- Rule Overview
- Rule Requirements
- Business Relationships Covered
- Disclosure Options
- Potential Liability for Violations
- Legal Resources
I. Rule Overview
A. Basic Requirement: Franchisors must furnish potential franchisees with
written disclosures providing important information about the franchisor, the
franchised business and the franchise relationship, and give them at least ten
business days to review it before investing.
B. Disclosure Option: Franchisors may make the required disclosures by following
either the Rule's disclosure format or the Uniform Franchise Offering Circular
Guidelines prepared by state franchise law officials.
C. Coverage: The Rule primarily covers business-format franchises, product
franchises, and vending machine or display rack business opportunity ventures.
D. No Filing: The Rule requires disclosure only. Unlike state disclosure laws,
no registration, filing, review or approval of any disclosures, advertising or
agreements by the FTC is required.
E. Remedies: The Rule is a trade regulation rule with the full force and effect
of federal law. The courts have held it may only be enforced by the FTC, not
private parties. The FTC may seek injunctions, civil penalties and consumer
redress for violations.
F. Purpose: The Rule is designed to enable potential franchisees to protect
themselves before investing by providing them with information essential to an
assessment of the potential risks and benefits, to meaningful comparisons with
other investments, and to further investigation of the franchise opportunity.
G. Effective Date: The Rule, formally titled "Disclosure Requirements and
Prohibitions Concerning Franchising and Business Opportunity Ventures," took
effect on October 21, 1979, and appears at 16 C.F.R. Part 436.
II. Rule Requirements
A. General: The Rule imposes six different requirements in connection with
the "advertising, offering, licensing, contracting, sale or other promotion" of
a franchise in or affecting commerce:
1. Basic Disclosures: The Rule requires franchisors to give potential investors
a basic disclosure document at the earlier of the first face-to-face meeting or
ten business days before any money is paid or an agreement is signed in
connection with the investment (Part 436.1(a)).
2. Earnings Claims: If a franchisor makes earnings claims, whether historical or
forecasted, they must have a reasonable basis, and prescribed substantiating
disclosures must be given to a potential investor in writing at the same time as
the basic disclosures (Parts 436.1(b)-(d)).
3. Advertised Claims: The Rule affects only ads that include an earnings claim.
Such ads must disclose the number and percentage of existing franchisees who
have achieved the claimed results, along with cautionary language. Their use
triggers required compliance with the Rule's earnings claim disclosure
requirements (Part 436.1(e)).
4. Franchise Agreements: The franchisor must give investors a copy of its
standard-form franchise and related agreements at the same time as the basic
disclosures, and final copies intended to be executed at least 5 business days
before signing (Part 436.1(g)).
5. Refunds: The Rule requires franchisors to make refunds of deposits and
initial payments to potential investors, subject to any conditions on
refundability stated in the disclosure document (Part 436.1(h)).
6. Contradictory Claims: While franchisors are free to provide investors with
any promotional or other materials they wish, no written or oral claims may
contradict information provided in the required disclosure document (Part
B. Liability: Failure to comply with any of the six requirements is a violation
of the Franchise Rule. "Franchisors" and "franchise brokers" are jointly and
severally liable for Rule violations.
1. A "franchisor" is defined as any person who sells a "franchise" covered by
the Rule (Part 436.2(c)).
2. A "franchise broker" is defined as any person who "sells, offers for sale, or
arranges for the sale" of a covered franchise (Part 436.2(j)), and includes not
only independent sales agents, but also subfranchisors that grant subfranchises
(44 FR 49963)
III. Business Relationships Covered
A. Alternate Definitions: The Rule employs parallel coverage definitions of the
term "franchise" to reach two types of continuing commercial relationships:
traditional franchises and business opportunities.
B. "Traditional Franchises": There are three definitional prerequisites to
coverage of a business-format or product franchise (Parts 436.2(a)(1)(i) and
1. Trademark: The franchisor offers the right to distribute goods or services
that bear the franchisor's trademark, service mark, trade name, advertising or
other commercial symbol.
2. Significant Control or Assistance: The franchisor exercises significant
control over, or offers significant assistance in, the franchisee's method of
3. Required Payment: The franchisee is required to make any payment to the
franchisor or an affiliate, or a commitment to make a payment, as a condition of
obtaining the franchise or commencing operations. (NOTE: There is an exemption
from coverage for required payments of less than $500 within six months of the
commencement of the franchise (Part 436.2(a)(3)(iii)).
C. Business Opportunities: There are also three basic prerequisites to the
Rule's coverage of a business opportunity venture (Parts 436.2(a)(1)(ii) and
No Trademark: The seller simply offers the right to sell goods or services
supplied by the seller, its affiliate, or a supplier with which the seller
requires the franchisee to do business.
