Many companies have increased their attention to prevention of theft of trade secrets, as well as the prevention of many other kinds of data loss these days. Indeed, in February 2013, the White House released its Strategy for combating the theft of trade secrets in the United States. Kicking off the report, President Obama stated:
“We are going to aggressively protect our intellectual property. Our single greatest asset is the innovation and the ingenuity and creativity of the American people. It is essential to our prosperity and it will only become more so in this century.”
Part of the Administration’s strategy focused on enhancing domestic law enforcement’s ability to combat theft of trade secrets and improving domestic legislation, such as the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. §§1831-1839. (For a good discussion of the Administration’s Strategy report, see my colleague Emily Duke‘s article, Administration Releases Strategy to Prevent Theft of U.S. Trade Secrets).
Most companies who depend upon the ability to protect their trade secrets to maintain a competitive edge in the market are closely watching to see what happens next. A Criminal Complaint issued on June 4, 2013, in the United States District Court, for the District of New Jersey, against a former employee of Becton, Dickinson & Company (BD) certainly demonstrates that law enforcement is taking theft of trade secrets seriously.
In United States of America v. Ketankumar Maniar, the government alleges that Maniar (the former BD employee) had access to BD’s trade secret information and that while still employed took actions to steal that trade secret information. The Complaint further alleges that Maniar took the information in many different ways, including downloading close to 8,000 BD files containing BD trade secret information to multiple external hard drives and thumb drives and emailing BD trade secret information to his personal email account. Apparently, there is evidence that Maniar was planning to take the BD trade secret information with him to India, although that action has been thwarted by his arrest.
In addition to the former employee’s actions relating to how he took information, what might also be of interest to organizations is the focus by the government on the steps BD had taken to protect its trade secret information. The government focused on the following:
- BD had a Code of Conduct that addressed protection of trade secret information which Maniar had signed and acknowledged was a condition of his employment with BD.
- BD required that Maniar sign an Employee Agreement which acknowledged his obligation to protect trade secret information.
- BD maintained a Trade Secret Protection Policy that was incorporated into the Employee Agreement.
- BD maintained physical and electronic security of its trade secret information, including, with limited or restricted access to certain information.
- BD conducted training to remind employees of their responsibilities to protect trade secret information.
This case serves as a reminder that taking affirmative steps to protect trade secret assets will provide a greater opportunity in either a civil or criminal context to obtain relief from the legal system. It also serves as a reminder that companies should be mindful that some employees will disregard their obligations to the company and take information to benefit themselves or others. We have been advising clients and writing about this for years (See e.g. Recent Survey Shows That Employee Theft of Confidential Information is Rampant). Technology certainly makes it easier for employees to walk out the door with confidential information.
(*Monopoly is a trademark of Hasbro) / This article was first posted at http://www.networkedlawyers.com/.