International Developments

Not surprisingly given the hundreds of billions of dollars of American intellectual property lost to China each year, trade secret theft and China is a hot topic for the public and private sector alike.

On September 29, 2020 2:00 -3:00 pm EDT, Caroline Brown and Jim Stronski will share their thoughts on the latest developments

This week, the U.S. government continued its enforcement activity against Chinese government-sponsored trade secret theft, indicting two Chinese hackers for allegedly stealing data from 25 domestic and international companies, including targeting those now researching COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and treatment. The two defendants had allegedly acquired hundreds of millions of dollars worth of trade secrets and other valuable business information across a span of nearly eleven years. This announcement follows in the wake of the indictment of Dr. Charles Lieber, a former Harvard professor, who allegedly lied about his participation in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan,” a program that has been accused of facilitating the stealing of American trade secrets. Our coverage of that indictment is here.

On Tuesday, July 21, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced charges against Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi in the Eastern District of Washington, alleging that they hacked the computer networks of 13 United States and 12 international companies in industries ranging from high tech manufacturing and medical device engineering to solar energy and pharmaceuticals, all between September 2009 and July 2020.
Continue Reading DOJ Targets Chinese Hackers for Stealing United States Trade Secrets

The trade secrets of American industries and research institutions are often the target of foreign interests, as this blog has detailed in the past. Most recently, on June 9, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) indicted the former Chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department and nanoscientist, Dr. Charles Lieber, for allegedly making false statements to federal authorities about his participation in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan.” This Plan, according to a 2019 Senate report, is part of China’s “strategic plan to acquire knowledge and intellectual property from researchers, scientists, and the U.S. private sector.” Past participants in the Plan have included a former General Electric engineer, Xiaoqing Zheng, who was indicted in April 2019 for allegedly stealing GE’s trade secrets related to turbine technology while employed at GE Power & Water in Schenectady, New York.

China’s Thousand Talents Plan began in 2008 and has been a concern of the U.S. government for some time. A 2019 Senate report characterized the Plan as a danger to American national security and proprietary information and stated that it “incentivizes individuals engaged in research and development in the United States to transmit the knowledge and research they gain [in the United States] to China in exchange for salaries, research funding, lab space, and other incentives.”
Continue Reading Harvard Professor Indicted for Allegedly Lying About Participation in Chinese Talent Recruitment Program

China’s National People’s Congress has released a draft law for comment that would impose harsher criminal penalties for any trade secret theft from Chinese companies that benefits foreign companies.

China’s current law imposes a maximum sentence of 3 years imprisonment for “serious” instances and 10 years for “particularly serious” instances of trade secret theft. The proposed law would impose harsher sentences for trade secret theft benefiting a foreign entity, resulting in 5 years for “serious” instances and a minimum of 5 years with no maximum for “particularly serious” instances.
Continue Reading China Proposes Harsher Penalties for Trade Secret Theft in Draft Amendment

A recent English court decision for the first time explores the overlap between trade secret claims under the EU Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943 and English equitable and common law claims for breach of confidence.

In Trailfinders Limited v Travel Counsellors Limited & Ors [2020] EWHC 591 (IPEC), travel agency Trailfinders brought a case against competitor TCL and four former employees who allegedly exploited customer lists and accessed Trailfinders’ customer database after joining TCL to exploit confidential information to their and TCL’s benefit.

In analyzing whether information taken by employees rose to the level of trade secrets, the judge turned to “the definition of ‘trade secret’ in art.2(1) of Directive 2016/943 (always bearing in mind the broad interpretation of ‘trade secret’ in the Directive).” Trailfinders Limited v Travel Counsellors Limited & Ors [2020] EWHC 591 (IPEC), [29]. Trade secrets under the EU Trade Secrets Directive, implemented in the United Kingdom by Trade Secrets (Enforcement etc.) Regulation 2018, must meet all of the following requirements: “(a) it is secret in the sense that it is not, as a body or in the precise configuration and assembly of its components, generally known among or readily accessible to persons within the circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question; (b) it has commercial value because it is secret; (c) it has been subject to reasonable steps under the circumstances, by the person lawfully in control of the information, to keep it secret.” The judge recognized that there were different categories of information that employees could be exposed to during employment which were entitled to varying levels of protections.
Continue Reading English Court Addresses Intersection of Trade Secrets Directive and Common Law Breach of Confidence Claims

We continue our coverage of English Confidentiality Protections in Trade Secret and IP Cases by exploring a recent decision involving access of party experts to confidential information and trade secrets as part of confidentiality rings.

