There’s never just one of anything. In contract law, this is especially true, and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are the perfect example of this. NDAs are contracts used by individuals and businesses to share private information safely. They legally bind individuals to share information with promises of confidentiality, save for a few exceptions. These can be shared with new and current employees, business partners, clients, and more. Anyone who might need to know a trade secret, a patent, or some other invention, should sign an NDA. But there are many types of NDAs, so you have to know which one is right for you.
The Three Tiers of NDAs
The different types of NDAs are broken down into tiers. At the top, there are three types, unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral NDAs. The rest of the specific NDA types fall under these three categories. Most are based on who has to sign the NDA. Not all NDAs are created equally, and they can only demand so much secrecy from strangers when compared to their employees.
To be a unilateral NDA, the NDA has to be one-way. This means that the business or individual is asking you to keep a secret, but isn’t keeping anything secret for you. Sometimes this happens because there is nothing that one side needs the other to keep private during their business arrangements. Sometimes it can also be because a business wants to release or use information from a case study and the NDA has to be one way to use information from it.
It’s incredibly common for businesses to require employees to sign NDAs before they can start work. It’s common for businesses to have the intellectual property (IP) that they need to operate their business that also they don’t want their competitors to have. IP that would necessitate an employer-employee NDA contains:
- Trade secrets
- Business and development plans
- Pricing data
- Supply sources
- Operation plans
- Merchandising systems
- Technical information such as projections and inventions
- Stockholder information
If you need to hire temporary contractors for a short-term project or to temporarily fill a spot, you’ll need an NDA. You can’t use the same unilateral NDA for employees as contractors because contractors aren’t your employees. They can be working with other companies while working with you. These other companies may be your competitors, or related to your competitors, so you need to have legal contracts designed for their situation.
When someone invents a patent or a prototype, they need NDAs to keep people from stealing their ideas.
- Business Information: This includes the inventor’s financials, information on any vendors they use, the cost to develop the prototype, the cost to reproduce the prototype, and anything about the methods of conducting.
- Customer Information: The names and contact information of any of the inventor’s customers.
- Intellectual Property: This pertains to all parts of a prototype, including test data, test results, tools and services used in production, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and unreleased marketing materials.
- Service Information: All data relating to the inventor’s products and services that don’t count as IP.
- Accounting Information: This includes balance sheets, company liability information, insurance coverage, expense reporting, profit, and loss reporting.
When you are selling a product directly to a buyer, you want to make sure that the buyer doesn’t reverse-engineer your product or give any important details to a competitor. A seller-buyer NDA will protect you by limiting one’s ability to share information on:
- Business operations: This is the seller’s financial and internal information.
- Intellectual property: IP in this instance is information relating to the seller’s research and development, and anything else having to do with their proprietary rights.
- Production process: This includes all the processes used in the creation, manufacturing, and production of the seller’s process and services.
- Computer technology: This includes all the technical and scientific information about any process or machine used by the seller.
These are also known as mutual or two-way NDAs, where both parties require the other to maintain a level of confidentiality. This is common in ongoing partnerships, specifically of the manufacturing kind. If a business needs a manufacturer to make their products and the manufacturer has a production process they want to keep private, a bilateral NDA is perfect for them. They’re also perfect for corporate takeovers, joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions.
NDAs of this type include more than two parties. It doesn’t matter if it’s one, two, or all of the parties sharing confidential information, once there are more than two, it becomes a multilateral NDA. Many of the NDA types under unilateral agreements can be multilateral as long as only one party is sharing confidential information. If not, then these NDAs will most resemble bilateral NDAs where there are mutual promises and agreements to secrecy.
Contact Us for Help With All Types of NDAs
Our corporate law attorney has the experience needed to write any of your NDAs. Whether they’re with employees, buyers, sellers, or partners, we have the experience to make what you need. If you need someone to review an NDA that’s been given to your business or employees, we can review it to ensure you can realistically follow it. Contact our team today.