Five years ago (my how time flies), I wrote about a risk facing those who seek to protect their trade secrets by use of a non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”). Several people asked me whether the passage of time brought new Texas case law or statutes that solved this problem. The answer is no.
Here is the conundrum. On the one hand, a party disclosing a trade secret pursuant to an NDA often desires to make the NDA confidentiality restriction go on forever. The goal in doing so is to avoid the risk of waiving trade secret protection upon expiration of the NDA. On the other hand, Texas law generally provides that when a contract has an indefinite term of existence either party to the contract may terminate the contract at will.
This is an important issue to Texas businesses. Based on the unscientific evidence of what I have seen in business transactions over the past few years, I believe many Texas businesses continue to use NDAs that perpetually restrict the disclosure of trade secrets. I suspect they do so without understanding the risk that the other party to the NDA could someday argue the NDA is terminable at will. If so, the recipient of the trade secret information would then be free to disclose the information to others.
I have not found any relevant Texas court opinions or statutes enacted since my post addressing this problem five years ago. I still believe Texas courts should permit perpetual enforcement of trade secret NDAs as a matter of public policy. However, until the law is settled, you can click this link to my “oldie but a goodie” discussion of strategies for choosing the term of NDAs.