In Infederation Limited v Google LLC & Ors [2020] EWHC 657 (Ch), Infederation Limited a/k/a Foundem – a provider of online shopping comparison services – brought a case against Google alleging Google’s search result algorithms purportedly reduced its “ranking” in violation of competition law. The parties agreed to three confidentiality rings: (1) a top “confidential” ring including the founding members of Foundem, external solicitors, counsel, and economic experts; (2) an external solicitors, counsel, and economic experts ring (the legal eyes only or “LEO” ring); and (3) a further restricted “RLEO” ring, which was 10 named external solicitors and counsel. Google made an application to strike some of Foundem’s claims in part relying on evidence related to search algorithms designated as confidential, LEO, or RLEO. In order to review and evaluate these specially designated exhibits, Foundem requested that its search engine optimization (“SEO”) expert Mr. Klöckner, who was already part of the outer confidentiality ring, be added to the LEO and RLEO rings. Google pushed back, claiming that how it ranks search results should be kept confidential or its value would be lost and that it was unlikely that Mr. Klöckner could keep the knowledge he gained from his role in the proceedings separated from his independent work as an SEO consultant. Infederation Limited v Google LLC & Ors [2020] EWHC 657 (Ch) [24-26].
Continue Reading English Trade Secrets Proceedings: Experts May Be Permitted Access to Information In Confidentiality Rings

For the first time, a United States federal court has held that a civil action for private damages under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) can arise from acts of misappropriation that occur completely outside the United States – as long as they have a nexus with some activities within the U.S. In Motorola Sols., Inc. v. Hytera Commc’ns Corp., Ltd., No. 1:17-cv-1973 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 6, 2020) (an earlier decision in this case was previously discussed on this blog here), Motorola alleged that Hytera Communications, a Chinese company, hired away three engineers who then took with them Motorola trade secrets, including thousands of Motorola’s confidential technical documents containing millions of lines of source code and other highly confidential information.

Continue Reading After Motorola Verdict, DTSA Has Extraterritorial Application

On February 13, 2020 the United States filed a sixteen-count superseding indictment against Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. and several U.S. based subsidiaries (collectively “Huawei”) charging Huawei with racketeering, money laundering, and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. The new charges, announced by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Justice Department’s Criminal and National Security divisions, and the FBI, are the latest of a number of enforcement actions by the U.S. Government against Huawei, and yet another escalation in the U.S. Government’s quest to prevent Huawei from stealing trade secrets and other sensitive intellectual property from American companies.
Continue Reading New Charges Leveled Against Huawei, et al.

The United States has long struggled with intellectual property (IP) theft facilitated or condoned by the Chinese government. Just in the past year, a CNBC CFO survey reports that one in five North American corporations have had their IP stolen by China, and just below one-third of CFOs of North American-based companies on the CNBC Global CFO Council state that Chinese firms have stolen from them during the last decade. This IP theft is very costly. In fact, some sources estimate that the annual cost that international IP theft imposes on the United States exceeds $225 billion in counterfeit goods and could be as elevated as $600 billion.

Chinese entities have been alleged to steal IP from foreign companies using methods such as trading with or forming joint ventures with the companies and then gaining access to their sensitive or proprietary information. Businesses have also willingly allowed Chinese partners to access this information in exchange for accessing China’s immense market. Some examples of alleged Chinese IP theft include a conspiracy to hack into U.S. defense contractors’ computer networks to steal sensitive military data and the fact that the Chinese military has infrastructure that can look suspiciously similar to that used by the United States. In the context of urging NATO allies to ban Chinese 5G equipment, Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity Summit last September that China is committing “the greatest intellectual property theft in human history.”
Continue Reading Is Chinese IP Theft Coming to an End?

Crowell & Moring invites you to attend the second installment of our Trade Secrets Webinar Series: Trade Secrets are Not Intellectual Property – At Least Not in the European Union, taking place on Tuesday, February 11th at 11:00 am (EDT).

How are trade secrets defined in the EU versus in the US?

How do the US and EU judicial bodies differ in their view of trade secrets, and how does that protect, or leave vulnerable, your company’s most valuable information?

How might cross-border (or transnational) companies protect their intellectual property assets and prepare for threats when subject to dual (EU & US) enforcement?

During this webinar, Crowell & Moring attorneys Jan-Diederik Lindemans and Judith Bussé will guide you through the small differences in the language and theory behind the EU Trade Secrets Directive and the US Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), and the important consequences these have on your trade secrets protection and strategy.

To register, please click here.
Continue Reading Please Join Us for the Second Installment of our 2020 Webinar Series: Trade Secrets are Not Intellectual Property – At Least Not in the European Union