Are NDAs legally binding in Hong Kong? A guide for employers


Jul 20, 2023

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are an integral aspect of business in Hong Kong, especially as the city continues to flourish as a global business hub. They serve as a layer of protection, safeguarding a company's sensitive data, trade secrets, and proprietary information. However, an NDA's effectiveness depends heavily on its enforceability. The complexity of Hong Kong's legal framework and the city’s constant evolution present unique challenges, reinforcing the importance of correctly drafting and implementing these agreements.

What is an NDA?

A non-disclosure agreement (NDA), also referred to as a confidentiality agreement in Hong Kong, is a legally binding contract that establishes a confidential relationship between parties. It stipulates that certain information shared between the parties should not be disclosed to others. In the context of Hong Kong's complex and dynamic legal environment, NDAs are pivotal for maintaining a competitive edge, protecting innovative ideas, and preserving key business relationships. Enforcing an NDA in Hong Kong, however, requires clear terms, appropriate scope, and meticulous drafting to ensure it meets the region's specific legal criteria.

Are NDAs enforceable in Hong Kong?

Yes, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are enforceable in Hong Kong. However, the enforceability depends largely on the construction of the NDA. Here are some factors that influence their enforceability:

  • Clarity: The terms of the NDA must be clear and unambiguous. Vague language or broadly defined terms can jeopardize enforceability.
  • Reasonableness: The NDA should not be overly restrictive in terms of duration and scope. Unreasonable restrictions may not be enforceable.
  • Confidential information: The information to be protected should be explicitly defined and identifiable as confidential.
  • Protection of legitimate business interests: The NDA should aim to protect legitimate business interests, such as trade secrets or proprietary information, and not stifle competition.

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5 Things You Need to Know About NDAs in Hong Kong

  1. Different types of NDAs: In Hong Kong, there are typically two types of NDAs—unilateral (where only one party discloses confidential information) and mutual (where both parties share confidential information).
  2. Clear identification of parties: Accurate identification of the parties involved in the NDA is essential. This is especially important when dealing with subsidiaries or associated companies.
  3. Defining confidential information: It’s crucial to clearly define what constitutes confidential information. This might include trade secrets, business strategies, customer databases, etc.
  4. Obligations and restrictions: The NDA should clearly set out the obligations and restrictions of the party receiving the confidential information.
  5. Consequences of breach: The NDA should stipulate the consequences of a breach, such as damages, injunction, or specific performance. Note that Hong Kong courts often lean towards granting damages over enforcing an injunction.

When would an employee or contractor sign an NDA?

An employee or contractor would generally sign a non-disclosure agreement in Hong Kong under the following circumstances:

  • At the beginning of employment or engagement: NDAs are usually signed when a new employee joins the company or when a contractor is engaged for a project. The objective is to protect the company's proprietary information that the individual will have access to in their role.
  • During a project or task: If an employee or contractor is assigned a specific project or task involving access to sensitive information, they might be asked to sign an NDA. This can occur even if they had signed a broader NDA at the start of their employment or engagement.
  • At the end of the employment or contract: Sometimes, an employee or contractor may be asked to sign an NDA when their employment or contract is ending, especially if they've had access to key strategic information. The NDA can serve as a reminder of their obligations not to disclose confidential information after their departure.
  • During mergers, acquisitions, or joint ventures: Employees or contractors involved in high-level corporate activities such as mergers, acquisitions, or joint ventures may need to sign an NDA due to the highly confidential nature of such transactions.

Regardless of when the NDA is signed, it should always be read and understood by both parties before signing.

Frequently asked questions about NDAs in Hong Kong

Are NDAs enforceable in Hong Kong?

Yes, NDAs are enforceable in Hong Kong as long as they are reasonably drafted and meet the requirements of contract law. An overly broad or unfair NDA may not be enforceable, so it's crucial to ensure that the terms of the NDA are balanced and necessary to protect your legitimate business interests.

Are NDAs enforceable overseas?

NDAs are generally enforceable overseas, but the enforcement depends on the legal system of the country where enforcement is sought. If you anticipate needing to enforce an NDA overseas, it's advisable to seek local legal advice in the relevant jurisdiction.

What information can be covered by an NDA?

An NDA in Hong Kong can cover a wide range of information including trade secrets, know-how, intellectual property rights, business plans, pricing, customer data, and other proprietary information that is confidential and valuable to a business.

