The Economic Espionage Act Of 1996 (EEA) is an act that makes theft or misappropriation of trade secrets, especially through acts of industrial espionage, a federal crime.
The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 punishes intentional trade secret misappropriation. A person is guilty under the EEA if he:
- steals, or without authorization takes, carries away, or by deception obtains a trade secret
- without authorization copies, downloads, uploads, alters, destroys, transmits, or conveys a trade secret,
- receives, buys, or possesses a trade secret, knowing that the trade secret has been stolen or obtained wrongfully
- attempts to do any of the aforementioned activities , attempts to commit economic espionage are punishable under the same penalties
The EEA is particularly severe with people or corporations who steal trade secrets in order to benefit foreign countries or foreign agents.
The Economic Espionage Act gives the U.S. Attorney General the right to prosecute any person or company that steals trade secrets. The penalties under the EEA are very serious.
- A person who is found guilty under the Economic Espionage Act can be fined up to $500,000 and face up to 10 years in jail
- A corporation that is found guilty can be fined up to $5,000,000
- If the trade secret theft benefits a foreign country or foreign agent, the fines for a corporation can increase up to $10,000,000, and jail time for both an individual and for a corporation can increase to up to 15 years
- The person or corporation has to give up all proceeds and property earned through the theft of the trade secret
The Economic Espionage Act does lend itself to several defenses. Some of the most common ways you could defend yourself are:
- You did not know that the information was supposed to be kept secret
- You did not steal the trade secret in order to benefit economically , if you use trade secret information simply to improve your reputation, you may not violate the EEA
- The information you took was not a trade secret , in order to be a trade secret under the EEA, the information must have economic value to its owner, it must be not generally known to others, and it must be under reasonable security
If you have questions about the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, you may want to consult an intellectual property lawyer experienced in trade secrets. An experienced trade secret lawyer will be able to explain your rights under the EEA to you and will defend you accordingly.