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.

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.

Massachusetts Noncompete Ban and Modified Version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act Reported Out of Committee

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cropped-cimg27721.jpgOn April 29, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development favorably reported out a bill (available here) very close to Governor Patrick’s proposed adoption of a version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) coupled with a ban on noncompetes in Massachusetts. Governor Patrick’s bill is available in whole here or relevant part here. (See What to do if noncompetes are eliminated in Massachusetts.)

Putting aside where you come out on the advisability of eliminating noncompetes (a political and economic decision that has staunch advocates on both sides), the proposed Massachusetts Trade Secrets Act (“MUTA”) is intended to enhance available trade secrets protections, given that they will be weakened by the elimination of noncompetes (one of the main tools currently used to protect them). (Note that it expressly leaves unaffected other restrictive covenants, including nonsolicitation agreements, no-raid/anti-piracy agreements, and nondisclosure agreements.)

The MTSA changes the UTSA in several respects, and, contrary to its intended purpose, may in fact create some additional hurdles to protecting trade secrets.

For example, the UTSA requires that reasonable measures to be taken to protect a trade secret; that makes sense given that the sine qua non of a trade secret is secrecy. However, as currently drafted, MTSA section 1(4)(ii) requires that reasonable measures be maintained even after the secret has been stolen. The result – in some cases – is that a person who steals a trade secret can potentially escape liability if the trade secret owner decides that it is no longer worth spending the money to protect a secret that the misappropriator has publicly disclosed (or even just stolen). In short, it potentially encourages very bad behavior and exposes trade secret owners to increased risk of harm.

Similarly, the same section (MTSA section 1(4)(ii)) permits only the “owners” of a trade secret to protect the secret. While that may seem innocuous, it’s not; it arguably means that licensees and other people who have purchased or otherwise acquired rights to use/protect the trade secrets would be left with nothing; it will kill the value of many trade secrets.

Section 5(b) requires that “averments of trade secrets and misappropriation thereof shall be stated with reasonable particularity in light of the circumstances of the case.” That language, like some other changes in the MTSA, is intended to address an issue that courts wrestle with (with increasing frequency) under the existing language of the UTSA, specifically, how clearly and how early someone claiming misappropriation must identify the trade secrets alleged to have been misappropriated. The problem with section 5(b) in particular is that it may be read to elevate the pleading standard to the point of making it impossible for some companies to protect their secrets.

With regard to the language of the noncompete ban (section 11), while section 2(a) (like the UTSA) permits injunctions, the bill leaves unaddressed whether it permits or precludes a court from issuing injunctive relief essentially in the nature of a noncompete as a remedy in the event of a breach of the other restrictive covenants. In other words, may a court issue an injunction prohibiting someone from continuing to work at a competitor when they have demonstrated themselves untrustworthy, by, for example, breaching a nonsolicitation covenant?

The Governor’s version of the bill is in a separate committee and it remains to be seen how that will be handled. Afterward, whatever bills survive will still need to pass the house and the senate before heading to the Governor.

The deadline is July 31. Stay tuned!

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