Nobody has a clear fix on just how often employees steal vital confidential information from their employers. What is clear is that over the past five years six former chemical company employees have admitted to or been convicted of stealing trade secrets from their employers. In five of the cases, the employee involved was of Asian descent. And in all of the cases, the intended recipient of the proprietary information was an Asian company or university.
The reasons for the IP theft aren’t clear either. “Those who engage in a major scam are likely to have complex motivations,” says Chris MacDonald, author of the Business Ethics Blog and a visiting scholar at the Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics & Board Effectiveness at the University of Toronto. “It’s hard to boil it down to a single factor.”
MacDonald points out that “when people do the wrong thing, it’s generally not because they lack the relevant values.” Instead, wrongdoers find ways to rationalize their behavior. For instance, employees who steal IP may believe they serve a higher purpose in committing the act, such as helping fellow countrymen or bringing the benefits of technology advances to underprivileged people.
Although the motives of those who steal corporate secrets may be complex, monetary gain was involved in most of the chemical industry cases, according to a review of court documents by C&EN. After Mitchell stopped working for DuPont in 2006, he began to work as a paid consultant for Kolon and e-mailed proprietary DuPont documents to Kolon employees. Court documents ascribe the crimes of former Dow Chemical researcher Kexue Huang mostly to greed but also to feelings of patriotism and paternalism.Do we not have any fans of Cold War novels in this crowd? Why do people betray their country? MICE, of course: Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego. (Ideology = the other side is actually right (i.e. Kim Philby), Compromise = "Ve haff pictures of you in bed with our agent, Sgt. Lonetree.") Obviously, money is at the forefront with this crowd, but "feelings of patriotism and paternalism" is pretty much Ideology and Ego right there.
Reisch makes a terribly interesting cultural argument with respect to Chinese-national industrial espionage:
Marc Sardy, an associate professor in the department of international business at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., agrees that “you’ll find unscrupulous people in every culture and in every country.” But in the cases involving Chinese researchers or Chinese recipients of stolen information, he suggests, cultural differences may be at the root of at least some of the IP theft.
Until recently, Sardy notes, China’s Communist rulers didn’t allow private parties to own property, and all property, real and intellectual, belonged to the community. Individual property ownership was established in China only in the 1990s, Sardy says. And the concept of IP ownership, which is an extension of individual property ownership, is even less well established.I don't have much to add to this very interesting and quite well-researched article, but I do have a few questions:
- Intelligence agencies protect their sensitive information with "need-to-know" compartmentalization -- do large multinationals do the same? Cross-company cooperation is pretty darn important -- compartmentalization isn't worth it, right?
- Do companies protect their IP right before layoffs? Are layoffs (or their impending threat) the trigger for people who are prone to IP theft/transfer?
- Often in the movies (and in real life), the spy offers a piece of tasty information for free, upfront. How often does this happen in industrial espionage?
- Isn't it time for corporate IT security to get a lot better than it is?