While the bulk of trade secret litigation focuses on civil claims and remedies, an article from last week’s Chicago Tribune is a reminder that stealing trade secrets can have serious consequences. The Chicago Tribune story (link here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-chinese-engineer-to-be-sentenced-for-stealing-motorola-secrets-20120719,0,1594304.story) reports that the sentencing for a software developer caught with taking Motorola, Inc.’s trade secrets will be postponed until next month. The developer was boarding a plane to China when she was arrested and found to have taken 1,000+ confidential documents concerning a walkie talkie type feature on Motorola cell phones. Federal prosecutors argued that this technology would benefit the Chinese military. The developer could face up to 30 years in federal prison as a result of this trade secret theft.
Under California law, the theft of trade secrets can be a felony punishable by up to one year in prison and/or by a fine not exceeding $5,000. (See Cal. Penal Code §499(c).) Importantly, it is no defense for a prosecution of the theft of trade secret theft that the person returned or intended to return the trade secrets to the proper owner.
Thus, owners of trade secrets who are the victims of misappropriation are reminded that there is a wide range of remedies available to them, including possible criminal prosecution.