A client of ours recently asked us to sign their standard NDA. We also deal with many of their competitors. We have not signed any NDA's before. They want us to sign the NDA so that they can share additional information with us that may help us help them better. We have made changes to the NDA and set back to them. The main change being the state in which any litigation would take place. Since we're a small company, having to travel to fight litigation would cripple us. Obviously, we don't want to be jerks and we want to do good business with these guys, but they are a much much larger company and would eat us for lunch should any litigation occur.
a) should we even sign the NDA?
b) is it ridiculous of us to seek changes to the NDA?
If your only complaint is the state for litigation, ignore that.
If it gets to the point of litigation, you're talking about 100's of 1000's of dollars in legal fees anyway. I have friends who have gone through that.
You're focusing on the wrong thing. "Travel expenses" is not the problem if you're in litigation. More important would be the clause that (probably) states that they can seek unlimited damages. It usually says something like "Signer agrees that money alone isn't sufficient remedy."
So my recommendation is to make sure it says that all the money they've paid you is the full amount they can recover if the NDA is breeched. Then your damages are limited. Remember there's two parts to a lawsuit -- winning, and damages. Really only the damages matter. And not having one in the first place (lawyer's fees are generally not recoverable even if you win).
If you're really worried about that scenario, it's not worth dealing with them at all IMO.
In my experience, it is hopeless to seek changes to a NDA, and it will give bad vibes in the business relationship if you try. The reason is that your counterpart in the other company is typically powerless to change the NDA -- it is mandated by 'company policy', and your counterpart will not like to be reminded that he is powerless.
I tend to look at whether the NDA is mutual, by which I mean whether it places the same burdens on the NDA's creator as it does on me. If it's mutual then I generally sign them, considering it a (sad) necessary evil of doing business.
If you're strictly a supplier who sells a standard product to other companies, then you won't see many NDAs. But if your business relationship is closer, then my experience is that the majority of larger US companies will present you with a NDA at some point. Thus a policy of not signing NDAs or seeking to change them may be unrealistic, depending on which area of business you are in.
There are usually 2 parts to an NDA. The description of the information to be shared which includes the what it can be used for and then the boilerplate. In general I agree with Jesper that most people are unable to change the boiler plate (and like Jason says if you get sued venue is the least of your worries) but you can often easily change the non-boiler plate part. One common thing to do is to narrow the NDA to only cover certain types of information. In general when I review NDA's I:
At the same time, don't ever let the NDA get in the way of business. As Jesper says often there is very little the person you are working with can do to change the NDA but I've always found that reasonable changes to the clauses above are often successful.
I guess it would be helpful to understand the size of the company you are dealing with. Most small companies have not written their own NDA's but pulled a boilerplate document from another source or the web, which creates a situation of lack of understanding of what the document does.
Jason raises a good point and the clause he is addressing is most likely titled "Remedies", below is an example of that language and something you definitely want to modify, at the very least replace with "specific performance".
ALWAYS change to YOUR advantage - NDA's are drafted by companies/entities to their ADVANTAGE
I agree with everything stated in Jason's post. Just a couple of things to add.
From my experience, if you're dealing with a large corporation, it isn't worth the effort to negotiate changes to a standard NDA. As Jesper mentioned, your best bet is to make sure you are signing a mutual NDA; these are more likely to be fair to both parties.
If you are dealing with a small private company, it is possible to negotiate terms. I generally wouldn't bother to do this for boilerplate terms like jurisdiction or arbitration. I would focus on scope definition, term length, indemnification (NEVER accept open-ended unless this is a bet the company deal because that's what you would be doing), and any other unusual restrictions. The good news is scope definition is the most customary customizable piece of an NDA.