What Businesses Need to Know About Non-Compete and Trade Secrets Law

Seyfarth’s Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud, and Non-Competes Practice Group is pleased to provide the 2018-2019 edition of our one-stop 50 State Desktop Reference, which surveys the most-asked questions related to the use of restrictive covenants and intellectual capital protection in all 50 states, including the recent non-compete legislation passed in Massachusetts this August. For the company executive, in-house counsel, or HR professional, we hope this guide will provide a starting point to answer your questions about protecting your company’s most valuable and confidential assets.

To request a hard copy or a pdf of the 2018-2019 edition of the 50 State Desktop Reference, click the button below.

In Seyfarth’s fifth installment in its 2018 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Kate Perrelli, Erik Weibust, and Dawn Mertineit focused on Massachusetts non-compete and trade secrets reform. At long last, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a Non-Compete Reform Bill into law on August 10. The presenters focused on what businesses should understand about the impacts of the changes, what to expect next, and how to safeguard assets and maintain an advantage over competitors.

As a conclusion to this well-received webinar, we compiled a summary of takeaways:

  • Non-competes must be limited to one year, but can be extended to two if the employee breaches his or her fiduciary duty or steals company property.
  • Must be in writing and signed by both parties; at least 10 days’ notice must be provided to employees/candidates; and the right to counsel must be explicit in the agreement.
  • Garden leave is not required.  “Other mutually agreed-upon consideration” is adequate.  But what that means, and whether the court will even assess the adequacy of consideration, is left to the courts to determine.
  • Continued employment is no longer sufficient consideration.  Something more, that is “fair and reasonable” must be provided.  Again, what that means is left to the courts to determine.
  • Choice of law and venue requirements are likely unenforceable in other states and in federal court.  Nevertheless, comply with the law in case an employee files a declaratory judgment action in Massachusetts.
  • Bottom line:  Be clear in your agreements.  All the law really does is establish what must, may, and may not be included in private agreements.

Please join us for a one-hour CLE webinar on Thursday, August 16, 2018, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern / 12:00 p.m. Central / 10:00 a.m. Pacific.

On August 10, Governor Charlie Baker signed a Non-Compete Reform Bill into law. Although the bill largely codifies existing common law, there are some significant changes that companies with employees is Massachusetts should be aware of. Among other things, non-competes may not be enforced against certain types of employees; continued employment will no longer be sufficient consideration for existing employees; any employees subject to non-compete restrictions must be provided with “garden leave” (i.e., 50% of their base pay) during the restricted period, or “other mutually agreed upon consideration” (which is not defined); there are new notification requirements, and agreements with Massachusetts employees purportedly may not apply the laws of other states or mandate venue for lawsuits outside of Massachusetts.

As part of the same overarching economic development bill, Massachusetts has also now joined 48 other states in adopting the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which will also changes existing law (although without creating nearly as much confusion and uncertainty as the non-compete law).

Understanding the impact of these changes, and what to expect, will help your company safeguard its most valuable assets and maintain its advantage over competitors.  Please join Seyfarth Shaw’s Boston team for an informative webinar on what to expect when this law goes into effect on October 1, 2018.

Late last night, after close to a decade of “will they or won’t they” nail biters, the Massachusetts legislature finally passed a non-compete bill, just minutes before the end of the 2018 legislative session. (For a recap of the many twists and turns over the years, here is just a smattering of blog posts on the topic).

The new bill, which will become effective on October 1, 2018, if signed by Governor Baker, codifies certain aspects of existing common law, but makes some significant changes to non-compete jurisprudence in the Bay State that employers will need to be mindful of. Continue Reading At Long Last, Non-Compete Legislation: Massachusetts Finally Passes Non-Compete Bill After Nearly a Decade

In a classic example of bad facts creating bad law, a federal judge in Kentucky recently denied a motion to dismiss claims brought against attorneys who allegedly counseled employees to breach a non-compete agreement and assisted in setting up a competing business. In Pinnacle Surety Services, Inc. v. Manion Stigger, LLP, the plaintiff sued its former attorneys and their respective law firms, alleging among other things that the attorneys tortiously interfered with a contractual relationship and aided and abetted Pinnacle’s former employees’ breaches of fiduciary duty, by encouraging them to violate their non-compete agreements and helping them set up a competing surety bond company. Continue Reading Can Attorneys Be Liable For Directing Clients to Breach Non-Competes? One Federal Court Says Maybe

