ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Monday, June 18, 2018

A warning against trying to "nebulously" slip in language that would change an agreement's meaning

A recent case out of the District of Arizona, Colocation America Corporation v. Mitel Networks Corporation, No. CV-17-00421-PHX-NVW (behind paywall - h/t to reader D.C. Toedt for the non-paywall link!), is, in its own words, "a poster child for the rule of Section 201(2) of the Restatement." 

The dispute was over whether or not an agreement between the parties to transfer a domain name also involved the transfer of IP addresses. The section at issue was ambiguously worded: "Mitel hereby agrees to quit claim . . . the goodwill of the business connected with and symbolized by [the] Domain Name and the associated IPv4 134.22.0.0/16 and any associated trade dress . . . ." Mitel claimed this required it to quit claim the goodwill of the business associated with the IP addresses. Colocation contended Mitel was required to quit claim the goodwill AND the IP addresses AND the trade dress. 

The court found that the wording was ambiguous but that the rest of the contract supported Mitel's interpretation, since the contract did not mention the IP addresses anywhere else. At every other point the contract discussed the transfer only of the domain name. There were no clauses about the transfer of the IP addresses other than that one mention in the clause quoted. 

Furthermore, the court found that Mitel had no reason to know Colocation thought it was acquiring the IP addresses. By contrast, though, Colocation did have reason to know that Mitel thought the agreement was not about the IP addresses. In fact, evidence showed that Colocation "intentionally misled" Mitel by pretending to wish to buy only the domain name and keeping all discussions domain-name focused, while "nebulously" slipping the IP addresses into the contract. The IP addresses were worth far more than the amount the parties agreed on for transferring the domain name, and the court found that this was further proof Colocation knew that Mitel only intended to transfer the domain name, not the IP addresses. 

As the court summarized,

"Colocation's objective from the outset was to acquire the IPv4 addresses. But it purported to negotiate only for a domain name without ever leveling with Mitel Networks. Colocation not only had 'reason to know' Mitel Networks attached a 'different meaning' to their agreement, it created and promoted that different meaning on the part of Mitel Networks. Thus, the Domain Name Assignment Agreement must be interpreted in accordance with the meaning attached by Mitel Networks, that is, as an agreement to assign a domain name and goodwill and not as an agreement to transfer IPv4 addresses."

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/contractsprof_blog/2018/06/a-warning-against-trying-to-nebulously-slip-in-language-that-would-change-an-agreements-meaning.html

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Comments

Non-paywall copy: https://ia801500.us.archive.org/6/items/gov.uscourts.azd.1021972/gov.uscourts.azd.1021972.95.0.pdf

Posted by: D. C. Toedt | Jun 18, 2018 9:36:15 AM

Thank you!

Posted by: Stacey | Jun 27, 2018 7:31:12 AM

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