British engineering group Dyson has today filed a claim against Bosch for alleged misuse of confidential information. It has initiated proceedings in the UK High Court against the German company following reports that an employee in its digital motors team was passing confidential information to Bosch.

Dyson claims that Bosch received the intellectual property information in both the UK and Germany, and also through its Chinese business, and believes that a company was set up specifically for the purpose of paying the Dyson employee for the trade secrets. Furthermore, Dyson is under the impression that Bosch's vice president for engineering was fully aware of what was going on, for apparently as much as two years. The employee was part of a 100-strong team of engineers working on Dyson's digital motors, technology that is used in its cordless vacuum cleaners as well as in its Airblade hand dryers. Dyson had asked Bosch to return the information but Bosch refused to co-operate, leading Dyson to initiate court proceedings.

A statement from Dyson claims that: "Bosch Vice President, Dr Hirschburger, was aware of the engineer’s employment at Dyson. Dyson has confronted Bosch with evidence of wrongdoing but it has refused to return the technology. Nor has it promised not to use the technology for its benefit, forcing Dyson to take legal action." Mark Taylor, Dyson Research and Development Director, continued: "Bosch’s Vice President for engineering employed a Dyson engineer and benefitted from our confidential know-how and expertise. We have spent over fifteen years and £100m developing high-speed brushless motors, which power our vacuum cleaners and Airblade hand dryers. We are demanding the immediate return of our intellectual property."

This is a very serious allegation and goes beyond "normal" cases of breach of confidential information. If the allegations are shown to be correct, it might bring the issue of corporate espionage to the forefront of companies' minds. This case is not just a simple matter of one employee moving on and taking information that may or may not be confidential, but an alleged deliberate act by Bosch to take and misuse the confidential information, with a specific payment system in place to achieve those aims. Although corporate espionage is particularly prevalent surrounding issues of cyber security, the facts alleged in this case should serve as a reminder to companies that lengths should and must be taken to properly protect confidential and other sensitive information.

Bosch claim they are trying to establish precisely what information, if any, passed between Dyson and Bosch. However, it should be aware that Dyson is known for taking measures to protect its IP and has strongly resisted past attempts by other companies who have tried to copy its products. It shall be interesting to follow this case to see how forcefully Dyson persists with this claim against Bosch and whether it takes as strong a stance as it has done in the past.