Can You Keep a Secret? Banning Noncompetes Does Not Increase Trade Secret Litigation


As bans on noncompete agreements (NCAs) become more frequent, commentators are increasingly concerned that costly trade secret litigation will rise. The logic underlying this claim is that bans on NCAs will spur worker mobility, resulting in more secret sharing, and thus opportunities for trade secret litigation. We test this claim leveraging the many state-level NCA bans for high- and low-wage workers, alongside data from Westlaw and the Courthouse News Service on trade secret filings. We find that the number of trade secret claims filed falls in the long run after NCAs are banned, even as mobility rises. This long-term drop in the number of filed trade secret claims is not driven by a decline in dual NCA and trade secret filings. It is also not driven by a decline in reliance on trade secrecy by firms. Instead, it appears firms rely more on trade secrets after NCAs are banned. Finally, we find that endorsing the inevitable disclosure doctrine causes a rise in both NCA and trade secret claims. Taken in sum, this evidence suggests that NCA and trade secret litigation are complements, and not substitute approaches to protecting valuable firm knowledge.

Read at SSRN.