Trade-Secret Struggles Abound

Intellectual Property: China figured prominently in two theft accusations

Marc S. Reisch

Where there’s technology, there’s technology theft—and 2014 was no exception.

 Seven employees of China's Dabeinong are charged with pilfering hybrid corn seed from fields in Iowa and Illinois. Credit: Shutterstock

Seven employees of China’s Dabeinong are charged with pilfering hybrid corn seed from fields in Iowa and Illinois.
Credit: Shutterstock

In March, the Switzerland-based chemical maker Ineos, whose technology is used in 90% of acrylonitrile plants worldwide, accused China’s Sinopec of misusing its trade secrets to make the acrylics intermediate. Government-owned Sinopec denied the allegation.

Although Ineos claimed it has a “good and valuable” relationship with Sinopec, Chairman Jim Ratcliffe asserted that “unless we protect our intellectual property, ultimately we will see the demise of Ineos.”

Chinese nationals were also fingered in a trade-secret theft case when a U.S. federal grand jury accused seven employees of Dabeinong Technology Group, a Beijing-based agricultural conglomerate, of stealing hybrid corn seed technology.

The July indictment claimed the Dabeinong employees tried to smuggle seed lines containing gene-modified and plant-bred traits from DuPont and Monsanto test fields back to China in microwave popcorn boxes.

Concerned over secrets stolen from companies for the benefit of foreign competitors, the U.S. Senate began to consider legislation called the Defend Trade Secrets Act (S. 2267). Announced in May and still pending, the bill would make it easier for companies to sue for data theft in federal court.

Several other trade-secret disputes during the year involved employees accused of theft by their employers. In April, Ineos filed suit in a Texas state court charging that electrical engineer Robert Trajkovski used confidential business process information in a book he planned to publish.

A former W. L. Gore & Associates employee, chemical engineer Kwang Seoung Jeon, was arrested in April on charges that he stole trade secrets from the fluorochemistry expert. Jeon, who worked on camouflage fabrics, was nabbed just before he was to fly to South Korea.

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