Understanding more about the theft of trade secrets under federal law

Last time, our blog discussed how those employees who misappropriate business information that could properly be classified as “trade secrets” will likely find themselves facing a civil lawsuit, as well as criminal charges under state law.

It’s important for employees to understand, however, that the fallout from allegations of trade theft is not necessarily confined to the state level, as they could conceivably find themselves facing federal criminal charges.

The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 essentially provides that anyone who intentionally targets or acquires trade secrets in the knowledge that it will harm the rightful owner has committed a theft of trade secrets or, as it is otherwise known, industrial espionage.

As to what type of information constitutes a trade secret under federal law, the definition is similar to that found on Florida’s books.

Specifically, it covers business, engineering, economic, financial or scientific information — both tangible and intangible, and regardless of storage methods — that the owner has 1) taken reasonable measures to protect and 2) whose economic value is principally derived from its confidentiality.

As to the penalties that can be handed down for theft of a trade secret, they are decidedly more severe than those called for under Florida law. For example, an individual convicted on these charges can face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

It’s important to understand that the federal government takes industrial espionage very seriously. Indeed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified it as its second crime fighting priority, trailing only terrorism.

In light of this reality and everything that is at stake, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you are under investigation or have been formally charged with the theft of trade secrets.