Massachusetts Bills to Ban Noncompetes and Adopt UTSA in the New Legislative Session (2015-2016)

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IMG_0017Several bills concerning trade secrets and noncompetes were filed this week in the Massachusetts legislature.

On trade secrets side, the following bills were filed: H.2569 by Representatives Bradley Jones and Elizabeth Poirier; H.2157 by Representative Garrett Bradley; and S.334 by Senator Jason Lewis.

The following bills were filed on the noncompete side: H.2332 by Representative Lori Ehrlich and an identical bill in the senate (S.809) by Senator Will Brownsberger; H.730 by Representative Angelo Puppolo; H.2157 by Representative Garrett Bradley; H.709 by Representative Sheila Harrington; and S.334 by Senator Jason Lewis.

The bills (all of which are available through the above links) are summarized as follows:

The various trade secrets bills filed by Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Brad Jones, Elizabeth Poirer, and Garrett Bradley are all essentially last session’s version of the bill to adopt the Uniform Trade Secrets Act with some very minor (nonsubstantive) changes. As I explained here, this version the UTSA would substantially weaken Massachusetts trade secrets law. However, Steve Chow‘s version, which I worked on with Steve to address these concerns, was filed by Steve Chow as a Uniform Law Commissioner in the fall and remains up for consideration.

The noncompete bills all seek to ban noncompetes, albeit using different language. Representatives Harrington and Puppolo bills track California’s Business and Professions Code sections 16600 to 16602.5 (with a little restructuring). It is important to note that while they specifically exempt nondisclosure agreements, they could have the effect of banning nonsolicitation agreements. (That’s how the same language has been interpreted in California.)

The other approaches to banning noncompetes use similar language to that proposed last year by Governor Patrick (which I had helped to draft). The full language, which is set out in Senator Brownsberger’s and Representative Ehrlich’s bill, is reproduced below.

However, several aspects of this version are important to note. First, if passed, this bill would not apply to other types of restrictive covenants, such as nondisclosure agreements, nonsolicitation agreements, or no raid agreements. Nor does the bill apply retroactively; it prohibits only agreements entered into after the bill and passed and the law becomes effective. (Senator Jason Lew’s bill, while nearly identical, would apply retroactively, i.e., to existing agreements. Similarly, Representative Bradley’s bill, which uses some but not all of the same language, also applies retroactively; however, Representative Bradley’s bill could also be interpreted to ban all other restrictive covenants – not just noncompetes.)

As a side note, last legislative session, there was a fair amount of discussion about including language expressly permitting what has become referred to as a “springing noncompete.” The concept was that while noncompete agreements would be banned, a court may nevertheless prohibit the former employee from working for the new employer as a remedy for a breach of another restrictive covenant (e.g., a nondisclosure agreement or nonsolicitation agreement). Although not expressly provided for in the current bills, that relief may still be available, as the bill would ban only “agreements” and leaves unaffected a court’s broad equitable powers.

Given the completeness of the Brownsberger/Ehrlich bill (and my involvement with its drafting), I have provided its full text here.

An Act relative to the judicial enforcement of noncompetition agreements.

            Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

Chapter 149 of the General Laws of Massachusetts shall be amended by inserting the following as Section 19D:

Section 19D. Noncompetition Agreements

Any written or oral agreement arising out of an employment or independent contractor relationship that prohibits, impairs, restrains, restricts, or places any condition on a person’s ability to seek, engage in, or accept any type of employment or independent contractor work, for any period of time after an employment or independent contractor relationship has ended, shall, to that extent, be void and unenforceable. This section does not render void or unenforceable the remainder of the agreement containing the unenforceable noncompetition agreement, nor does it preclude the imposition by a court, through a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, permanent injunction, or otherwise, of a noncompetition restriction as a provisional or permanent remedy for a breach of another contractual obligation or violation of a statutory or common law duty. Nor shall this section affect (i) covenants not to solicit or hire employees or independent contractors of the employer; (ii) covenants not to solicit or transact business with customers, clients, or vendors of the employer; (iii) nondisclosure agreements; (iv) noncompetition agreements made in connection with the sale of a business or partnership or substantially all of the assets of a business, when the party restricted by the noncompetition agreement is an owner of, or partner with, at least a ten percent interest of the business who received significant consideration for the sale; (v) noncompetition agreements outside of an employment or independent contractor relationship; (vi) forfeiture agreements; or (vii) agreements by which an employee agrees to not reapply for employment to the same employer after termination of the employee.

