In Peerless Industries, Inc. v. Crimson AV, Llc., the Northern District of Illinois makes clear that while noncompete agreements may be valid and enforceable in Illinois, the terms of an agreement must nevertheless be reasonable.
Plaintiff Peerless Industries Inc. is an audio-visual mount equipment manufacturer that does business around the world. The plaintiff sells its products to distributors who then install them in stadiums, schools and airports, among other structures. In 2007, The plaintiff entered into a supply contract with Chinese manufacturer Sycamore Manufacturing Co., Ltd. The agreement included a noncompete provision, which provided that Sycamore would not make or distribute “Peerless Products”: those designed by the plaintiff or normally sold by the plaintiff under any of its trademarks. The agreement further prohibited Sycamore from selling a “similar product” – one that “in [the plaintiff’s] reasonable judgment, has substantially the same appearance as or reflects or contains any part of the design of any Peerless Product” – for the length of the agreement and one year thereafter.
The agreement terminated in March, 2010. The following May, Defendant Crimson AV, LLC incorporated in Illinois. According to the court, Sycamore pays the salaries of the defendant’s executives as well as their expenses. Defendant Vladimir Gleyzer, Crimson’s managing director, is a former Peerless employee. Later that summer, the plaintiff filed the present action, alleging that the defendants tortuously interfered with the plaintiff’s contract with Sycamore by purchasing “similar products” from Sycamore and offering them for sale on Crimson’s website. Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin the defendants from selling or offering to sell products received in breach of the supply agreement.
Following a hearing on the matter, the court denied the plaintiff’s injunction request, finding that the “similar products” provision of the supply agreement with Sycamore was overly broad and beyond that necessary to protect the plaintiff’s legitimate business interests. In Illinois, the court noted, a noncompete agreement is valid only to the extent that is reasonable. That is, the agreement’s terms must not: (1) be greater than necessary to protect the business; (2) be oppressive to the entity restricted; nor (3) injure the general public.
In this case, however, the agreement at issue barred Sycamore from selling certain equipment, even if the feature of the plaintiff’s product that appears in the similar product is not aesthetically or functionally significant to either the plaintiff’s product or the similar product. The agreement also applies even where it is unlikely that one product could not be distinguished from the other in the marketplace.
Despite this ruling, courts in many states, including Illinois, will uphold the validity of a noncompete agreement provided that it is reasonable in its limitation of time and geography. What is “reasonable,” of course, depends on the court and the unique circumstances of a particular case.
Noncompete agreements often raise complex issues for both parties. At DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle, our Chicago business attorneys represent individuals and businesses in noncompete agreement litigation. We are pleased to assist clients throughout the Chicagoland area, DuPage County and other areas throughout Illinois. We also assist clients in Indiana and Wisconsin.
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