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Theft of Trade Secrets

Although we may not hear about cases involving the theft of trade secrets as often as we hear about cases involving embezzlement or insider trading, this offense still qualifies as a white collar crime and as such, should be taken extremely seriously by defendants. If you are being investigated for or have been charged with stealing trade secrets, you should retain an experienced white collar crime lawyer who can help you begin formulating a defense.

What is a Trade Secret?

The Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA), a version of which was adopted by the Florida Legislature, defines a trade secret as information, including: formulas, pattern, programs, methods, techniques, compilations, devices, techniques, and processes that:

  • Derive independent economic value from not being generally known to others who could obtain economic value from their use or disclosure; and
  • Are the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain their secrecy.

Common examples of information that qualifies as trade secrets include customer lists, client contact information, pricing guidelines, historical purchasing data, information about the needs and preferences of customers, and manufacturing details if the information cannot be ascertained from other sources.

Elements of a Trade Secret Claim

The use of a trade secret does not always involve theft or misappropriation, as trade secrets can be obtained lawfully through independent research, reverse engineering, and even inadvertent disclosure. However, there are situations where obtaining a trade secret is illegal, including when:

  • The secret is obtained through improper means; or
  • Its acquisition involves a breach of confidence.

In these situations, the owner of the trade secret can file a claim against the wrongful party, where he or she will be required to prove that:

  • The subject matter involved qualifies as a trade secret;
  • He or she took reasonable precautions to prevent its disclosure; and
  • The information was wrongfully taken or misappropriated.

Under Florida law, successful complainants are entitled to damages, which can include both the actual loss resulting from the misappropriation, as well as the unjust enrichment not taken into account when calculating actual loss. The amount of damages is often measured by imposing liability for a reasonable royalty against the at-fault party. When the theft is determined to be willful or malicious, courts are also permitted to award exemplary damages in an amount equal to twice the award of actual damages.

Federal Law

A person or company can also be charged with stealing a trade secret under federal law if the product or service in question is used or intended for use in interstate or foreign commerce and the defendant knew that the offense would injure its owner. In these cases, those who copy, photograph, download, upload, or otherwise transmit, communicate, or convey the protected information may face fines and ten years imprisonment. If the defendant is a company, it could also be required to pay up to $5,000,000 in fines.

Consult with a White Collar Crime Lawyer

If you have questions or concerns about information that may qualify as a trade secret, please call (305) 670-9919 to speak with dedicated Miami white collar crime attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. We are eager to assist you throughout each step of your case.

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