This section shall apply to all contracts and agreements executed after the effective date of this act.

Trade Secrets Protection Act of 2014 Reported Out of Committee

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During the past few years, there have been several bipartisan efforts to amend the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (the “EEA”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1831-1839.

The most recent action by Congress occurred on December 11.

Background

The EEA had been enacted in 1996 to criminalize the misappropriation of trade secrets. It has two operative parts:  Section 1831(a) covering “economic espionage” (i.e., theft of trade to benefit a foreign power) and section 1832(a), covering “theft of trade secrets” (i.e., the theft of trade secrets to benefit someone other than the owner of the secrets).

In 2012 and 2013, the EEA was amended twice – both times to strengthen the protections afforded under the EEA.

On December 28, 2012, the Theft of Trade Secrets Clarification Act of 2012 (the “TTSCA”) expanded the scope of the EEA in response to US v. Aleynikov, 676 F.3d 71 (2nd Cir. 2012), by deleting the old language that covers only trade secrets “related to or included in a product that is produced for or placed in interstate or foreign commerce” and replacing it with language covering trade secrets “related to a product or serviced used in or intended for use in interstate or foreign commerce.”

On January 14, 2013, President Obama signed the Foreign and Economic Espionage Penalty Enhancement Act of 2012. In addition to requiring a review of sentencing guidelines, the Act increased fines for foreign espionage under section 1831.

Following those two amendments, there have been several bipartisan efforts to further amend the EEA to add a private right of action. (The EEA is predominantly a criminal statute, although the Act does permit the Attorney General to bring a civil cause of action.)

Latest Action

On September 17, a bill known as the Trade Secrets Protection Act of 2014 (the “TSPA”), was reported out of committee with several amendments from the version that was submitted to committee. The committee made amendments, which were just released on December 11. A highlighted version of the bill showing the additions is available here. (The original language of section f was deleted and is not reflected.)

If enacted, the TSPA would create a private right of action (very similar to that provided by the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”)); permit the civil ex parte seizure of relevant evidence and of the trade secrets, to prevent their further use or disclosure; permit such actions to be brought under a five-year statute of limitations; and requiring the Attorney General to issue an annual report on the international threat of trade secrets misappropriation. There is apparently a 57% chance of the TSPA being enacted.

Next step, House vote. Stay tuned.

A new proposed trade secrets bill in Massachusetts

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cropped-cimg27721.jpgIt’s that time of year again. With the elections behind us and the next legislative session coming soon, a new version of a proposed Uniform Trade Secrets Act has been filed in Massachusetts. (This version, filed on November 5, 2014, is available here.)

This one, like the earlier versions, was filed by Stephen Chow on behalf of the Massachusetts Board of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. (Steve has worked tirelessly on this project for many years.)

In my opinion, if adopted, this version would strengthen Massachusetts trade secrets law.

By way of background, in the last legislative session, I was asked by Senator Will Brownsberger, Representative Lori Ehrlich, and Jennifer Lawrence (not that one! – the Jennifer Lawrence who was spearheading Governor Patrick’s noncompete/trade secrets reform efforts) to review and comment on the then-pending bill. In the course of doing so, I identified and raised three primary concerns:

  • It protected only trade secret owners (not others with rights in the secrets such as licensees).
  • It required the trade secret owner to continue to protect the secrecy of the information even after the secret was stolen and regardless of whether the person/company that stole it had publicly disclosed it.
  • It potentially raised the pleading standards for filing a trade secrets claim.

