FBI Billboard

If you did, it means you live or work in a city with industries and companies at high risk for trade secret theft.

Last month, the FBI put up these billboards in 9 communities across the nation, including Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, in an effort to raise awareness about a growing problem: industrial espionage.

What exactly is ‘industrial espionage’?

It’s when foreign governments, corporations, and citizens spy on US companies in an effort to steal information that can provide them with some sort of economic benefit or advantage.  They are often looking for technology, pricing information, test data, or customer lists, a.k.a. the company’s trade secrets.

Why does the US Government care about trade secret theft?

Because it is a big problem for US companies.  The FBI estimates over $13 billion has been lost since October, 2011 due to trade secret theft.  That’s $13 billion in only 7 months!

In fact, state-sponsored espionage targeting the intellectual property of U.S. companies is growing so fast that the FBI considers trade secret theft a national security issue.

To be honest, the Government should be concerned about the rise in industrial espionage, and if you are an innovative company, you should too.  I’m just not sure a billboard campaign is the right approach.

How many people are going to really understand the message behind the billboards?  Seriously, I wish I had seen one in person, but RI didn’t make the cut.  Would the average person driving around in their car, stop and think about whether or not their trade secrets are at risk?  Would they even know what a trade secret is?

I’m not sure they would.

Trade secrets are often afterthoughts in corporate America, and companies with really good trade secret awareness tend to be large.  Most everyone could identify a trade secret when asked (the formula for Coca-Cola usually springs to mind), but most companies can’t identify their own trade secrets, especially small technology firms.

Why?  They don’t understand trade secrets.  They don’t quite know what they are or what they can and should do to protect them.  Which leads to the problem…if companies don’t understand trade secrets, then they can’t identify them and take the necessary steps to protect them.

I’ll continue this conversation next week with a short primer on trade secrets.

Here are a some great resources to get your trade secret education started.

– The FBI Website has some good information on trade secrets and the problem of industrial espionage.

– The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) is a multi-agency taskforce designed to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft.  Check out their website here.

In the meantime, if you think your company could use some help identifying and protecting your trade secrets, call me at (508) 878-3590 or email me at kelli@ipinfocus.com to set up an appointment.

I first wrote about this issue back in 2010 after I attended a workshop on economic espionage.   Click here to check out that post.

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