The FBI recently launched an initiative to curb the growing rise of trade secret and other intellectual property theft. The FBI estimates that U.S. companies have suffered over $13 billion in economic losses since October 2011 attributed to intellectual property theft, which includes the estimated future market value of stolen trade secrets.
With a website dedicated to educating the public about intellectual property theft, in May 2012, the FBI took the unconventional approach of launching billboards in nine U.S. cities with the message “Protect America’s Trade Secrets”. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the push behind the FBI’s initiative is that state-sponsored espionage targeting trade secrets and other intellectual property of U.S. companies is growing so fast that it is a national security concern.
Thieves have shifted their focus from defense contractors—which have grown increasingly sophisticated in implementing security measures to prevent trade secret theft—to companies with less sophisticated security measures. To combat this trend, the FBI recently issued a press release with tips outlining warning signs that may indicate an employee is stealing company secrets. As highlighted by the FBI, increasingly thieves use electronic means such as thumb drives and other USB storage devices to pilfer company secrets. John Marsh’s blog Trade Secret Litigator also has a nice summary of the FBI’s tips.
Although the federal government often uses the Economic Espionage Act, to pursue state-sponsored trade secret theft, companies have a variety of civil tools available to pursue employee theft of company confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information. For example, forty-seven states have adopted versions of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. And those states that have not adopted UTSA—Massachusetts, New York, and Texas—have a body of common law which recognizes and protects trade secrets.
With advances in technology that sometimes outpace the time required to secure patent protection or which a company does not want to publicly disclose in an issued patent, trade secrets are on the rise. Given this, it is imperative that companies proactively protect their trade secrets—not only for national security, but also for the bottom line.