Monday, April 17, 2017

Another one for the MICE files

Also in this week's C&EN, looks like the U.S. attorney has another trade secrets case (article by Marc S. Reisch): 
...Anchi Hou, 61, who worked at DuPont for 27 years, is accused of downloading more than 20,000 files on DuPont’s flexographic printing plate technology in the months prior to his retirement at the end of 2016. If convicted, Hou could receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and pay a fine of up to $250,000. 
According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation complaint filed against him in the U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., Hou worked in DuPont’s advanced printing division in Parlin, N.J., and was involved in the development of photo-polymeric plates used in printing presses. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from National Taiwan University and a Ph.D. from Penn State University. 
Four days after forming a flexographic printing consultancy in November 2016, Hou told DuPont he planned to retire at the end of the year. In December, Hou was discovered taking photos of equipment in the Parlin facility. The firm then checked computer records and discovered that Hou had been downloading proprietary documents since July. 
DuPont filed a civil complaint last month suggesting that Hou had visited printing firms in Taiwan in July 2016 with an eye to selling them proprietary information. The FBI arrested Hou on April 7 after learning that he and his family had booked airline flights to leave the U.S.
Of the four reasons that people perform espionage (Money, Ideology, Compromise and Ego), it looks like Dr. Hou was after Money.

(I wonder what was the actual criminal act? Surely it's not illegal to become a consultant and to use the knowledge gained from your employer, but it is probably illegal to take documents containing trade secrets from your employer. Are the pictures illegal?) 


  1. When I worked for Dow, I had to sign a number of forms declaring that I would never disclose any proprietary information to which I had access at any time during my employment and that I would not compete with or enable competition for a term of 4 years. This was a standard non-compete agreement, but it was made abundantly clear that there was a line between going to work for the competition (a potential civil lawsuit) and conducting corporate espionage (a criminal offense). Non-compete violations can be quite hard to prove, and judges and juries often find in favor of the "little guy" trying to feed his family. Corporate espionage, on the other hand, can get you landed in jail. I was told that taking pictures of anything in the chemical plant without an official photography pass was illegal based on some obscure combination of trespassing and homeland security laws. While that may have been corporate B.S., transfer of those photos to a third party or use of that information for personal gain could constitute industrial espionage under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. If I were going to open a consultancy, I'd get a lawyer first.

  2. In my company it would definitely be a violation of contract and/or the non-disclosure agreement. No need to ask a lawyer, this is friggin' obvious

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