A memorandum of understanding (MOU or MoU) is a formal agreement between two or more parties. Companies and organizations can use MOUs to establish official partnerships.
MOUs are not legally binding but they carry a degree of seriousness and mutual respect, stronger than a gentlemen’s agreement. Often, MOUs are the first steps towards a legal contract. In US law, a memorandum of understanding is synonymous with a letter of intent (LOI), which is a non-binding written agreement that implies a binding contract is to follow.
MOUs are popular in multinational international relations because, unlike treaties, they take a short time to ratify and can be kept confidential. MOUs may also be used to modify existing legal treaties.
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Here is an example of a MoU between the National Science Foundation and NASA.
Oil-for-Food is an international MoU.