Known as the formula, idea, pattern, physical device, compilation or process that could give an individual a competitive edge in their respective industries, trade secrets have existed for centuries to some degree. These are protected in a manner that prevents competitors or the public from learning about the secret, and come with serious implications if one steals them.
Intentional theft of trade secrets violates state and federal laws, and is labeled a white collar crime in Nevada. More often than not, these are charged as federal crimes. If charged with or under investigation for stealing trade secrets, you should remain silent and seek the advice of an exemplary criminal defense lawyer.
The Economic Espionage Act of 1996
A 6 title Act of Congress designed to address several issues during the height of the intellectual property boom, The Economic Espionage Act (EEA) criminalizes trade secret theft, including the theft, possession and copying of secrets that could be used to gain an unfair advantage in a given industry.
United States Attorney Generals can prosecute businesses or individuals involved in the unlawful possession or misappropriation of trade secrets in federal court. Only two states have adopted the EEA into their state laws – Alabama and California.
If convicted of stealing trade secrets under the EEA, one could face the following punishments:
- 10 years in federal prison and $500,000 fine if a person is found guilty;
- Up to $5,000,000 in fines if corporations are found guilty under the EEA;
- Forfeiture of all assets, including money and property, which the trade secrets helped the possessor obtain; or
- If a foreign country or their agent is found guilty, up to $10,000,000 in fines and 15 years imprisonment for the individual who perpetrated the theft.
Prosecution must present a preponderance of evidence that trade secrets were acquired illegally.
Defenses to Trade Secret Theft
Criminal defense attorneys work tirelessly to poke holes in theories and collect evidence that may exonerate clients accused of stealing trade secrets. Over the years, the following defenses have been raised in court cases where EEA violations are alleged:
- Defendant discovered trade secret on their own. This defense is common because some individuals are able to figure out how one corporation is successful and mimic their process without possessing insider secrets.
- An individual that resides with defendant actually took the trade secrets. If secrets were copied to a hard disk and put on a computer shared in a community area, prosecution would be hard pressed to implicate the defendant without substantial proof.
- Mistaken identity. The individual who allegedly stole the trade secrets looked like the defendant, but since the defendant had an alibi that checked out, could not have committed an EEA violation.
- Coercion. Police are notorious for setting defendants up. If any member of law enforcement promised you money or gifts in exchange for trade secret theft but turned around and arrested you instead, you could fight the charges because you performed the act under duress.
These are just some of the defenses an attorney will use to help their client lessen or dismiss charges.
Under Investigation for Trade Secret Theft?
Charges are normally brought against individuals after months or years of investigation, although in some cases video evidence implicates the person being investigated rather quickly. Regardless how much evidence federal agents have against you, under no circumstance should you talk to them without an attorney present.
Trade secret theft is serious, carrying penalties that will hurt individuals for many years after they are released from incarceration. If you are innocent of EEA violations and believe enough evidence exists to back your case, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.