Location Assistance: The seller offers to secure retail outlets or accounts for
the goods or services to be sold, to secure locations or sites for vending
machines or rack displays, or to provide the services of someone who can do so.
Required Payment: The same as for franchises.
D. Coverage Exemptions/Exclusions: The Rule also exempts or excludes some
relationships that would otherwise meet the coverage prerequisites (Parts
436.2(a)(3) and (4)):
1. Minimum investment: This exemption applies if all payments to the franchisor
or an affiliate until six months after the franchise commences operation are
$500 or less (Part 436.2(a)(iii)).
2. Fractional Franchises: Relationships adding a new product or service to an
established distributor's existing products or services, are exempt if: (i) the
franchisee or any of its current directors or executive officers has been in the
same type of business for at least two years, and (ii) both parties anticipated,
or should have, that sales from the franchise would represent no more than 20%
of the franchisees sales in dollar volume (Parts 436.2(a)(3)(i) and 436.2(h)).
3. Single Trademark Licenses: The Rule language excludes a "single license to
license a [mark]" where it "is the only one of its general nature and type to be
granted by the licensor with respect to that [mark]" (Part 436.2(a)(4)(iv)). The
Rule's Statement of Basis and Purpose indicates it also applies to "collateral"
licenses [e.g., logo on sweatshirt, mug] and licenses granted to settle
trademark infringement litigation (43 FR 59707-08).
4. Employment and Partnership Relationships: The Rule excludes pure
employer-employee and general partnership arrangements. Limited partnerships do
not qualify for the exemption (Part 436.2(a)(4)(i)).
5. Oral Agreements: This exemption, which is narrowly construed, applies only if
no material term of the relationship is in writing (Part 436.2(a)(3)(iv)).
6. Cooperative Associations: Only agricultural co-ops and retailer-owned
cooperatives "operated 'by and for' retailers on a cooperative basis," and in
which control and ownership is substantially equal are excluded from coverage
7. Certification/Testing Services: Organizations that authorize use of a
certification mark to any business selling products or services meeting their
standards are excluded from coverage (e.g., Underwriters Laboratories) (Part
8. Leased Departments: Relationships in which the franchisee simply leases space
in the premises of another retailer and is not required or advised to buy the
goods or services it sells from the retailer or an affiliate of the retailer are
exempt (Part 436.2(a)(3)(ii)).
E. Statutory Exemptions: Section 18(g) of the FTC Act authorizes "any person" to
petition the Commission for an exemption from a rule where coverage is "not
necessary to prevent the acts or practices" that the rule prohibits (15 U.S.C. §
57a(g)). Franchise Rule exemptions have been granted for service station
franchises (45 FR 51765), many automobile dealership franchises (45 FR 51763; 49
FR 13677; 52 FR 6612; 54 FR 1446), and wholesaler-sponsored voluntary chains in
the grocery industry (48 FR 10040).
IV. Disclosure Options
A. Alternatives: Franchisors have a choice of formats for making the
disclosures required by the Rule. They may use either the format provided by the
Rule or the Uniform Franchise Offering Circular ("UFOC") format prescribed by
the North American Securities Administrators' Association ("NASAA").
B. FTC Format: Franchisors may comply by following the Rule's requirements for
preparing a basic disclosure document (Parts 436.1(a)(1)-(24)), and if they make
earnings claims, for a separate earnings claim disclosure document (Parts
436.1(b)(3), (c)(3), and (d)). The Rule's Final Interpretive Guides provide
detailed instructions and sample disclosures (44 FR 49966).
C. UFOC Format: The Uniform Franchise Offering Circular format may also be used
for compliance in any state:
1. Guidelines: Effective January 1, 1996, franchisors using the UFOC
disclosure format must comply with the UFOC Guidelines, as amended by NASAA on
April 25, 1993. (44 FR 49970; 60 FR 51895).
2. Cover Page: The FTC cover page must be furnished to each potential
franchisee, either in lieu of the UFOC cover page in non-registration states or
along with the UFOC (Part 436.1(a)(21); 44 FR 49970-71).
3. Adaptation: If the UFOC is registered or used in one state, but will be used
in another without a franchise registration law, answers to state-specific
questions must be changed to refer to the law of the state in which the UFOC is
4. Updating: If the UFOC is registered in a state, it must be updated as
required by the state's franchise law. If the same UFOC is also adapted for use
in a non-registration state, updating must occur as required by the law of the
state where the UFOC is registered. If the UFOC is not registered in a state
with a franchise registration law, it must be revised annually and updated
quarterly as required by the Rule.
