Definition of right of first refusal
right of first refusal (plural rights of first refusal)
- (law) A provision in a contract that permits a party to that contract or another named party to have an opportunity to purchase, use, or otherwise obtain a specified object before it is offered to any other party.
* 1985, Richard Lourie, First Loyalty, ISBN 9780151312870, p. 258:
"Well," said the publisher, "does our last contract with whoever it is that represents Shar give us the right of first refusal on his next book?"
Right of first refusal (ROFR or RFR) is a contractual right that gives its holder the option to enter a business transaction with the owner of something, according to specified terms, before the owner is entitled to enter into that transaction with a third party. In brief, the right of first refusal is similar in concept to a call option.
An ROFR can cover almost any sort of asset, including real estate, personal property, a patent license, a screenplay, or an interest in a business. It might also cover business transactions that are not strictly assets, such as the right to enter a joint venture or distribution arrangement. In entertainment, a right of first refusal on a concept or a screenplay would give the holder the right to make that movie first. Only if the holder turns it down may the owner then shop it around to other parties.
Because an ROFR is a contract right, the holder's remedies for breach are typically limited to recovery of damages. In other words, if the owner sells the asset to a third party without offering the holder the opportunity to purchase it first, the holder can then sue the owner for damages but may have a difficult time obtaining a court order to stop or reverse the sale. However, in some cases the option becomes a property right that may be used to invalidate an improper sale.
An ROFR differs from a Right of First Offer (ROFO, also known as a Right of First Negotiation) in that the ROFO merely obliges the owner to undergo exclusive good faith negotiations with the rights holder before negotiating with other parties. A ROFR is an option to enter a transaction on exact or approximate transaction terms. A ROFO is merely an agreement to negotiate.
- ROFR: Abe owns a house that he plans to sell to Bo for $1 million. However, Carl holds a right of first refusal to purchase the house. Therefore, before Abe can sell the house to Bo, he must first offer it to Carl for $1 million. If Carl accepts, he buys the house instead of Bo. If Carl declines, Bo may now buy the house at the proposed $1 million price.
- ROFO: Carl holds a ROFO instead of an ROFR. Before Abe may negotiate a deal with Bo, he must first try to sell the house to Carl. Abe and Carl attempt to reach a deal. If they reach an agreement, Abe sells the house to Carl. However, if they fail, then Abe is free to start fresh negotiations with Bo without any restriction as to price or terms.
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