As we have previously reported in this blog, this week marks a milestone in ongoing attempts in the European Union to overhaul the existing regulatory framework for the protection of trade secrets. Earlier today, members of the European Parliament debated the compromise text of the proposed Directive to protect trade secrets. A full recording of the debate can be found here.
Today’s debate came on the heels of a press conference earlier in the day by MEP Constance Le Grip (European People’s Party — France), the rapporteur who has shepherded the proposed directive in the European Parliament for the past 18 months. For those who have been following the proposed Directive, Ms. Le Grip’s comments provide an interesting explanation of the varying political considerations that produced the compromise text, including balancing the concerns of businesses and the rights of workers.
Questions posed by journalists at the press conference are perhaps more interesting. If the questions posed by journalists (as well as the comments by many MEPs during the debate) are any indication, considerable opposition exists to the proposed directive. While business groups and many MEPs have largely welcomed the proposed directive, other MEPs and some interest groups have expressed concern that the proposed directive will be used by companies to stifle whistleblowers and journalists. Notably, the compromise text already includes language that expressly guarantees protection of whistleblowers, freedom of the press, and other fundamental rights, as follows:
Member States shall ensure that the application for the measures, procedures and remedies provided for in this Directive is dismissed when the alleged acquisition, use or disclosure of the trade secret was carried out in any of the following cases:
- for exercising the right to freedom of expression and information as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, including respect for freedom and pluralism of the media;
- for revealing a misconduct, wrongdoing or illegal activity, provided that the respondent acted for the purpose of protecting the general public interest;
- the trade secret was disclosed by workers to their representatives as part of the legitimate exercise of their representative functions in accordance with Union or national law, provided that such disclosure was necessary for that exercise;
- [sic] for the purpose of protecting a legitimate interest recognised by Union or national law.
See Proposed Directive [compromise text], Art. IV. Yet despite this language, opponents of the proposed directive have argued that the directive does not go far enough in protecting whistleblowers. Whether such concerns are wide enough to scuttle the proposed directive remains to be seen.
A full vote on the proposed directive is scheduled for tomorrow. For up-to-date coverage of the proposed directive, please look for an update in this blog following tomorrow’s vote.