5. Presumption: The Commission will presume the sufficiency, adequacy and
accuracy of a UFOC that is registered by a state, when it is used in that state.
D. UFOC vs. Rule: Many franchisors have adopted the UFOC disclosure format
because roughly half of the 13 states with franchise registration requirements
will not accept the Rule document for filing. When a format is chosen, all
disclosure must conform to its requirements. Franchisors may not pick and choose
provisions from each format when making disclosures (44 FR 49970).
E. Rule Primacy: If the UFOC is used, several key Rule provisions will still
1. Scope: Disclosure will be required in all cases required by the Rule,
regardless of whether it would be required by state law.
2. Coverage: The Rule will determine who is obligated to comply, regardless of
whether they would be required to make disclosures under state law.
3. Disclosure Timing: When disclosures must be made will be governed by the
Rule, unless state law requires even earlier disclosure.
4. Other Material: No information may appear in a disclosure document not
required by the Rule or by non-preempted state law, regardless of the format
used, and no representations may be made that contradict a disclosure.
5. Contracts: Failure to provide potential franchisees with final agreements at
least 5 days before signing will be a Rule violation regardless of the
disclosure format used.
6. Refunds: Failure to make promised refunds also will be a Rule violation
regardless of which document is used.
V. Potential Liability for Violations
A. FTC Action: Rule violations may subject franchisors, franchise brokers, their
officers and agents to significant liabilities in FTC enforcement actions.
1. Remedies: The FTC Act provides the Commission with a broad range of remedies
for Rule violations:
a. Injunctions: Section 13(b) of the Act authorizes preliminary and permanent
injunctions against Rule violations (15 U.S.C. § 53(b)). Rule cases routinely
have sought and obtained injunctions against Rule violations and
misrepresentations in the offer or sale of any business venture, whether or not
covered by the Rule.
b. Asset Freezes: Acting under their inherent equity powers, the courts have
routinely granted preliminary asset freezes in appropriate Rule cases. The
assets frozen have included both corporate assets and the personal assets,
including real and personal property, of key officers and directors.
c. Civil Penalties: Section 5(m)(1)(A) of the Act authorizes civil penalties of
up to $11,000 for each violation of the Rule (15 U.S.C. § 5(m)(1)(A)). The
courts have granted civil penalties of as much as $870,000 in a Rule case to
d. Monetary Redress: Section 19(b) of the Act authorizes the Commission to seek
monetary redress on behalf of investors injured economically by a Rule violation
(15 U.S.C. § 57b). The courts have granted consumer redress of as much as $4.9
million in a Rule case to date.
e. Other Redress: Section 19(b) of the Act also authorizes such other forms of
redress as the court finds necessary to redress injury to consumers from a Rule
violation, including rescission or reformation of contracts, the return of
property and public notice of the Rule violation. Courts may also grant similar
relief under their inherent equity powers.
2. Personal Liability: Individuals who formulate, direct and control the
franchisor's activities can expect to be named individually for violations
committed in the franchisor's name, together with the franchisor entity, and
held personally liable for civil penalties and consumer redress.
3. Liability For Others: Franchisors and their key officers and executives are
responsible for violations by persons acting in their behalf, including
independent franchise brokers, sub-franchisors, and the franchisor's own sales
B. Private Actions: The courts have held that the FTC Act generally may not be
enforced by private lawsuits.
1. Rule Claims: The Commission expressed its view when the Rule was issued that
private actions should be permitted by the courts for Rule violations (43 FR
59723; 44 FR 49971). To date, no federal court has permitted a private action
for Rule violations.
2. State Disclosure Law Claims: Each of the franchise laws in the 15 states with
franchise registration and/or disclosure requirements authorizes private actions
for state franchise law violations.
3. State FTC Act Claims: The courts in some states have interpreted state
deceptive practices laws ("little FTC Acts") as permitting private actions for
VI. Legal Resources
A. Text of Rule: 16 C.F.R. Part 436.
B. Statement of Basis and Purpose: 43 FR 59614-59733 (Dec. 21, 1978) (Discusses
the evidentiary basis for promulgation of the Rule, and shows Commission intent
and interpretation of its provisions - particularly helpful in resolving
C. Final Interpretive Guides: 44 FR 49966-49992 (Aug. 24, 1979) (Final statement
of policy and interpretation of each of the Rule's requirements - important
discussions of coverage issues, use of the UFOC and requirements for basic and
earnings claims disclosures in the Rule's disclosure format).
E. Staff Advisory Opinions: Business Franchise Guide (CCH) ¶6380 et seq.
(Interpretive opinions issued in response to requests for interpretation of
coverage questions and disclosure requirements pursuant to 16 C.F.R. §§ 1.2-1.4)