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Does industrial espionage still occur?

The Cold War may be over, but espionage never goes out of style. In fact, it may be one of the oldest activities on Earth. Since man began inventing and acquiring objects, even the simplest of tools and adornments, it is a sure bet that someone else has wanted to borrow, share or steal it from them, or at least, acquire the knowledge to make their own. Industrial espionage, also known as economic espionage, is still alive and well today.

The American Bar Association notes that, along with companies, many individuals and even governments around the world have used cyber espionage to steal trade secrets from U.S. businesses in ever-increasing amounts. It is not hard to understand why when, in 2010 alone, intellectual property accounted for nearly 35 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, valued at $5.06 trillion.

By hacking into targeted U.S. businesses, cyber spies have weakened the market share and competitive edge of many American companies. They have also created the possibility that these businesses may have to compete with technologies they themselves developed, which were stolen and used or sold to another company. Congress reported in 2013 that theft of U.S. intellectual property amounted to a loss of $300 billion annually and 2.1 million jobs. The economic effect of that amount is roughly a loss of $1 billion daily.

Congress passed the Economic Espionage Act in 1996, the nation’s major criminal law for prosecuting industrial spying. But there is no remedy for civil actions against international organizations and other countries. Some think there should be, if the law is to function as a deterrent.

Attorneys can help lessen the impact of spying on individual organizations ensuring the company’s technology is legally protected and rigorously pursuing theft of intellectual property. Another important action is to negotiate better agreements for security software. If you are concerned about in-person or cyber espionage at your company, you can consult an attorney with expertise in protecting intellectual property.