This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Trade secrets are the lifeblood of Utah's innovation economy. The state's businesses and manufacturers rely on trade secrets to protect their technologies, attract new investors, and maintain a competitive edge. But a glaring oversight in intellectual property law puts Utah jobs at risk. Even though trade secrets safeguard trillions of dollars in U.S. assets, companies have few legal options to protect their trade secrets in federal court if they are stolen leaving this confidential information vulnerable to theft.
The gravity of this problem cannot be overstated. Consider that each year corporate spies steal billions of dollars-worth of trade secrets from American companies across all industries. Trade secret misappropriation hurts businesses of all sizes, but it hurts small businesses the most. That's because small businesses depend disproportionately on trade secrets, which are far less expensive to obtain and protect than patents. Small businesses are also more vulnerable to intellectual property theft because they experience higher turnover than well-established companies, increasing the likelihood that disaffected employees will share confidential information with competitors.
To make matters worse, new technologies are making it even easier to steal trade secrets. Sensitive information that used to be guarded in metal safes is now often stored in computer databases. But it doesn't take an expert hacker to steal a company's most valuable intellectual property; sometimes, all it takes is an estranged employee with a thumb drive and a few keystrokes.
In a case argued before the Utah Supreme Court last summer, InnoSys Inc. a Salt Lake-based technology company brought a lawsuit against a former engineer charged with misappropriating trade secrets. How did this ex-employee run away with some of the corporation's most valuable intellectual property? She simply downloaded confidential information to a flash drive and forwarded internal office messages to her private email account. Had she leaked this information to competitors, the costs to the company could have been devastating. Fortunately, it appears that the documents were destroyed before any damage was done.
But many companies are not so lucky. Utah businesses that have fallen victim to trade secret misappropriation in the past have seen their comparative advantages squandered overnight. What's worse, most companies crippled by this crime receive little help from the federal government. The U.S. Department of Justice simply lacks the resources to prosecute the thousands of trade secret thefts that occur every year. Moreover, businesses harmed by misappropriation don't even have access to civil remedy, leaving many organizations with no hope for redress.
Unless we can provide greater assurances to Utah's companies that their intellectual property will be protected under federal law, innovation in our state will suffer and our economy will continue to lose millions of dollars every year to trade secret misappropriation.
Thankfully, no one understands the heavy costs of trade secret theft better than one Utah's own Sen. Orrin Hatch. As chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, Hatch has established himself as a leading voice for pro-growth, pro-business policies. Now, as he works to implement his Innovation Agenda for the 114th Congress, Hatch is spearheading efforts in Congress to provide greater federal protections to companies threatened by trade secret misappropriation.
Part and parcel to this effort is the Defend Trade Secrets Act a bipartisan bill Hatch co-authored with Senator Chris Coons, D-Del. With 65 co-sponsors from both parties, the bill is expected to pass with overwhelming support.
This legislation empowers American businesses by creating a private right of action that allows companies to protect their trade secrets in federal court. It also equips business owners with the tools they need to combat trade secret theft, including the ability to seek injunctions and to retrieve stolen assets before they are lost for good.
Even before this proposal was introduced before the full Senate, the Defend Trade Secrets Act had already received dozens of high-profile endorsements from companies with a strong presence in Utah, including Adobe, Boeing, and General Electric to name a few.
We are fortunate to have Hatch fighting on behalf of Utah's business community in Congress. We commend him for his leadership on this critical issue and urge business owners across Utah to support passage of the Defend Trade Secrets Act.
Lane Beattie is president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. Richard Nelson is president and CEO of the Utah Technology Council.