence of solid sales revenues, have access to global debt markets, tapping into investment grade facilities, bridge loans, or, even more sophisticated loan products such as structured trade finance. For example, a fur brand like Hockley may approach its usual bank to finance the purchase, at auctions, of extremely high quality and expensive furs. Such short-term financing would be secured against these furs. Hockley would then make some luxury coats or accessories out of these furs and pay back the capital and interest deriving from the structured trade financing, by way of regular instalments, using the cash flow generated by the sale of these luxury products over time.
As debt finance is difficult for them to access, emerging luxury companies may look at factoring as a viable alternative for the management of their cash flows. Factoring seems relatively difficult for SMEs to obtain in the UK, while it is a standard and often-used financial tool in France and the US. Factoring companies such as GE Capital or Hilldun Corporation in the US, Eurofactor, BNP Paribas Factor or Natixis Factor in France, agree to advance 80 to 90 percent of the total amount of an invoice, to the luxury company, after such luxury company has delivered its merchandise to its distributors. The remainder of the invoice, minus the costs for the factoring service, is paid back to the luxury company when the distributor pays the factor. Costs for the factoring service vary between 0.6 to 3 percent of the amount of the invoice. Such costs are based on the luxury company’s annual turnover, number of invoices issued and number of clients.
National trade associations, keen to nurture creativity and innovation, have provided several financing tools for emerging luxury and fashion companies.
One of the most innovative tools is the ‟Banque de la Mode” (i.e. fashion bank), launched in March 2012 in Paris. Chanel, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton Malletier, among others, have pooled their efforts with the Fédération Française du Prêt-à-Porter Féminin, to create a ‟guarantee fund”, which provides financial guarantees to young designers who are asking banks for loans, as well as a ‟refundable advance fund”, which provides short-term financing up to Euros 100,000 per designer.
In England, the launch in March 2013 of Creative Industry Finance, an Arts Council England initiative offering business development support and access to finance for creative industry enterprises, may prove a useful tool to accelerate the growth of English emerging luxury companies in the future.
Finally, NEWGEN, set up by the British Fashion Council (‟BFC”), offers catwalk designers financial support towards their show costs and the opportunity to use the BFC Catwalk Show Space. NEWGEN has successfully supported designers such as Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou and Meadham Kirchhoff. Fashion Fringe, founded in 2003 by Colin McDowell and IMG Fashion, also nurtures talents such as Erdem and Fyodor Golan.
Unlocking the brand equity potential of a luxury company is a delicate balance between forefront, as well as cutting-edge innovation and creativity, and rigorous financing and human resources management skills. Finding the right finance partner and financing solutions should be a priority for any luxury company, especially if such enterprise is still quite vulnerable, at the early stages of its development.
 Since 2007, La Perla is owned by JH Partners, a consumer-focused private equity firm.
London fashion law firm Crefovi and Own-it, an institution which offers intellectual property advice for the creative sector, hosted a free webinar on ‟Fashion business partnerships and investment: IP as a business asset”, on 13 February 2013.
You will need initial funding to create your first, second or even third collection and set up your business. While family and friends, grants and loans can be a source of financing, don’t underestimate the value of intellectual property – yours and other people’s – in the context of securing funding for your fashion business. We study the available fashion business partnerships & investment, in this webinar.
In this one-hour webinar, we will cover:
- the different available funding sources;
- your business plan – key considerations;
- attracting third party financial investment – and the important role of intellectual property (‟IP”);
- other types of investment, e.g. creative partners, who are crucial to your business success, and how you can pay them;
- key clauses in partnership or equity finance agreements, and
- next steps after you secured funding.
The webinar ‟Fashion business partnerships & investment” is moderated by Silvia Baumgart, Own-it Programme manager.
When: 13 February 2013, 12:00 to 13:00 (GMT)
Where: on your computer, by way of webinar
Annabelle Gauberti, founding and managing partner, London fashion law firm Crefovi
Annabelle has more than 10 years of experience practising the law of luxury goods and fashion as well as media & entertainment law, both in the United Kingdom and France. Annabelle has set up her own boutique law firm, Crefovi, in order to provide tailored legal advice to the creative industries.
Her clients base includes fashion houses, designers & models, artists, art galleries & museums, musicians, film production companies.
Annabelle’s roster of creative clients appreciate, above all, her ability to understand and solve their legal issues in a timely manner, by providing realistic, customised and effective solutions.
She is steeped in finance and corporate law, and has been involved in many matters, either contentious or non-contentious, relating to intellectual property, trademark litigation, selective distribution, franchising, tax and media & Internet law.