Picking Courts: Forum-Selection in License Agreements

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Any well-drafted technology or patent license agreement will contain dispute resolution provisions that may cover a number of things: such as picking a governing law in case of disputes, mandating arbitration or other alternatives to litigation, or even picking the courts or “forum” in which disputes will be heard - known as a “forum selection clause”.

Canadian licensors should take note of the recent US decision in Mitek Systems, Inc. v. U.S. Services Automobile Association, in which the forum selection clause in a technology license chose Delaware as the applicable law, and any “court of competent jurisdiction sitting in the State of Delaware” as the forum in which lawsuits must be filed. Delaware was the home jurisdiction of the licensor, though it carried on business in California, and the licensee was based in Texas.

When a dispute arose, the licensee brought a claim first, in the State of Texas. The licensor filed a second lawsuit in Delaware, claiming that was the proper forum for disputes to be heard.

See this article from the Licensing Executives Society: A Forum-Selection Clause in a License Agreement May Not Necessarily Prevent a Litigation From Being Filed and Permitted to Proceed in a Different Court for a discussion of the decision. Essentially, the court decided that other factors were more important than the forum selection clause, and the case was allowed to proceed in Texas.