The Importance of NDAs

Discussing confidential information with stakeholders and employees is a normal part of business operations, which is why tools exist to help keep that information private. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are contracts that business owners and individuals employ to protect their intellectual property and trade secrets. They exist across all industries, protecting confidential information ranging from financial details to creative ideas. 

By understanding the importance of NDAs and using them effectively, business owners can mitigate damages from information leaks and establish clear expectations for their professional communications.

What Is an NDA?

A non-disclosure agreement, also known as a confidentiality agreement, is a legal document that outlines a confidential relationship between two parties. This means that one or both parties agree not to share certain information with others, including competitors and the press. 

NDAs can be relevant any time a business or individual works with information they want to protect, such as:

  • Financial details
  • Business processes
  • Client information
  • Intellectual property

NDAs allow business owners to freely discuss critical business ideas with vendors, clients, employees, and consultants while also keeping confidential information safe between the relevant parties. Because NDAs reference highly sensitive information, business owners typically seek support from a corporate law attorney to ensure that the contract meets their unique needs

What are some types of NDAs?

NDAs fall into two main groups—unilateral and mutual—based on who is obligated to protect the specified information. While NDAs always establish confidentiality, they affect each undersigned party differently depending on their category. 

Unilateral NDAs govern situations where only one party agrees to keep information classified. They’re relevant when one party is sharing their classified information with another party without reciprocation; only the party receiving the information is obligated to keep it private. For example, an employer may ask a consultant to sign a unilateral NDA to confirm that the consultant will keep proprietary processes and client lists secret. The employer would still be able to share that private information with other parties of its choosing, such as employees and business partners, but the consultant would have a legal obligation to keep it private. 

Mutual NDAs apply to scenarios where both parties agree to mutually protect one another’s proprietary information. They’re common for collaborative environments where both parties have information that they want to remain confidential within the business relationship. For example, when two companies are planning a merger, they may institute a mutual NDA to allow one another to assess financial information and confidential projects.

Elements of an NDA

NDAs vary greatly in scope, with some encompassing all non-public business details and others focusing on only specific subjects. To effectively define the bounds of each confidential relationship, NDAs typically include the following elements:


  • Names of the involved parties – NDAs clearly outline who is subject to the agreement and which parties are expected to keep information private.


  • What qualifies as confidential information – People may have their own ideas of what type of information is confidential. NDAs provide a clear definition of what they want the receiver to keep confidential.
  • The time frame of the agreement – NDAs typically have a timeline, meaning that the parties only have to maintain confidentiality until a certain deadline. Others may be indefinite or stipulate confidentiality until the end of the professional relationship.
  • Consequences of violating the agreement – By listing potential consequences in the document, both parties have a clear understanding of the correct response to a violation.
  • Specifications for returning confidential information – If one of the parties has access to confidential documents or proprietary products, the NDA may include procedures for returning or destroying them.

When to Use an NDA

Both businesses and private individuals can benefit from using NDAs. For businesses, NDAs provide protection during any situation where they exchange private records or share proprietary information with another party. Here are a few situations where an NDA may be relevant:

  • Hiring employees – Businesses may ask new employees and contractors to sign an NDA to confirm that client information and business processes stay within the team.
  • Pitching to investors – When making a pitch to potential investors, business leaders may share confidential details about company finances that they want to remain private.
  • Overseeing mergers – During mergers and acquisitions, businesses share some of their most private information. NDAs for mergers can apply to businesses and any intermediaries, such as brokers.
  • Working with vendors – Businesses use NDAs when sharing proprietary designs and schematics with vendors and manufacturers to prevent them from replicating their products.

For individuals, NDAs provide peace of mind and help them retain ownership over their intellectual property. Example scenarios include:

  • Personal interactions – High-profile celebrities like athletes and musicians may hire sports or music attorney firms to draft NDAs for people who they interact with, such as private staff or even friends, allowing them to live freely while protecting their privacy. 
  • Collaborations Creatives may use NDAs when collaborating with one another on professional projects, making it easy for them to share ideas without risking intellectual property theft.
  • Applying for patents – Inventors may hire a copyright infringement attorney to draft an NDA that protects their ideas or designs while going through the patent approval process.

What Are The Benefits of NDAs?

NDAs provide protection in any situation where confidential information is being discussed. Some of the main benefits of NDAs include:

  • Setting clear expectations – With an NDA, both parties have a shared understanding of what is and is not appropriate to discuss with outside entities. They establish firm boundaries that prevent anyone from accidentally revealing something confidential.
  • Encouraging collaboration – NDAs empower businesses to confidently collaborate and share information without worrying about details going public. This helps maintain healthy business relationships and establish long-term trust between the parties.
  • Facilitating recovery of damages – Because NDAs are legal contracts, they make it easier for a party to enforce consequences if the other shares private details. Well-written NDAs clarify what constitutes a violation, facilitating any legal proceedings.
  • Protecting proprietary ideas – Innovation allows companies to remain competitive and keep developing. By protecting trade secrets with an NDA, businesses can preserve their position within their industry and develop proprietary ideas safely.

NDA Constraints

Although NDAs can have a broad scope, they do have limitations. Many of these restrictions are outlined in the NDA itself; for example, parties can share confidential information once the NDA expires. Some NDAs contain exclusions regarding what information is covered, providing scenarios where it’s appropriate to share proprietary information. Although NDAs exist to help parties freely collaborate with one another, some employees or business partners may find NDAs to be intimidating, creating a negative professional environment.

If someone is concerned that confidential information poses a risk to the public, they may be able to legally disclose the information due to whistleblower laws. Whistleblowers have protection from legal backlash for breaking an NDA as long as they’re acting in the public interest. Court orders can also require people to share confidential information, even if they have an NDA.

Getting Started With NDAs

NDAs are one of the best resources business owners can use to ensure that confidential information stays just that—confidential. Because NDAs apply to so many business relationships, it’s important that business owners have a thorough understanding of what information they want to protect in different situations. 

By creating a thorough, customized document that outlines clear expectations for both parties, business owners can get ahead of miscommunications and establish healthy partnerships.


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