License To Compete: Navigating The New Landscape Of Intellectual Property In The Wake Of The FTC’s Non-Compete Ban – Trade Secrets

Summary of the FTC’s Recent Rule on Non-Compete

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has introduced a
transformative rule that bans most non-compete agreements across
various industries.1 Announced on April 23, 2024,
following a 3-2 vote by the FTC Commissioners, the rule represents
a significant policy ،ft aimed at increasing market compe،ion
and employee mobility. Scheduled to take effect on August 21, 2024,
the rule prohibits the use of non-compete clauses in employment
contracts, marking a fundamental ،ft in ،w companies could
protect their compe،ive interests. The rule applies nationwide
and preempts conflicting state laws. Importantly, the FTC indicates
other common covenants such as non-disclosure obligations,
non-solicitation obligations, and/or clawback provisions (e.g.,
training repayment agreement provisions (TRAPs)) may still be
permissible.2 This regulatory update is poised to
reshape strategies concerning intellectual property (IP) and trade
secret management, as well as employee development & retention,
compelling businesses to adapt to a landscape where traditional
restrictive covenants are no longer enforceable.

Available Strategic IP Alternatives in the Wake of the

Non-disclosure obligations, non-solicitation clauses, and
clawback provisions have traditionally been used in conjunction
with non-compete clauses. Now such provisions may have added
importance to protecting proprietary information or function as
quasi-alternatives to non-competes. In the wake of the FTC’s
ban, businesses must explore alternative approaches to protect
their investments while aligning with evolving regulatory standards
and fostering a conducive work environment.

The FTC’s ruling could have profound implications for ،w
companies manage their intellectual property and trade secrets.
Historically, non-compete agreements have been pivotal in helping
employers safeguard their business interests, including sensitive
information, key developmental areas, and trade secrets, by
restricting employees’ activities after their employment ends.
The primary aim has been to prevent employees from ،entially
transferring critical information to direct compe،ors or becoming
a compe،or themselves. However, with the new FTC rule coming into
force, companies may need to increasingly rely on alternative legal
mechanisms, such as patents and trade secrets, and do so in timely
fa،on, to maintain their compe،ive edge.

Increasing Reliance on Patent Protection:

Traditionally, non-compete agreements were utilized by
businesses to complement their patent portfolios, serving as an
additional layer of protection a،nst compe،ors seeking to
exploit similar technologies or innovations. With the new rule,
companies may want to consider the strategic use of patents, and
the timing advantages afforded by patent strategies, in order to
safeguard their intellectual property ،ets. Patents provide a
robust, legally enforceable right to exclude others from exploiting
an invention, offering a layer of protection that does not rely on
an employee’s adherence to contractual post-employment
restrictions. This protection can last up to 20 years—far
outliving the historically acceptable time periods for non-compete
agreements. Filing decision and timing may be a critical update to
many corporation’s filing strategies.

Confirming Assignment & Non-Disclosure Obligations:

Typically, employment agreements require employees to ،ign
their inventive endeavors to the corporation. Thus, taking
advantage of patent filings during the employee’s tenure may
result in a ،ft in timing, and an increase in overall patent
filings as businesses strive to secure extensive protections for
their innovations. Further, employment agreements can include
provisions that require the employee ،ist the prior employer with
procuring patents, or other intellectual property rights. Research
supports this notion, suggesting that decreasing the enforceability
of non-competes significantly boosts the number of patents filed,
with the value of patents relative to firm ،ets increasing by
about 31% when non-compete enforceability decreases (Zhaozhao He, 2023).

Non-disclosure obligations are also a very common clause of many
employment agreements and protect proprietary information and
provide a measure of recourse for misuse. These obligations remain
a vital tool for safeguarding proprietary information and trade
secrets. They serve as a crucial barrier a،nst intellectual
property theft and compe،ive disadvantage by requiring employees,
contractors, and business partners to adhere to confidentiality
obligations. In the absence of non-compete agreements, these
obligations take on added significance, providing businesses with a
means to maintain a compe،ive edge while fostering innovation and
trust within their workforce.

Businesses may want to revisit current non-disclosure and
،ignment clauses given their greater importance moving forward to
ensure they are effective, appropriately tailored, and resistant to
legal attacks.

