DuPont has chosen to vigorously and publicly defend all its intellectual property, even if the technology is old. The older technology is probably generating cash for the company to invest in new businesses so it is worth protecting.
According to a March 8, 2012 article “FBI Traces Trail of Spy Ring to China” by Justin Scheck and Evan Perez in wsj.online, many US companies do not focus enough on intellectual property theft.
“Federal law-enforcement officials contend many U.S. companies do too little to protect their interests, failing to monitor employees and rarely bringing problems to federal agents for fear of bad publicity.”
“That is not the case with DuPont. It hires former high-ranking federal agents to keep tabs on its intellectual property and notifies federal officials of problems. The Justice Department has won at least four DuPont-related cases in recent years, among them convictions in 2009 of a former DuPont employee for stealing information related to Kevlar high-strength fabric and giving it to a Korean company, and of another for stealing trade secrets related to light-emitting diodes and taking them to China.”
“DuPont tries as hard to protect long-established technologies as new ones. It was more than 50 years ago that the company laid the groundwork for an efficient process to produce titanium dioxide, a white pigment used in paints and other products, according to court filings. The company honed the process through the years, becoming the world's largest producer of the chemical. To keep its complex production process secret, DuPont allowed most employees to know about only individual pieces of it.”
China, or course, seeks technology and intellectual property through a number of legal means. China opens certain Chinese markets to foreign investors only via joint ventures with Chinese firms that include intellectual property.
China also hires experts to research areas of interest and puts the legally obtained pieces of information together to create an understanding of the technology or process. This is standard CI approach, but when does it cross the line? An anonymous tip lead to the arrest of Walter and Christina Liew last summer for conspiring with government owned Chinese firm Pangang Group to steal DuPont’s titanium processing secrets for which the Liews received millions of dollars.
“Over the past 15 years, according to court filings and people familiar with the matter, Mr. Liew hired several former DuPont employees knowledgeable about specific pieces of the titanium process—a practice that isn't illegal.”
“One was Tim Spitler, an engineer in Reno, Nev., with a reputation for great titanium expertise. He told a friend around 2003 that he was working with Mr. Liew to cobble together titanium-making know-how to sell to a Chinese company, the friend said in an interview. A lawyer for Mr. Spitler said he eventually agreed to cooperate with investigators.”
“Another was Tze Chao, a 36-year DuPont veteran. Mr. Chao—who last week pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit economic espionage—said in a statement filed in court that shortly after his 2002 retirement, Pangang officials asked him to provide DuPont titanium-dioxide-making information. Mr. Chao said he hooked up with Mr. Liew after learning Mr. Liew was trying to sell similar information to Pangang.”
How does your firm protect its intellectual property? Does it try to handle thefts quietly so no proprietary information might be leaked in a prosecution? Or does it very loudly defend itself to send a message to other potential thieves?
Of course, in either case, companies should have an active policy of protecting and enforcing its IP or it will lose rights.
China, or course, denies any involvement or intent to obtain IP illegally.