China NNN Agreements

When our China lawyers are tasked with drafting a China NNN Agreement, they start by sending the client a tailored questionnaire. Then once they have the answers they draft the NNN Agreement in English (for the client) and in Chinese (the official version). Most of the time, our clients at that point take the NNN Agreement we have given them and send it on to their Chinese counter-party where from there the negotiating begins, or not.

But every once in a while our clients ask us all sorts of questions about why we drafted the NNN Agreement as we did. Because China NNN Agreements are so different from Western-style NDA Agreements, they are rightly puzzled by what we have done. See Why Your NDA is WORSE Than Nothing for China. Usually, we get these questions from in-house counsel for companies based in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Israel or Australia (all common law countries). This is because China-centric contracts just don’t line up with standard common law contracts and common law lawyers sometimes have a tough time getting their head around this. For common law countries, think 20 page contracts filled with all sorts of boilerplate. For civil law countries like China (and Thailand and Vietnam, think 8 page contracts with virtually no boilerplate.

The below are the sort of questions we typically get regarding our China NNN Agreements, along with our typical answers.

  1. Can we make this NNN agreement mutual? We do not recommend making this NNN agreement mutual. If your China counter-party wants to protect its confidential information or its IP, it should propose its own agreement and we will then review and advise if we think it’s okay for you to sign. More important is that we wrote your NNN Agreement to protect your interests and so many of its provisions will make little or no legal sense if invoked by the Chinese side. In our experience, mutual agreements essentially render the NNN unenforceable and this is not what we want. If you are doing cooperation and joint product development agreements, then you need a separate product development agreement that deals with all of the issues. A simple NNN Agreement is not appropriate for this type of complex commercial arrangement.
  2. Why does this NNN Agreement not contain a defined “purpose”? Would adding a defined purpose add or take anything away from the agreement? Anything you disclose to the Chinese side is covered under your NNN agreement and therefore a defined purpose is not necessary. The more specific we get regarding the purpose of the NNN, the more likely the agreement will be construed narrowly against you. For that reason, you do not want to put ANY information in the NNN Agreement itself that would suggest what is being covered.
  3. Why are you calling for disputes to be resolved in a Chinese court and not via arbitration, perhaps even in Hong Kong or Singapore? This NNN Agreement will be enforced in China. In China, arbitration is effective in situations limited to matters concerning money damages. In cases involving intellectual property and other intangible assets the Chinese court system is a more effective forum. We write our China NNN Agreements include many provisions that make the overall agreement provide maximum effectiveness within the Chinese court system. These provisions would be negated by applying it to a Chinese arbitration setting.
  4. Why does this NNN Agreement not contain any provisions making clear that we are not entering into a partnership or a Joint Venture with the Chinese side or any provisions making clear that this is the entire written agreement between the parties? This agreement does not create a partnership or a joint venture between you and the Chinese side and it is not necessary to state this in the NNN. It is a general principle of Chinese law that matters not specifically raised by the terms of the applicable document are not deemed to be inserted into the contract and inserting these common law boilerplate sort of provisions is disfavored in China, “Entire agreement” provisions are a common law concept that is both unnecessary and disfavored under Chinese law. Along that line, we do not base our China NNN Agreements on the concept of secrecy. Our NNN Agreements are instead based on contract principles which allow coverage for even “secrets” that have been revealed and thus are no longer technically secrets — unlike in the West. Though this agreement provides that prior disclosed confidential information is covered, the best way to protect yourself if you have already disclosed confidential information  is to identify in writing what prior information is confidential so that is also included in this agreement.
  5. Why is there no provision regarding how to give notice? Because it is not necessary to include a clause on notices for an NNN Agreement as these are meant to be used mostly just during the initial stages of discussions/negotiations. If you need to provide a notice to the Chinese side, we usually try to serve them at all addresses we can find, including its registered address which is already included in the NNN.

And there you have it.

Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog ( Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.