Right of first refusal, co-sale and tag along rights

These are contractual terms between shareholders which are usually included in the Articles of Association. If one shareholder wishes to dispose of shares that are subject to a right of first refusal (ROFR), it must first offer them to those other shareholders who have the benefit of the ROFR. There are usually certain exceptions to the ROFR, such as the right of individuals to transfer shares to close relatives and trusts and investors to transfer shares freely to third parties, each other or within an investor's group. The requirement to go through a ROFR process may add several weeks to the timescale for selling shares.

If a shareholder wishes to dispose of shares that are the subject of a co-sale or tag along right, the other shareholders who benefit from the right can insist that the potential purchaser agrees to purchase an equivalent percentage of their shares, at the same price and under the same terms and conditions. This may have the effect of making the shares more difficult to sell.

A venture capital investor’s decision to invest in a company is often based largely on the strength of the technical and management experience of the founders and management. It does not want these individuals to dispose of their shares in the company while it remains an investor. Consequently, investors frequently require a ROFR as well as co-sale/tag along rights on any sale of shares by a founder or key managers. Indeed they may sometimes require a prohibition on founders and key managers selling shares for a stated period.

signing contractSometimes in the UK the investor class will create a ROFR on each other's shares. Some investors are strongly against this because it can make their shares more difficult to sell (less liquid) and potentially less valuable since a prospective buyer will often be reluctant to make an offer for shares that can be pre-empted by someone else.

If you have any questions on this article or would like to propose a subject to be addressed by Synapse please contact us.

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Howard Palmer

Howard is a partner in the corporate technology group.

Angus Miln

Angus is a partner in the corporate technology group.