Assignment is a legal term whereby an individual, the “assignor,” transfers rights, property, or other benefits to another known as the “ assignee .” This concept is used in both contract and property law. The term can refer to either the act of transfer or the rights /property/benefits being transferred.
Under contract law, assignment of a contract is both: (1) an assignment of rights; and (2) a delegation of duties , in the absence of evidence otherwise. For example, if A contracts with B to teach B guitar for $50, A can assign this contract to C. That is, this assignment is both: (1) an assignment of A’s rights under the contract to the $50; and (2) a delegation of A’s duty to teach guitar to C. In this example, A is both the “assignor” and the “delegee” who d elegates the duties to another (C), C is known as the “ obligor ” who must perform the obligations to the assignee , and B is the “ assignee ” who is owed duties and is liable to the “ obligor ”.
(1) Assignment of Rights/Duties Under Contract Law
There are a few notable rules regarding assignments under contract law. First, if an individual has not yet secured the contract to perform duties to another, he/she cannot assign his/her future right to an assignee . That is, if A has not yet contracted with B to teach B guitar, A cannot assign his/her rights to C. Second, rights cannot be assigned when they materially change the obligor ’s duty and rights. Third, the obligor can sue the assignee directly if the assignee does not pay him/her. Following the previous example, this means that C ( obligor ) can sue B ( assignee ) if C teaches guitar to B, but B does not pay C $50 in return.
(2) Delegation of Duties
If the promised performance requires a rare genius or skill, then the delegee cannot delegate it to the obligor. It can only be delegated if the promised performance is more commonplace. Further, an obligee can sue if the assignee does not perform. However, the delegee is secondarily liable unless there has been an express release of the delegee. That is, if B does want C to teach guitar but C refuses to, then B can sue C. If C still refuses to perform, then B can compel A to fulfill the duties under secondary liability.
Lastly, a related concept is novation , which is when a new obligor substitutes and releases an old obligor. If novation occurs, then the original obligor’s duties are wiped out. However, novation requires an original obligee’s consent .
Under property law, assignment typically arises in landlord-tenant situations. For example, A might be renting from landlord B but wants to another party (C) to take over the property. In this scenario, A might be able to choose between assigning and subleasing the property to C. If assigning , A would be giving C the entire balance of the term, with no reversion to anyone whereas if subleasing , A would be giving C for a limited period of the remaining term. Significantly, under assignment C would have privity of estate with the landlord while under a sublease, C would not.
[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team ]
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Difference Between Assignment and Transfer
The difference between assignment and transfer is that assign means it's legal to transfer property or a legal right from one person to another. 3 min read
The difference between assignment and transfer is that assign means it's legal to transfer property or a legal right from one person to another, while transfer means it's legal to arrange for something to be controlled by or officially belong to another person.
When used as verbs, assign means to set apart or designate something for a purpose while transfer means to pass or move from one person, place, or thing to someone or someplace else. When used as nouns, assign means the assignee and transfer is the act of removing or conveying something from one person, thing, or place to another. Transfer generally refers to titles whereas assignment is used with obligations and rights.
Definitions of Assignment and Transfer
- Assignment: Assignment is used in real estate law and contracts law. It covers the transfer of rights held by the assignor to the assignee.
- Transfer: To remove or convey from one person or place to someone or somewhere else.
Distinction Between Assignment and Transfer
When distinguishing between assignment and transfer, take licenses, for example. Licenses are contracts that don't allow legal action for infringement. They fall under state law. Therefore, state law will decide whether the license is an obligation or right that can be transferred or assigned legally.
One way to distinguish this example is that an individual contract under an agreement cannot be assigned, like entitlement to grant back royalties . In addition, the contract cannot be transferred. You need to break it down and figure out what the actual issue is — the parties' intent. An additional distinction is when the contract holder is an entity and the business owners want to transfer a portion or all of their stock. This can be seen as an implied transfer of the whole contract. However, it would not likely be an assignment of the rights covered under this agreement.
Difference Between Assign and License
The key difference between assign and license is that with a license, the person who grants permission, known as the licensor, keeps an interest in the product being licensed . In an assignment, the assignor will transfer his or her rights to the product or property being assigned.
Another difference is that assignments must be in writing and a license can be executed without being written. Consider, for example, intellectual property such as patents. Patents can be licensed verbally in some instances, but assignments for patents must be in writing and filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office .
Assignments grant the assignee full ownership of a product or property. Therefore, an assignment will typically cost more to acquire than a license.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there ever situations in which a license can be transferred but is not assignable?
- Yes, in the case of allowing an assignment to one of your affiliates, the assignor would still be liable for the performance of the agreement under general assignment law. In this situation, you would not typically permit a transfer, because in a transfer, the person transferring would not maintain any obligations related to performance. Don't rely solely on this general understanding, but still expressly detail your agreement on what a licensee can legally do.
How will transfer and assignment rights affect someone's ability to sublicense?
- In theory, if a licensee has the authority to assign license rights to someone else, you could argue that it also provides the right to sublicense it. The issue here is that with a sublicense, the person sublicensing it keeps a license right, therefore effectively creating two licensees. With an assignment, only one right is assigned, and the assignee is the one who has possession of the license. With well-drafted licenses, the right to sublicense is not typically implied, as the licensor is the one who reserves all rights that are not expressly granted.
What is the effect of poorly drafted licenses?
- A poorly drafted license could result in giving someone implied rights to also sublicense. An example is a software license that allows a licensee to access the software without clarifying any restrictions or clearly defining the word “use.” This means that, depending on what this software is supposed to do, someone could think the term “use” means the licensee has permission to grant a sublicense as part of their usage rights.