When should you use an NDA?

You should use an NDA whenever your business is sharing sensitive or confidential information with another party such as an employee, contractor, business partner, or investor. An NDA helps to protect your business by legally preventing the other party from disclosing or misusing your confidential information.

Is an NDA the same as a confidentiality agreement?

Yes, an NDA is essentially the same as a confidentiality agreement. Both are legally binding documents designed to protect confidential and proprietary information from unauthorized disclosure.

Is an NDA the same as a non-compete agreement?

No, an NDA is not the same as a non-compete agreement. While an NDA focuses on preventing the disclosure of confidential information, a non-compete agreement restricts an individual from competing with the business during and after their association with the company, often within a specific geographical area and for a set period of time.

Benefits of confidentiality in Hong Kong

The benefits of confidentiality in Hong Kong include protecting a company's competitive edge by safeguarding its unique knowledge, methods, strategies, and other confidential business information. It also fosters a culture of trust and integrity among team members and stakeholders.

What happens if an NDA is breached?

In Hong Kong, if an NDA is breached, the aggrieved party can seek remedies including damages, an injunction to stop further breaches, and, in some cases, specific performance. Depending on the terms of the NDA, arbitration might also be stipulated as the dispute resolution method.

What should you consider while drafting an NDA in Hong Kong?

While drafting an NDA in Hong Kong, consider defining the confidential information clearly, specifying the obligations of the recipient, stating the exclusions from confidential treatment, determining the terms of the agreement, and defining the governing law and dispute resolution method. Each NDA should be tailored to the specific needs of the business relationship and meet the requirements of Hong Kong law.

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What should be included in the “terms of this agreement” section of an NDA?

The “terms of this agreement” section of an NDA should outline the obligations of both parties, the length of time the NDA is in effect, what constitutes a breach of this agreement, the consequences for breaching the agreement, and the governing law and jurisdiction for any disputes that arise.

How is “confidential information” defined in an NDA?

In an NDA, “confidential information” refers to the data or information that the disclosing party wants to protect. This can include trade secrets, business plans, customer data, and other proprietary information. The NDA should explicitly define what constitutes such information to avoid any ambiguity.

What is the role of an “authorized representative” in an NDA?

An “authorized representative” is an individual who has the legal authority to sign the NDA on behalf of the party they represent. This could be a director, CEO, or another high-ranking officer in the organization.

What are “covenants” in an NDA?

“Covenants” in an NDA refer to the promises made by the parties involved. These can include promises to keep the information confidential, to use it only for specified purposes, and not to disclose it to third parties without the explicit permission of the disclosing party.

What is the difference between a non-disclosure and a non-circumvention clause in an NDA?

A non-disclosure clause prohibits the recipient of the information from revealing the confidential details they have received. A non-circumvention clause prevents the recipient from bypassing the discloser and directly engaging with their clients, customers, or other business contacts.

What are the consequences of a breach of contract in an NDA?

If there is a breach of contract in an NDA, the party that has been wronged can take legal action. This could involve seeking damages for any losses incurred due to the breach, or potentially an injunction to prevent any further breaches. The NDA may also stipulate that the offending party is responsible for all legal fees resulting from the breach.

What is the “event of a breach” clause in an NDA?

The “event of a breach” clause in an NDA specifies the steps to be taken if one party fails to fulfill their obligations under the agreement. This typically includes remedies such as damages, injunctions, or specific performance, and may specify a requirement for notification of the breach to the affected party.

Can a real estate business benefit from an NDA?

Yes, a real estate business can greatly benefit from an NDA. Confidential information such as client lists, marketing strategies, pricing, and potential property deals can be protected by an NDA, preventing unauthorized sharing of this information which could damage the business.

Why should a discloser consider adding a “duty of confidentiality” clause to the NDA?

A “duty of confidentiality” clause reinforces the recipient's obligation to keep the information confidential and use it only for the agreed purposes. It emphasizes the importance of confidentiality obligations and can add an extra layer of protection for the discloser.

With Rippling, you can manage HR, IT, and Finance in one unified system—and automate your global compliance work. See Rippling.

Disclaimer: Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: July 24, 2023

The Author

Carissa Tham

A British Columbia-based tech content strategist and writer, Carissa has lived and worked in Singapore, Taiwan, and Canada. Carissa lends her unique global perspectives to growing Rippling’s brand in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.