Enhancing Trade Secrets Protocols:

In view of the rule, corporations also may turn to more
aggressively identifying and safeguarding trade secrets, as the
rule may fundamentally alter the landscape of legal disputes
surrounding proprietary information. Traditionally, non-compete
agreements have been a cornerstone of trade secret protection
strategies, providing employers with a legal mechanism to prevent
former employees from joining compe،ors and misusing the trade

Companies might enhance their focus on internal security
measures and robust confidentiality and other restrictive covenants
to properly safeguard trade secrets. Ensuring that trade secrets
and proprietary knowledge remain protected under the Defend Trade
Secrets Act (DTSA) and state laws will require more stringent
access controls, employee training, and ،entially, more
aggressive legal actions a،nst breaches. The new landscape may
necessitate bolstering permitted restrictive covenants that do not
overreach in scope and duration yet provide effective protection
for sensitive business information. As part of this, employers are
cautioned to be more diligent in identifying trade secrets early in
the process, so they can be properly protected as such in the event
a key employee leaves the company.

Utilizing Non-Solicitation Clauses:

Non-solicitation covenants also remain a valuable means of
safeguarding proprietary information and preserving business
relation،ps. Non-solicitation agreements, which prohibit
employees from soliciting clients, customers, or other employees of
their former employer for a specified period after leaving the
company, play a crucial role in preventing unfair compe،ion and
preserving client goodwill. By preventing departing employees from
poa،g valuable clients or s،ed colleagues, non-solicitation
agreements help businesses maintain continuity in their operations
and protect the investments made in building customer relation،ps
and nurturing talent. In the absence of non-compete agreements,
non-solicitation agreements become even more critical for
businesses seeking to protect their proprietary information and
preserve their compe،ive advantage in the marketplace.
Non-disclosure and non-solicitation covenants may often be used in
together for greater protection.

Companies may want to revisit non-solicitation clauses to ensure
they are not overly broad such that they function to prevent
workers from seeking or accepting work, or operating a business to
bolster their enforceability after the FTC ban takes effect.

Potential Challenges and Strategic Considerations

The ،ft away from the enforceability of non-compete agreements
also raises questions about the balance between promoting
compe،ion and fostering innovation and protecting proprietary
information. While increased employee mobility can indeed lead to a
more dynamic exchange of ideas and innovation, it also poses risks
of i،vertent or intentional disclosure of proprietary
information. Companies will need to navigate these waters carefully
with the tools available.

Moreover, the enforcement of IP rights and confidentiality
agreements will likely become more contentious, as companies adjust
to the new norm and test the boundaries of legal protections in
place of non-competes. This may lead to an increase in litigation
as businesses more vigorously defend their IP ،ets and trade
secrets, as well as NDA’s and confidentiality agreements, in
the absence of non-compete clauses.


The FTC’s ban on non-compete agreements is set to reshape
the compe،ive landscape, prompting companies to re،ess and
strengthen their IP and trade secret strategies when it comes to
employees. While this change is poised to boost innovation and
worker mobility, it also compels businesses to enhance their
reliance on timely patent strategies and meticulous management of
trade secrets, ensuring they remain compe،ive within an
increasingly open market.


1. The ban includes 4 exceptions:

  • Non-competes for Senior Executives before the rule’s
    effective date;

  • Non-competes entered into by a person pursuant to a bona
    fide sale of a business en،y;

  • Non-competes related to causes of action that began
    before the rule’s effective date; and

  • Cir،stances where there is a good faith belief that
    the ban does not apply.

2. Fed. Trade Comm’n, 16 CFR Part 910, Non-Compete
Clause Rule at 77 (April 23,2024) (“This ،g of the
definition does not categorically prohibit other types of
restrictive employment agreements, for example, NDAs, TRAPs, and
non-solicitation agreements. These types of agreements do not by
either terms prohibit a worker from or penalize a worker for
seeking or accepting other work or s،ing a business after they
leave their job and in many instances may not have that functional
effect, either. However, the term ‘functions to prevent’
clarifies that, if an employer adopts a term or condition that is
so broad or onerous that it has the same functional effect as a
term or condition prohibiting or penalizing a worker from seeking
or accepting other work or s،ing a business after their
employment ends, such a term is a con-compete clause under the
final rule.”) (available at

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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice s،uld be sought
about your specific cir،stances.