We reported yesterday that the attorneys generals of ten states are investigating several fast food franchisors for their use of so-called “no poach” provisions in their franchise agreements.  Well, less than twenty-four hours later, the New York Times has reported that seven fast food franchisors (mostly different ones than those who received the information demands discussed yesterday) entered into agreements with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to remove such clauses from their franchise agreements.  According to the New York Times:

Many types of franchise businesses impose the clauses, but they may be most prevalent in the restaurant industry. The fast-food sector, in particular, relies overwhelmingly on independently owned and operated franchise stores.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is quoted in the article as stating that his “goal is to eliminate these provisions in all fast-food contracts” in Washington State.  We will keep you posted on further developments.

The Attorneys General of ten states are investigating fast food franchisors for their alleged use of “no poach” provisions in their franchise agreements, according to a press release by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, and as reported by NPR.  In a July 9, 2018 letter, the Attorneys General for New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island requested information from eight fast food companies about their alleged use of such provisions.  The letter states that the Attorneys General “have learned that certain franchise agreements used in our States and the District of Columbia . . . may contain provisions that impact some employees’ ability to obtain higher paying or more attractive positions with a different franchisee.”  In other words, the agreements purportedly prohibit one franchisee of a particular brand from hiring employees of another franchisee of the same brand.   Continue Reading State Attorneys General Investigate Fast Food Franchisor “No Poach” Agreements

Marc McGovern, the mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts (home to many of the Commonwealth’s established and emerging pharmaceutical, biotech, and other life sciences companies), published an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe regarding the noncompete reform movement in Massachusetts (about which we have previously reported).  Unsurprisingly, given that Cambridge has been referred to as the “People’s Republic of Cambridge,” Mayor McGovern comes out strongly in favor of severe restrictions on the use of employee noncompete agreements, stating, among other things, that “noncompetes are unfair to employees.”   Among other things, Mayor McGovern proposes that noncompete agreements be banned outright, or at least severely limited; and if the latter, that employers be required to pay 100% of the employee’s salary during the restricted period (known as “garden leave” pay).  In his words: Continue Reading Mayor of the “People’s Republic of Cambridge” Steps Into The Massachusetts Noncompete Reform Fray

Earlier this month, the Texarkana Court of Appeals took the extraordinary measure of affirming an award of plaintiff attorney’s fees against a defendant for willful and malicious misappropriation of trade secrets in an amount that was ultimately more than 50 times higher than the plaintiff’s actual awarded damages.

Samuel D. Orbison worked for an oil and gas company, Ma-Tex Rope Company, Inc., for five years and signed an employment agreement containing a non-competition agreement, a non-disclosure agreement, and a non-solicitation agreement. During his tenure with Ma-Tex, Orbison became the coordinator of Ma-Tex’s recertification department until he resigned and began working for its competitor, American Pipe Inspections, Inc. (API), in the same position he had filled with Ma-Tex. When Ma-Tex learned that Orbison had begun soliciting recertification work from Ma-Tex’s customers, it sued Orbison and API for, among other claims, breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets. Continue Reading In Trade Secret Misappropriation Case, Texas Court of Appeals Affirms Attorney’s Fees Award Approaching $220,000 where Actual Damages Were $4,000

Democratic U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on April 26, 2018, entitled the Workforce Mobility Act (“WMA”). Although the text of the WMA is not yet available, according to various press releases, it would prohibit the use of covenants not to compete nationwide. In Senator Warren’s press release announcing her co-sponsorship of the bill, Senator Warren stated that “[t]hese clauses reduce worker bargaining power, stifle competition and innovation, and hurt Americans striving for better opportunities. I’m glad to join Senator Murphy to put an end to these anti-worker, anti-market agreements.”  Continue Reading Democratic U.S. Senators Seek to Abolish Non-Compete Agreements