A May 1, 2013 article in Automotive News titled “U.S. Judge Sentences Couple to Jail for Stealing GM Trade Secrets” [www.autonews.com/article/20130501/OEM6/130509970/u.s.-judge-sentences-couple-to-jail-for-stealing-gm-trade-secrets#axzz2go1kWwtH] describes a criminal case involving a former engineer at General Motors and her spouse who were convicted of stealing proprietary information – specifically, hybrid motor technology -- from GM and providing it to GM’s Chinese competitor, Chery Automobile Co. As described in the article, Shanshan Du “was convicted of conspiracy to possess trade secrets without authorization and two counts of unauthorized possession of trade secrets.” Du had worked in GM’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Group, during which time she copied thousands of documents, including some containing sensitive proprietary information.
The trade secrets Du provided to the Chinese automobile manufacturer were valued, according to the article, at $46 million. The news story quotes a GM official as stating that the trade secrets represented “many years’” worth of research “using highly specialized engineers, equipment and facilities.”
Theft of intellectual property, including highly-sensitive proprietary information, not only costs American businesses billions of dollars every year, but degrades those businesses’ competitiveness when the money they spend on researching and developing new items ends up benefiting their foreign competitors, who save hundreds of millions of dollars on research and development while fielding new technologies quicker than would otherwise be the case. When bribing a U.S. company employee or stealing trade secrets through computer hacking can save a company that much money while drastically reducing the amount of time ordinarily required to conduct similar research, then it is not hard to understand the motives behind such thefts.