Tech workers in the Puget Sound area are probably familiar with non-compete agreements, which prevent folks from working for a former employer’s competitors for a stipulated amount of time. It’s a polarizing topic in many industries, but tech evangelists in particular are torn on the subject.

The main reason for this is California, the hotbed for innovation that just so happens to ban non-competes. This ban is celebrated in Silicon Valley under the logic that employees, and the ideas they carry, can more freely bounce between companies, thus quickening innovation and forcing companies to spend more resources on employee retention.

Non-California companies, of course, relish non-competes — Microsoft and Amazon don’t have to worry about the looming threat of critical employees bolting for Facebook or Google.

But the state Legislature might change that. A bill sponsored by Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, that would deem non-competes unenforceable passed a House committee vote this week, setting the stage for a full vote in the chamber.

The bill has elicited passionate responses, which have turned into some pretty spectacular Twitter bouts among Seattle tech leaders. The argument for non-competes, championed primarily by the companies that use them, is that the agreements protect intellectual property. Opposing labor groups argue non-disclosure agreements accomplish that task, making non-competes little more than a tool to discourage employee mobility.

One thing is certain about non-competes — they do discourage mobility. Researchers studying non-competes in Michigan’s auto industry found they kept workers, particularly those with narrow technical skills (sound familiar?), in place longer. So there is clear evidence that non-competes help employers. What’s not substantiated is the Silicon Valley argument: that non-competes slow innovation.


There’s a football game on Sunday

A still from a T-Mobile Super Bowl ad featuring Drake. Photo courtesy iSpot.tv

A still from a T-Mobile Super Bowl ad featuring Drake. Photo courtesy iSpot.tv

The Seahawks aren’t playing, but there’s probably a good chance you’ll tune into the Super Bowl on Sunday anyway. Advertisers know this, which is why the game’s real competition happens when players are on the sidelines.

As the Los Angeles Times points out, Super Bowl ads are becoming more significant (and expensive) for two reasons. The first is that the audience just keeps growing — about 114 million folks watched last year. The second reason is more nuanced, though, and deals with the nature of television itself.

People don’t watch live TV very much any more. Binge watching has supplanted prime-time viewing for many U.S. households, leaving advertisers to question the value of their ads on live TV. But that’s not the case for one event, the only one that continues to draw a live audience — the Super Bowl.

So more people are watching Super Bowl ads, and fewer people are watching all other ads. Thus, Super Bowl ad spending is projected to hit $377 million this year. As one L.A. ad exec said in the story, “It’s absolutely nerve racking.”


So long, Planetary Resources?

Washington has a bit of a space obsession going on. Boeing, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Aerojet Rocketdyne all have space operations in the area, and they receive plenty of media and investor attention alike.

Only one of the aforementioned companies, though, is the beneficiary of enormous tax credits, and attempts to get Boeing-style tax credits for the greater space industry have gone nowhere. Thus, one of the Eastside’s premier space startups, Planetary Resources, is reportedly mulling a move to Luxembourg, where the government would reimburse a whopping 45 percent of research and development costs.

That financial incentive is remarkable. Planetary Resources, an asteroid mining company, is not mining on any asteroids. Many of these young space ventures are pretty much privatized R&D firms, so a 45 percent reimbursement in that realm is close to a 45 percent cut in expenses.

An intriguing offer indeed, and a risky one from Luxembourg’s standpoint — getting stuff into space is kinda tricky.


Elsewhere on the Web

In education news, charter schools are having a rough go in Washington. Gates to the rescue.

In employment news, learn how to nail a coding interview from a gal who landed jobs at Microsoft, Google, and Apple.

In speaking-out-of-turn news, some mall exec blabbed that Amazon’s building a bunch of bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Here’s why that’s actually a good idea (hint: potential for better margins).

In people-suck-at-driving news, Google’s testing a self-driving car in Kirkland.

In Eastsiders-can’t-fathom-riding-a-bus news, a bus fare costs less than a $10 toll. FYI.

In brogrammer news, Geekwire posted a fun Q&A with T.J. Miller, the Silicon Valley actor who is a wonderfully hilarious critic of tech culture.

In putting-critical-cloud-infrastructure-in-water news, Microsoft tests putting critical cloud infrastructure in water.