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Washington • President Barack Obama patted Sen. Orrin Hatch on the shoulder and offered his thanks.
"Good job," Obama told the Utah Republican inside the Oval Office.
Flanked by Hatch and five other lawmakers, Obama on Wednesday signed into law Hatch's Defend Trade Secrets Act, which creates a federal cause of civil action for misappropriating trade secrets and intellectual property.
The new law, heralded as the most significant expansion of federal protection for intellectual property since the 1940s, is aimed at allowing businesses to sue in federal court. Such lawsuits previously were left to state courts.
Hatch worked with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., to craft the legislation, which passed unanimously out of the Senate and with only two votes in opposition in the House.
"As many of you know, one of the biggest advantages that we've got in this global economy is that we innovate. We come up with new services, new goods, new products, new technologies," Obama said in signing the bill. "Unfortunately, all too often, some of our competitors, instead of competing with us fairly, are trying to steal these trade secrets from American companies. And that means a loss of American jobs, a loss of American markets, a loss of American leadership."
Hatch's office stressed the new law would help Utah businesses, especially tech companies now making a new home along the Wasatch Front that are worried about protecting their trade secrets. It could even help restaurants, like Cafe Rio, Hatch's office noted, because recipes can also be private information.
Supporters of the new law say that it will go a long way in combating the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars each year by stealing corporate trade secrets, which can be stolen with a few keystrokes and sometimes at the behest of a foreign government or competitor.
Obama said Wednesday that allowing civil actions against theft in federal court would "hurt them where it counts, in their pocketbook."
Hatch, in a statement, said enacting the Trade Secrets Act is the "most significant intellectual property development in years, and it demonstrates that Republicans and Democrats can work across the aisle in seeking to advance important public policies that will benefit the American people and boost our nation's economy."
Michelle K. Lee, the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, called the signing a "new day for American inventors," in a piece on Huffington Post.
"From the recipe for Coca-Cola to the formula for WD-40, trade secrets pervade the world around us and have for as long as there has been commerce," Lee wrote. "Innovators of all types, Fortune 500 and solo inventors alike, rely on trade-secret protections as a speedy and affordable way to safeguard the creativity and inventions that power a search engine or offer a competitive advantage in one's manufacturing process, all while furthering one's business goals."
But the bill does have its detractors. More than 30 law professors said in a 2014 letter that the Defend Trade Secrets Act will not solve the problems its sponsors say it will.
"Instead of addressing cyber-espionage head-on, passage of the DTSA is likely to create new problems that could adversely impact domestic innovation, increase the duration and cost of trade secret litigation, and ultimately negatively affect economic growth," the group warned.