Companies, especially tech companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple, are very protective of their trade secrets and control of their inventions. Google, for instance, has floated the idea of internet balloons drifting over Africa to provide broadband access to rural areas and it has been testing the idea in California and New Zealand. Google has invented, or taken steps to advance, its own high-speed broadband internet, Google Fiber, and its own set of eyewear, Google Glass. But all that innovation requires secrecy to develop in its initial stages.
Secrecy shrouded the construction of the barge that is currently docked at Treasure Island in Northern California. After considerable speculation, Google finally explained that it is thinking about using the barge as an interactive space for people to learn about new technology. Even though Google has opened up about the purpose of the barge, using the barge to educate people about new technology has an element of secrecy in the very fact that those people are only able to learn about it while on a secluded, specially constructed, floating Google structure.
All that secrecy means Google had to have nondisclosure agreements with everyone from the Coast Guard inspectors to construction to Google employees. None of those people could admit to knowing anything about the project until after Google publicly discussed the project and even now there may still be information that cannot be discussed.
Non-competition Vs. Nondisclosure Agreements
Non-compete agreements are different from non-disclosure agreements (NDA), but serve a very similar purpose. Non-competition agreements are generally used with former employees and restrict the how, when and where that former employee can use the knowledge they gained from working with their employer in their own business activities. It prevents former employees from becoming immediate, competitive threats and from stealing clients. The agreements also have the effect of protecting a company’s trade secrets.
NDAs, or confidentiality agreements, can apply to anyone dealing with protected trade secrets and privileged information. They can be unilateral where the protected information is shared in one direction, like with Google and the Coast Guard inspectors. Or they can be bilateral, like with joint ventures, where companies or individuals share the privileged information back and forth, but with no one outside of the agreement. The agreements can be straight-forward or they can become quite complex setting out restrictions on how or when or where or to whom information may be used or shared.
Washington State courts recognize and enforce both non-competition and nondisclosure agreements. State contract law and trade secret law make violating a non-competition agreement or NDAs a breach of contract that can become an expensive lawsuit for the breaching party. This is primarily because a breach can lead to severe and costly consequences for the business. Disclosure of sensitive and privileged information can steal a business’ economic edge, costing them thousands of dollars or more.
Drafting and enforcing trade secret protection agreements can be vital to saving a company time, money, and market advantage; contact experienced Washington employment law attorneys for help.