BBJ: ViewPoint: Innovators need to protect trade secrets
As originally appearing in Boston Business Journal

Here in New England, we pride ourselves on our region’s vibrant and thriving innovation economy. Our region is home to a diverse array of innovative businesses representing the information technology, life sciences, medical device, and manufacturing sectors, to name a few.

For all of these businesses, intellectual property is a significant asset and one they seek to protect. One of the most valuable categories of IP for many of our region’s innovators is trade secrets. In fact, the trade secrets of U.S. publicly listed companies alone are worth approximately $5 trillion. Trade secrets can include a wide range of information, including manufacturing processes, product development, source code, industrial techniques, formulas, pricing information, and customer lists. Protecting this form of intellectual property is absolutely critical to driving innovation that is so key to continued economic growth and global competitiveness.

Unfortunately, innovators in our region are increasingly the target of sophisticated efforts to steal trade secrets. While there are currently state laws in place to address the theft of trade secrets, there are not adequate measures in place at the federal level to address the interstate and international nature of trade secret theft in the 21st century. This is particularly problematic in the New England region where it is incredibly easy for a party who has stolen trade secrets to move quickly across state jurisdictional borders. Companies that own trade secrets need access to a federal civil remedy and the same legal options that are now available to the owners of other forms of IP, such as patents, trademarks and copyrights.

Earlier this year, bipartisan legislation to close this gap in the law, the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2015, was introduced in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation has a long list of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including many New Englanders: Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representatives David Cicilline (C-RI), Joseph Kennedy (D-MA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

The act would establish a federal civil right of action for businesses to protect trade secrets in U.S. federal courts. It would provide a consistent, harmonized legal framework and would help minimize the commercial injury and loss of employment that can result when trade secrets are stolen. A federal civil right of action will also eliminate the complicated and costly process of pursuing legal action across multiple state jurisdictions.

In addition to strong bipartisan support in Congress, this bill has also won the support of numerous businesses and trade associations representing a wide range of industries, including the New England Council. Our region is home to some of the nation’s, and indeed, the world’s most cutting edge, innovative companies, all of whom play a significant role in the region’s economic well-being. It is critical that we provide these innovators with the tools to protect their intellectual property so that they can continue to grow, and we are hopeful that Congress will do just that by passing the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council.

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