A perpetual (or even long-term) confidentiality obligation can kill employment NDAs
Consider the following all-too-common scenario: employee leaks valuable company information to a competitor and is fired. Company then sues the employee for breach of an employment NDA, which applies to “all proprietary information” that the employee received. The confidentiality obligation is evergreen.
Outcome? In a state where employer-mandated noncompete covenants are enforceable if reasonable, a US court earlier this year struck down this exact NDA as an unreasonable restraint of trade.
The court interpreted the definition of “Confidential Information” to capture the employee’s general knowledge and experience. The omission of any time-bound on the confidentiality obligation was particularly fatal. In fact, the court cited case precedent to the effect that even a fiveyear confidentiality term would be too long.
The court refused to blue-pencil or reform the NDA. At an instant, the employer’s confidentiality agreements with all its employees were rendered worthless.
The clear lesson of this and other cases is to ensure that the employee confidentiality obligation survives traditional restraint-of-trade scrutiny. But a time-bound obligation is not optimal for the employer ….
Sean Hogle is the San Francisco managing partner for the multinational firm Rooney Nimmo, the managing partner and founder of Sean Hogle PC (epiclaw.net), and the CEO and founder of Redline (redline.net), an exclusive collaboration environment for lawyers. He practices in the areas of technology, intellectual property, and commercial law for venture clients worldwide. Sean spent part of his career as Assistant General Counsel at Sun Microsystems, responsible for Java platform licensing and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region as an expat in Tokyo. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent the positions of the author’s former employers, law firm or clients. Sean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.