Licensing V Franchising:  A Legal Perspective on Nasi Kukus Tonggek Viral Issue on Social Media

In a recent legal battle that captured the social media space, Nasi Kukus Tonggek, a beloved Malaysian food chain, found itself entangled in a courtroom dispute with one of its licensees. The case resulted in a significant victory for the licensee, with the court declaring the licensee agreement void. The crux of the issue?

The court determined that the agreement effectively established a franchise business model, which required proper registration as a franchise agreement under Franchise Act 1998 ( Act 590). This case serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the critical distinctions between licensing agreements and franchise agreements and emphasizing the importance of careful contract drafting in the business world.

The Nasi Kukus Tonggek Case:

The recent court’s decision sent shockwaves through the Malaysian business community. The dispute revolved around the licensee agreement that Nasi Kukus Tonggek had in place with one of its partners. The court’s ruling hinged on the interpretation of this agreement, which had been structured as a licensing arrangement.

The Critical Issue:

At the heart of this case lay the critical issue of whether the agreement truly constituted a licensing arrangement or, in fact, a franchise agreement. The Malaysian court concluded that the agreement’s substance leaned more toward a franchise, as it granted the licensee a significant degree of control and operational authority typically associated with franchisees. Consequently, the court held that Nasi Kukus Tonggek should have registered the agreement as a franchise, in compliance with Franchise Act 1998.

Understanding Licensing vs. Franchising:

To avoid falling into a legal quagmire similar to Nasi Kukus Tonggek, businesses must understand the key distinctions between licensing and franchising agreements:

1. Control and Support:

Licensing Agreement: In a licensing agreement, the licensor grants the licensee the right to use its intellectual property or product but retains minimal control over the licensee’s operations.

Franchise Agreement: A franchise agreement, on the other hand, involves a greater degree of control and support from the franchisor, including guidelines on business operations, branding, and marketing.

2. Fee Structure:

Licensing Agreement: Licensees typically pay royalties or fees for the use of the licensor’s intellectual property.

Franchise Agreement: Franchisees pay both initial franchise fees and ongoing royalties, often in exchange for ongoing support and assistance.

3. Branding and Image:

Licensing Agreement: Licensees often operate under their own brand identity and are less tied to the licensor’s image.

Franchise Agreement: Franchisees are closely associated with the franchisor’s brand and must adhere to strict branding guidelines.

4. Registration Requirements:

Licensing Agreement: Licensing agreements usually do not require specific registration and falls under the Contract Act .

Franchise Agreement: Franchise agreements must be registered with the Registrar of Franchises in Malaysia.

The Nasi Kukus Tonggek case serves as a stark reminder that the distinction between licensing and franchising agreements is not merely semantic but holds significant legal implications. Businesses must exercise utmost diligence when drafting such agreements, ensuring they accurately reflect the nature of the relationship and comply with Malaysian law.

To avoid legal pitfalls and disputes like the one faced by Nasi Kukus Tonggek, it is advisable for businesses to seek legal counsel experienced in Malaysian contract law. Properly classifying and registering agreements can save businesses from costly legal battles and protect their interests in the ever-evolving world of commerce.

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Prepared by Hawanisa Roslan and Sharifah Rania Aljunied