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Content Approved by UpCounsel
- Assignment Law
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- Legal Assignment
- Assignment Legal Definition
- Assignment Of Contracts
- Assignment of Rights and Obligations Under a Contract
- Partial Assignment of Contract
- Assignment of Rights Example
- What Is the Definition of Assigns
- Transfer of Intellectual Property
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- Legal Dictionary
Assignment is a legal definition that refers to the transfer of rights, property, or other benefits between two parties. The party allocating the rights is known as the “assignor”, while the one receiving them is called the “assignee”. The other original party to the contract is known as the “obligor”.
A burden, duty, or detriment cannot be transferred as an assignment without the agreement of the assignee . Furthermore, the assignment can be carried out as a gift, or it may be paid for with a contractual consideration .
Keep reading to learn how this important legal term is used both in contract and property law and to see relevant examples.
- Assignment Examples
A common example of assignment within property law can be seen in rental agreements between landlords and tenants. For example, a tenant may be renting from a landlord but wants another party to take over the property . In this scenario, the tenant may be able to choose between assigning the lease to a new tenant or subleasing it.
If assigning it, the new tenant will be given the entire balance of the term, with no reversion to anyone else being possible. In other words, the new tenant would have a legal relationship with the landlord. On the other hand, if subleasing the property, the new tenant would be given a limited term and no legal responsibility towards the property owner, only towards the original tenant.
Another example of assignment can be seen within contract law . Let’s say that a school hires a piano teacher for a monthly employment contract with a salary of $2000 per month. As long as there is consent from all parties, the teacher could assign their contract to another qualified piano instructor.
This would be an assignment both of the piano teacher’s rights to receive $2000 per month, and a delegation of their duty to teach piano lessons. This illustrates the fact that under contract law, assignment always includes a transfer of both rights and duties between the parties. If a breach of contract is made by either party, for example for defective performance, then the new teacher or the school can sue each other accordingly.
- Legal Requirements for Assignment
For an assignment to be legally valid, it must meet certain requirements . If these are not met, a trial court can determine that the transfer of rights did not occur. The legal requirements for assignment are as follows:
- All parties must consent and be legally capable to carry out the assignment.
- The objects, rights, or benefits being transferred must be legal.
- The assignment is not against public policy or illegal.
- Some type of consideration is included if necessary.
- The contract in question must already be in place and doesn’t prohibit assignment.
- If a duty is being transferred, and it requires a rare genius or skill, then it cannot be delegated.
- The assignment doesn’t significantly change the expected outcome of a contract.
- Assignment Steps
To successfully assign a contract, certain steps must be followed to ensure the process is legally valid. The necessary assignment steps are listed below:
- Ensuring there is no anti-assignment clause in the contract.
- Executing the assignment by transferring the obligations and rights to a third party.
- Notifying the obligor of the transfer, which in turn relieves the assignor of any liability.
- Avoiding Assignment
In certain situations, one of the two parties may not want to allow their counterpart to assign the contract. This can be prevented by setting anti-assignment clauses in the original contract. An example of this is making it necessary for prior written consent to be attained from the other parties before the assignment is approved. Nevertheless, an anti-assignment clause cannot be included in an assignment that was issued or ordered by a court.
- Assignment vs. Novation
Novation occurs when a party would like to transfer both the benefits and burden of a contract to another party. This is similar to assignment in the sense that the benefits are transferred, but in this case, the burden is also passed on. When novation is finalized, the original contract is deleted and a new one is created, in which a third party becomes responsible for all the obligations and rights of the original contract.
- Assignment vs. Delegation
Although delegation and assignment are similar in purpose, they are two different concepts. Delegation refers to transferring the obligation to a third party without an assignment contract . While in assignment an entire contract and its rights and benefits can be passed on, in delegation only a particular contractual task or activity is transferred.
Let’s look at an example . Lisa is a homeowner that wants to hire Michael with an independent contractor agreement to remodel her garage. He plans to do all the work himself, but he’s not a painter, so he wants to delegate the painting work to his friend Valentina.
In this example, the contract is between Lisa, the obligor, and Michael, the delegator. Valentina would then be known as a delegatee, she doesn’t assume responsibility for the contract nor does she receive the contractual benefits, which in this case would be monetary compensation. However, Michael may have a separate agreement with Valentina to pay her in return for her work.
It’s also important to note that some duties are so specific in nature that it’s not possible to delegate them. In addition, if a party wants to avoid delegation , it’s recommended to add a clause to prevent the other party from delegating their duties.
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assignment. Assignment is a legal term whereby an individual, the “assignor,” transfers rights, property, or other benefits to another known as the “ assignee .”. This concept is used in both contract and property law. The term can refer to either the act of transfer or the rights /property/benefits being transferred.
An assignment is a legal term used in the context of the law of contract and of property. In both instances, assignment is the process whereby a person, the assignor, transfers rights or benefits to another, the assignee. An assignment may not transfer a duty, burden or detriment without the express agreement of the assignee.
Definitions of Assignment and Transfer. Assignment: Assignment is used in real estate law and contracts law. It covers the transfer of rights held by the assignor to the assignee. Transfer: To remove or convey from one person or place to someone or somewhere else.
The Law of Property Act creates the ability to legally assign a debt or any other chose in action where the debtor, trustee or other relevant person is notified in writing. If the assignment complied with the formalities in the Act it is a legal assignment, otherwise it will be an equitable assignment.
Assignment is a legal definition that refers to the transfer of rights, property, or other benefits between two parties. The party allocating the rights is known as the “assignor”, while the one receiving them is called the “assignee”.