NNN vs. NDA Agreements in China: Understanding the Key Differences

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When dealing with business transactions and partnerships, protecting confidential information is crucial. In China, this is often done through two types of agreements: Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Non-Use, Non-Disclosure, Non-Circumvention (NNN) Agreements. Although these agreements share similarities, they have distinct applications and provide different levels of protection.


Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

An NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, is a contract in which specific information, material, or knowledge is designated as confidential, and the involved parties are legally obligated not to divulge it. The NDA forms a legally binding contract designed to establish a confidential relationship between the parties involved.

The primary purpose of an NDA is to allow parties to share proprietary information with the peace of mind that it will not be revealed to outside entities. This is particularly important when one party has a business strategy, invention, or idea that they need to disclose to the other party for the relationship to move forward but want to prevent this information from falling into the wrong hands.


Non-Use, Non-Disclosure, Non-Circumvention (NNN) Agreements

In contrast to NDAs, an NNN agreement provides more comprehensive protection. In addition to the non-disclosure clause similar to that found in NDAs, it includes two other key components: non-use and non-circumvention.

  1. Non-Use: This provision prevents the receiving party from using the disclosed information for their own benefit. This typically applies to business ideas, processes, or intellectual property rights.
  2. Non-Circumvention: This provision prohibits a provider from circumventing the client and directly reaching the client’s customers. For instance, if a manufacturer learns of a client’s customer list, they are prohibited from bypassing the client and selling directly to those customers.
  3. Non-Competition: Another component of the NNN agreement is a non-competition provision, which states that the provider may not become a competitor in the client’s market. This provision protects the client’s business from being undercut by its own partners.


NNN vs. NDA: The China Perspective

In the context of China, NNN agreements are usually more suitable than NDAs for foreign businesses operating in the country. This is due to several reasons:

  1. Comprehensive Protection: NDAs primarily focus on keeping information secret. However, in China’s highly competitive and fast-paced business environment, this level of protection may not be enough. The NNN agreement provides broader safeguards against misuse of information, circumvention, and competition.
  2. Localization: Chinese laws and courts tend to favor contracts that are specifically tailored to the Chinese context. NNN agreements are more commonly used in China, and courts are more familiar with them than with NDAs.
  3. Enforceability: In some cases, Chinese courts have found it difficult to enforce NDAs, particularly those that have been poorly translated or are based on legal templates from other countries. On the other hand, well-drafted NNN agreements are generally more enforceable in China.



In conclusion, while NDAs and NNN agreements both serve to protect confidential information, they offer different levels and types of protection. For foreign companies doing business in China, it’s crucial to understand these differences and to utilize the agreement that offers the most suitable protection for their specific circumstances.


FAQ: NNN vs. NDA Agreements in China

1. What is an NDA?

An NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, is a legal contract that specifies certain information as confidential, legally obligating the involved parties not to divulge it. The primary purpose of an NDA is to keep specific information private.


2. What is an NNN Agreement?

An NNN Agreement, or Non-Use, Non-Disclosure, Non-Circumvention Agreement, is a contract that goes beyond just keeping certain information confidential. It prohibits a provider from circumventing the client to reach the client’s customers (non-circumvention) directly and restricts the provider from becoming a competitor in the client’s market (non-competition).


3. What’s the difference between an NDA and NNN Agreement?

While both agreements aim to protect confidential information, an NDA focuses on preventing the disclosure of this information. On the other hand, an NNN Agreement not only prevents disclosure but also prohibits the misuse of the information (non-use), protects against the provider bypassing the client to reach its customers (non-circumvention), and restricts the provider from becoming a competitor (non-competition).


4. Why are NNN Agreements more common than NDAs in China?

NNN Agreements are more commonly used in China as they offer comprehensive protection suitable for the country’s highly competitive and fast-paced business environment. They are specifically tailored to the Chinese context, making them more enforceable under local laws and courts.


5. Can I use an NDA instead of an NNN Agreement in China?

While it is possible to use an NDA in China, it may not provide adequate protection due to the complex business environment. It’s crucial for foreign companies operating in China to consider an NNN agreement that covers non-disclosure, non-use, non-circumvention, and non-competition to fully protect their interests.


Contact us if you need legal help in China, like drafting contracts that follow Chinese law, background investigation of Chinese companies, protecting patents, trademarks, and verification of contracts to the law in China, etc.

If you require our assistance or have further questions about our services, please do not hesitate to contact our Customer Relationship Manager, Jan Erik Christensen, at janerik@ncbhub.com. We look forward to hearing from you and helping your business succeed in China.