Over the last seven years, federal investigations and prosecutions for theft of trade secrets have increased. A Dallas chemical engineer’s guilty plea earlier this month is a sign of that trend. The engineer was charged with unauthorized possession of stolen trade secrets that he allegedly used to start a business in competition with his former employer. You can read more about the indictment, here, and the guilty plea, here.
Federal prosecutions often seek to establish violations of the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (“EEA”) among other laws. The EEA criminalized misappropriation of trade secrets. However, criminal investigations and prosecutions increased several years after enactment of that statute. In 2010, the federal government added 15 new Assistant United States Attorneys and 20 special FBI agents dedicated to combating domestic and international property crimes.
In 2013, the White House signaled its focus on trade secret theft by publishing its strategy for mitigating the theft of trade secrets. That document stated that FBI investigations of trade secret theft increased by almost thirty percent between 2010 and 2013. The White House strategy document also summarizes multiple criminal convictions (in the blue boxes) and promised that the Department of Justice and FBI would continue to prioritize this area of their work.
All of this shows that the liability for stealing trade secrets in the United States is more frequently rising above civil remedies to include prison sentences.