Technology has been a friend to California trade secret thieves

In the not-so-very distant past, intellectual property lawsuits over the theft of confidential business information involved physical evidence like voluminous paperwork. Today’s technology allows trade secret thieves to download digital documents into external storage devices that can be hidden in the palm of a hand.

Trade secret theft has become easier in the last several years, which places a greater burden on California businesses to protect private property. Motives for theft have also shifted from extortion and competitors’ jealousy to personal gain or supplying information to overseas sources.

Last spring, a Chinese-born woman was sentenced to a 70-month federal prison term for lifting military-related secrets from the files of L-3 Communications. The same defendant had been convicted of stealing and selling inside information from drug maker Sanofi-Aventis through a Chinese company she co-owned.

Trade secret theft charges were recently brought against an ex-employee of med-tech manufacturer Becton, Dickinson and Co. Prosecutors said the 36-year-old native Indian worked on a company project to produce a new disposable pen used for drug injections named Vystra.

The former worker was arrested on criminal charges after Becton alleged he downloaded thousands of Vystra-related files just before leaving the company. The FBI said the employee was planning to use the master plan for Vystra’s manufacture for personal purposes in India.

The man now faces a possible a fine of up to $250,000 and a 10-year prison term.

Most trade secret disputes are civil cases which are not prosecuted in criminal courts. To collect damages for intellectual property harm, plaintiffs must show that the company material qualified as a trade secret — confidential data or files that gave a business a competitive advantage. The secrets must also have a monetary value.

The job of keeping business information private is tougher than it used to be. California companies routinely engage attorneys to resolve intellectual property disputes and create strategies for data security.

Source:, “Technology Makes Trade Secrets Tempting Targets” Hugh R. Morley, Jun. 23, 2013