years ago today, on October 11, 1996, the Economic Espionage
Act was signed into law, for the first time explicitly criminalizing
the theft of commercial trade secrets -- and slapping substantial
penalties on convicted transgressors.
kind of trade secrets? All kinds: computer source code, chemical
formulas, R&D data, financial info, manufacturing processes,
lists of suppliers/customers, even marketing strategies.
a landmark piece of legislation at that time, showing the
foresight of Congress in protecting proprietary information
and trade secrets in today's global market and wired world...
and, by extension, the very health and competitiveness of
critical segments of the U.S. economy.
the casework like? Intensive, absolutely dependent on partnerships
with American business, and productive. The FBI and the Justice
Department are currently investigating and prosecuting 132
cases of trade secret theft under the act.
of those cases goes to trial on October 20 -- and it's a fascinating
one. In November 2001, two men were arrested as they were
attempting to board a flight to the People's Republic of China
at San Francisco International Airport... with their suitcases
jampacked with proprietary documents from Silicon Valley companies.
two men -- originally from China -- allegedly conspired to
download proprietary and trade secret information about computer
chip designs from their previous employers with the intent
of using it to develop and sell a new microprocessor in China.
FBI agents arrested the pair after a U.S. Customs Service
search of their luggage found documents from two high-tech
companies stamped "proprietary/confidential." More
trade secret documents from two
other companies that had employed the men were later seized
from their homes and offices.
Indictments of the two men -- one an American citizen, the
other a permanent U.S. resident -- were as follows: ten counts
of economic espionage, possession of stolen trade secrets,
and foreign transportation of stolen property. If they are
found guilty of all charges, they could be sentenced to as
many as 115 years in jail and ordered to pay millions of dollars
in fines and restitution.
price to pay, when you think about it, as the theft of trade
secrets is estimated to cost U.S. companies tens of billions
of dollars a year.