What are the different clauses in an NDA?

Non-disclosure agreements, as we talked about in a previous blog post, are important tools for any company that shares confidential information with third parties.

Within a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), there can be different clauses about rights, relief and more. This post is meant to summarize some of the more “legalese” provisions that might appear in an NDA and why they matter.

Can a party assign their rights to a third party?

An assignment clause provides rules for whether a party is allowed to assign their rights or obligations under the NDA to a third party. There are situations where assignment could be helpful or harmful, depending on who is assigning. 

If a receiving party sells its assets to a third party, for example, and assigning its rights under an NDA to the buyer, the buyer may be a company that the disclosing party would not have wanted to share that confidential information. This situation could also arise in a change of control of the receiving party, so it is best practice to be careful whenever there is an assignment or change of control clause within an NDA.

Does choice of law matter?

Yes! There should be a clause within the NDA that chooses the laws of which state (or /province or country if outside the U.S.) will govern the agreement. This clause should probably also choose a proper venue or it may provide that the dispute resolution method will be arbitration instead of litigation. It is important to choose a reasonable jurisdiction to enforce the NDA, as well as one that is not too inconvenient or costly.

What is injunctive relief?

What happens when a receiving party discloses confidential information in violation of an NDA? In this case, the disclosing party can seek an injunction. An injunction is a court order for a party to do (or stop doing) something.

The party seeking the injunction must show that they have suffered or will suffer irreparable harm from the unauthorized use of their confidential information. “Irreparable harm” means the type of harm that cannot be cured through monetary compensation.

The cost of litigating an injunction can be significant, so some NDAs include a provision stipulating that the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information will cause irreparable harm. This does not necessarily mean that the judge will automatically grant an injunction, but it could make proving irreparable harm easier or improve the availability of emergency, short-term action by the court.

Who pays for the legal fees?

Similar to an injunction, the cost of seeking enforcement of an NDA can also be substantial. Therefore, it may be a good idea for the disclosing party to include a fee payment provision. Generally, this type of provision allows the prevailing party to recover its legal fees from the other party.

Without such a provision, a successful party may still suffer financial harm when paying the costs of their own legal fees, and in the face of the huge expense of enforcement, a party might be hesitant to enforce their rights at all.

Whether fees can be recovered in contract cases is a matter of state law, so choice of law is important!

What happens when a party is legally compelled to disclose information?

NDAs should have a provision that specifies what happens if the receiving party is compelled to disclose confidential information by law. For example, if the receiving party receives an order from a court or other governmental agency, or as part of the discovery process. Typically, these provisions require the receiving party to notify the disclosing party that such an order has been issued. Additionally, the receiving party should also be required to cooperate (within reason) with the disclosing party in acquiring a protective order.

A protective order allows the parties to keep confidential information protected from disclosure beyond the ordered disclosure to the court. This clause is important, especially with litigation, because either party can add documents to their court filings. These documents could then become generally accessible by the public, which would defeat the purpose of the NDA!

Strong non-disclosure agreements are essential tools for businesses to protect their commercially valuable information as well as the personal information of clients and employees. However, the strength of the agreement can hinge on the way key provisions are written.

Finding the best fit for each situation may take time, but the protection afforded by a well-drafted NDA is worth the time.

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