As I pour over legal cases, I have notices an upward trend of trade secret and corporate espionage cases filed and/or otherwise disposed of, in both the civil and criminal courts.

Just some of the recent examples:

  • A former principle scientist at Genetech, as well as her husband, recently pled guilty to conspiring to steal trade secrets and share them with JHL Biotech, whose co-founders are also facing charges.
  • A software subcontractor was found liable by a Georgia Federal Jury for misuse of confidential information provided by the contractor to subsequently deal with the customer directly.
  • A customer service technology company was held liable for $30 million by a California Federal Court for stealing trade secrets belonging to rival LivePerson, which allowed them to land huge contracts
  • A chemist working for Coca Cola was convicted for various counts of trade secret theft and economic espionage for stealing information on certain types of coating used for the inside of beverage cans, which cost the various victim companies $120 million to develop.

So while the scenarios are somewhat different, insiders stealing information and providing to a another company (often in another country) versus one company, in the course of business stealing information from another, the cases according to recent data and experts are rising.

China and Intellectual Property

Obviously, a lot of attention has been focused recently on China and theft of Intellectual Property, There is a growing number of both criminal and civil laws on the books to prosecute the offenders and actually find them liable in civil court. In June, the FBI reported that about 80% of all economic espionage prosecutions brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) allege conduct that would benefit the Chinese state, and there is at least some nexus to China in around 60% of all trade secret theft cases.

While China and employees with direct ties to China certainly are a big player in the trade secret theft and corporate espionage arena, there are also some very high profile incidents involving non-Chinese parties, such as the Anthony Levandowski case from four years ago. Levandowski, as you might recall stole self-driving technology from his employer, Waymo, and started his own company, Otto, which was bought by industry giant Uber. The end result was Levandowski becoming a federal felon and Waymo becoming part owners of Uber (in generic terms). As I read through the lessons learned on these sorts of cases, they all seem to focus on signing appropriate non disclosure documents, securing your IP adequately, and monitoring your employees use of copiers and company IT equipment. While these are all vital, how about this suggestion: HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE. Security Clearances are not a golden ticket into sainthood (see Snowden and others), but largely they should carry some weight by the private sector when considering your application.

Security Clearance Says You’re Trustworthy

Clearances show, by gaining and maintaining such a privilege, that there is probably a far greater chance than not that you are trustworthy and understand the importance of handling sensitive documents. Employer liability for negligent hiring practices that results in damage to a third party is not a new thing. Candidates for private sector jobs where Intellectual Property is abundant, should not be hesitant to remind the prospective company about your clearance and its significance. As for the employers themselves, this credential earned by your candidate in their previous should not be overlooked or dismissed as irrelevant to the their suitability for unclassified programs.



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Joe Jabara, JD, is the Director, of the Hub, For Cyber Education and Awareness, Wichita State University. He also serves as an adjunct faculty at two other universities teaching Intelligence and Cyber Law. Prior to his current job, he served 30 years in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Kansas Air National Guard. His last ten years were spent in command/leadership positions, the bulk of which were at the 184th Intelligence Wing as Vice Commander.