ARTICLE
22 March 2024

The Power Of Procurement Contracts: Software Manufacturer May Bring IP Claims Against Federal Agency

F
Fenwick

Contributor

Fenwick
Fenwick provides comprehensive legal services to leading technology and life sciences companies — at every stage of their lifecycle — and the investors that partner with them. For more than four decades, Fenwick has helped some of the world's most recognized companies become and remain market leaders. Visit fenwick.com to learn more.
The Federal Circuit ruled that software manufacturers may seek to enforce End User License Agreements (EULAs)...
United States Government, Public Sector
To print this article, all you need is to be registered or login on Mondaq.com.

What You Need To Know

  • The Federal Circuit ruled that software manufacturers may seek to enforce End User License Agreements (EULAs) against federal agencies if the EULAs qualify as "procurement contracts."
  • This decision overturns a prior Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) ruling, which had stated that it didn't have jurisdiction to entertain disputes brought by software manufacturers directly when licensing through resellers.
  • The case in question is Avue Techs. Corp. v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs.
  • In its appeal, Avue Technologies argued that its EULA with the FDA should be considered a procurement contract, enabling direct enforcement under the Contract Disputes Act (CDA). The Federal Circuit found Avue's allegation that its EULA combined with the prime contract qualified as a "procurement contract" sufficiently "nonfrivolous" to establish jurisdiction before the CBCA.
  • Still undecided is whether Avue's MSA/EULA qualifies on the merits as a "procurement contract" under the CDA, and what role resellers must play in bringing claims before the CBCA.
  • Software manufacturers are advised to take protective measures such as creating firm channel agreements, ensuring their EULAs are incorporated into front-line procurement contracts, and adhering to claim protocols in the case of disputes with federal agencies.

A glimmer of hope from the Federal Circuit for software manufacturers looking to enforce license agreements against the U.S. Federal Government.

In an order issued March 6, 2024, the court said entities licensing software to federal agencies through resellers may enforce end user license agreements (EULAs) directly against the government if the agreements qualify as 'procurement contracts.' The order vacates the earlier decision of the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA), which held that it lacked jurisdiction under the Contract Disputes Act (CDA) to entertain disputes brought by software licensors who contract through resellers. On remand, the CBCA will consider whether Appellant Avue Technologies Corporation (Avue) has a 'procurement contract' with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) capable of direct redress under the CDA.

The case stems from Avue's 2015 contract with the FDA, which purchased licenses for Avue's commercial AI-enabled human resources software via reseller Carahsoft Technology Corporation (Carahsoft) under Carahsoft's Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contract. These licenses were subject to Avue's EULA, which Avue refers to as a master subscription agreement (MSA). Avue contends that FDA employees downloaded its software in violation of the MSA. In 2018, Avue invoked the CDA in noticing a dispute with the FDA. After the FDA rejected the claim, Avue appealed to the CBCA. The CBCA dismissed for lack of CDA jurisdiction because Avue lacked a 'procurement contract' with the FDA. It held that "a claim by Avue in its own capacity for breach of the MSA/EULA is not, regardless of its viability, a claim by a contractor under a CDA procurement contract that our Board [the CBCA] may resolve."

At the Federal Circuit, Avue argued that its MSA is a 'procurement contract' under the CDA, or, alternatively, was combined with the FSS contract as part of Carahsoft's larger procurement contract with the FDA. Courts have held that a procurement contract under the CDA generally includes a buyer-seller relationship, the direct expenditure of government funds, and a direct benefit to the government in exchange for government funds. See G.E. Boggs & Assocs., Inc. v. Roskens, 969 F.2d 1023, 1027–28 (Fed. Cir. 1992); Pasteur v. United States, 814 F.2d 624, 627–28 (Fed. Cir. 1987). While the Federal Circuit declined to consider the "MSA-standing-alone" argument, it found Avue's "combination" pleading "nonfrivolous" and sufficient to establish jurisdiction under the CDA. Citing its holding in Engage Learning, Inc. v. Salazar, 660 F.3d 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2011), the court said a plaintiff "need only allege the existence of a contract to establish the Board's jurisdiction under the CDA 'relative to' an express or implied contract with an executive agency."

It remains to be seen whether Avue's EULA/MSA constitutes a 'procurement contract' under the CDA, and what role the channel partner must play in bringing any claims before the CBCA. In any case, the CBCA's decision bears watching.

In the meantime, software licensors with indirect federal end users can take steps to protect their enforcement rights.

Consider:

  • Drafting fit-for-purpose channel partner agreements that, among other things, require the partner to submit pass-through claims;
  • Ensuring that channel partners are obligated to 'flow up' EULAs (or equivalent) and incorporate their terms and conditions into the partners' procurement contracts;
  • Creating a 'federal-friendly' version of the EULA terms and conditions to facilitate deal velocity while mitigating unenforceability of clauses contrary to federal law; and
  • In the event a dispute with the U.S. federal agency end customer materializes, adhering to procedures and timelines for perfecting a claim.

Beyond disputes and jurisdictional questions, general compliance and other considerations for companies licensing commercial software to U.S. federal government agencies include:

  • Developing policies, playbooks and training for public sector sales and ethics compliance;
  • Actively managing software supply chain, including, for example, complying with and documenting secure software development practices; and
  • Considering special compliance requirements for software developed with AI tools and software that delivers AI-based capabilities to U.S. federal government end users.

*Daniel Klaeren contributed to this alert.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

See More Popular Content From

Mondaq uses cookies on this website. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies as set out in our Privacy Policy.

Learn More