Venture capitalist Bijan Sabet has launched a discussion
about getting rid of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts -- and I'm glad. In fact, Sabet's firm, Spark Capital
, has decided to stop requiring that its portfolio companies ask employees to sign non-compete agreements.
A lot of people say that non-competes aren't a big deal. If you are one of those people, why not read this piece:
'SANgate CEO ruled out of job by EMC non-compete lawsuit.' Non-competes are not enforceable in California, Connecticut, and many other states ... but they most definitely are
Other people say that it is impossible to measure what the impact of enforceable non-competes is. And that's sort of true: it's hard to tell how many Raytheon, Analog Devices, EMC, or Biogen employees today have great ideas for start-ups ... or would be more productive working for a start-up ... but they can't do it
because they worry about being tangled up in litigation.
But there has been
some great data collection recently, by a Harvard Business School PhD candidate named Matt Marx. Marx and two colleagues looked at what happened after legislators in Michigan accidentally
made non-competes enforceable in 1985. Inventors were suddenly 34 to 51 percent less likely
to move from one company to another. And the "star" inventors were the least likely of all to move. (Marx also provides a history of the non-compete, which traces back to 1414.)
You can read an excellent Q&A with Marx here.
The full research paper is here (in PDF form).
Here's a cool data point: Marx himself was an engineer/executive at a Massachusetts speech-recognition company, Applied Language Technologies. While Marx wouldn't have been able to jump to another Massachusetts speech recognition company because of our state's enforceable non-compete agreements, he was able
to go work at a Silicon Valley speech rec company, because non-competes aren't enforceable there. He says:
At first I thought I wouldn't be able to take the job [in Silicon Valley] given the noncompete agreement I had signed in Boston, but I was nonetheless able to make the move because the California courts generally refuse to enforce such agreements. Ironically, when I returned to Boston a few years later for business school, the founder of the first company [Applied Language] invited me to do some consulting on the side while a student, but I wasn't able to because the Massachusetts courts would enforce the noncompete that the California company made me sign.
But if we want to change the non-compete environment in Massachusetts, we need more than just start-ups and VCs to agree that non-competes are a hindrance. We need the state legislature to change the law. That will require that big companies join in the crusade -- and in recent conversations I had with the CEO of Akamai and the president of RSA Security (now part of EMC), it struck me that they are very unlikely
to want to get rid of non-competes.
Labels: Akamai Technologies, Bijan Sabet, EMC, Harvard Business School, Matt Marx, non-compete agreements, RSA Security, Spark Capital