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Business clients often confuse the above terms, each of which protect business owners from a different type of harm. I will summarize the three types of agreements below.
A covenant not-to-compete is an agreement whereby a party agrees not to compete against another party: 1) in a specific line of business; 2) for a definite period of time; 3) in a limited geographic area.
A non-compete agreement is usually found as part of a broader contract, such as an employment agreement or franchise agreement, and will take effect upon termination of the contract.
Maryland courts allow a covenant not-to-compete to be enforced provided it is “reasonable” in the activity it restricts, as well as in its geographic scope and duration. A typical non-compete looks something like the following:
Employee hereby agrees that for a period of one year following the date of termination of this Agreement for any reason, Employee shall be prohibited from acting, directly or indirectly, as an owner, manager, operator, consultant or employee of any business or business activity that is in the business of providing services similar to or competitive with Company.
A non-disclosure, or confidentiality, agreement (“NDA”), is an agreement whereby a party pledges not to disclose the confidential and proprietary information of another party. NDA’s are commonly used to protect confidential information not generally made available to the public such as trade secrets, customer lists, business and marketing plans and strategy, and financial information, so that such information does not fall into the hands of competitors or even the public at large. NDA’s can be found in many employment and independent contractor agreements, as well as agreements where businesses are performing due diligence on one another prior to some type of relationship commencing.
Unlike the situation where covenants not-to-compete must be reasonable in all areas, non-disclosure agreements will be enforced by Maryland courts unless the person or company that is alleged to have violated the NDA is able to show that it learned of the confidential information from an independent, outside source. Whatsmore, an NDA need not contain any geographic or time restrictions in order to be valid and enforceable.
A typical NDA will look like this:
Employee acknowledges that Company may, in the course of Employee’s employment, provide Employee access to Company’s trade secrets, customer lists, business and marketing plans, financial information, and other confidential information related to the business of Company, including access to Company’s Employment Manual (the “Manual”). Employee agrees to retain all such information as confidential and may not use such confidential information on his or her own behalf or disclose such confidential information to any third party during or at any time after the term of Employee’s employment.
A non-solicitation agreement is an agreement whereby a party pledges not to solicit the clients and customers of another party. Non-solicitation agreements are generally found in employment and independent contractor agreements, as well as vendor arrangements where one party is granted access to the clients list of another party.
Like an NDA, a non-solicitation agreement need not contain any geographic or time restrictions in order to be valid and enforceable in Maryland. A common form of non-solicitation agreement follows:
Employee hereby agrees that for a period of one year following the date of termination of this Agreement for any reason, Employee shall be prohibited from soliciting business from, or performing services for, or inducing or attempting to induce, any customer or client of Company, its subsidiaries or affiliates, to cease doing business with Company, or in any way interfering with the relationship between Company and any customer or client of Company.
Many business contracts will contain one or more of the above agreements. It is therefore important to be able to distinguish among them, and draft contracts that are specific to your business needs.
View the original blog on non-compete, non-disclosure, and non-solicitation agreements on MarylandLawBlogger.com.
Need an Attorney to help your Maryland or DC business? Contact Raymond McKenzie at 301-330-6790 or [email protected]