(Additional explanations of these concerns are here.)

I expressed those same concerns during my testimony at the May 9, 2014 hearing before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

Following that hearing and in anticipation of filing the current bill, Stephen Chow approached me to discuss my concerns (those above, as well as several other less-important “tweaks”). After numerous discussions and drafts, we agreed on the language that Steve filed on November 5.

I am now quite comfortable that Steve’s current version will improve Massachusetts trade secrets law. Among other things, if adopted, it would allow treble damages and attorneys’ fees without the need to resort to G.L. c. 93A; it would expand the definition of what constitutes a trade secret under Massachusetts law; and it would reach an appropriate balance between the need to identify the purported trade secrets sought to be protected and the need to act quickly and limit disclosure (both in terms of what must be disclosed and the timing of that disclosure).

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m not dead yet,” says Massachusetts Noncompete and UTSA Reform

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cropped-cimg27721.jpgIn a surprising turn of events last week, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced that he was reintroducing legislation to modify Masschusetts noncompete law and to adopt a version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

The noncompete bill (H. 4401) is the noncompete language that I had drafted for Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Lori Ehrlich described here (which the Senate passed, but which ultimately died (see here)), together with the same version of the UTSA that has been kicking around for a while.

Governor Patrick’s introduction of the bill is outside of formal session (which ended July 31), so it is unclear what progress will be made at this point.

Massachusetts Noncompete and UTSA Bills Are Dead

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cropped-cimg27721.jpgWhile it was close this year, in the end, there was no legislative reform of either Massachusetts noncompete law or Massachusetts trade secrets law. I expect, however, that Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Lori Ehrlich, among others, will likely file new legislation in the next session. Stay tuned.

Update on Massachusetts Noncompete and Trade Secrets Bills

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cropped-cimg27721.jpgProgress in the Massachusetts State House:

On Tuesday, July 1, the latest version of the Massachusetts Noncompete Bill (the latest version of the bill that I had drafted for Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Lori Ehrlich) has passed the Massachusetts Senate by a vote of 32 to 7.

The bill codifies existing noncompete law with several significant changes:

(1) it bans the use of noncompetes for workers classified as nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act;

(2) it requires advance notice of any required noncompete – as well as consideration (beyond continued employment) for any noncompete required after commencement of employment;

(3) it establishes presumptions of reasonableness with respect to duration (6 months), geographic scope, and scope of restricted activities; and

(4) it precludes the court from reforming (i.e., narrowing) overly broad noncompetes, unless the aspect to be revised fits within the reasonableness presumptions (or objectively reasonable efforts were made to fit within the relevant presumption).

Simultaneously with the Senate’s action, the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies held a hearing on proposed changes (up to and including a ban on noncompetes) to Massachusetts noncompete law. Many people testified about their experiences, predominately individuals testifying about their experiences with noncompetes, though also testimony from business owners and some venture capitalists also favoring a ban. Of course, Matt Marx also testified about his research suggesting that noncompetes are bad for the economy. I testified as well, though, as in the past, not as an advocate of any position, but rather, to explain the rationale for and impact of the various proposed changes. My testimony covered the changes in the latest version of the noncompete bill as well as suggested changes to the draft UTSA.

The deadline for the resolution of this issue is July 31.

Stay tuned!

 

Hearing on Governor Patrick’s Economic Development Bill (including MA UTSA and Noncompete Ban)

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cropped-cimg27721.jpgTomorrow – Thursday, May 29 at 1:00 PM in room A-1 – the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies will be holding a public hearing on Governor Patrick’s economic development bill (H.4045). For those of you following this, that is the bill that would adopt a version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act and ban noncompetes in Massachusetts. See here.

I will be there to testify about, among other things, the language of the bill and its potential ramifications.

Hope to see you there. But, for those who don’t attend, I will be let you know what happens.

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