McGuireWoods’ Drew Austria Quoted on Criminal Investigations of Trade Secret Theft

March 18, 2024

The March 7, 2024, announcements by senior DOJ officials at the American Bar Association’s 39th National Institute on White Collar Crime Conference underscore the DOJ’s intensified criminal enforcement efforts related to theft of trade secrets, export controls and sanctions. As the U.S. government increases its efforts to prevent the improper transfer of trade secrets involving cutting-edge technology, IP managers need to stay on guard, McGuireWoods associate Drew Austria told IAM in a March 11, 2024, story.

Austria, a member of the firm’s Government Investigations & White Collar Litigation Department, noted that if companies discover circumstances indicating an improper transfer of proprietary information, “it may be appropriate to conduct an internal investigation and voluntarily self-­disclose their findings to the Justice Department in order to avoid civil and criminal penalties.”

Austria said companies must carefully evaluate whether and when to involve law enforcement agencies during investigations of trade secret theft. “Unlike civil litigation, companies who fall victim to trade secret theft and become involved in criminal investigations will likely be required to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to respond to inquiries and requests for documents and possibly make employees available for interviews.”

Austria added that management should consult with legal counsel before providing facts and documents to law enforcement agencies to avoid exposing the company to potential civil and criminal liability.

“In civil litigation, the company can retain more control over their prosecution of bad actors and the decision of when, and for how much, to settle such claims,” he said. “However, while civil remedies may allow a company to recoup some or all of its losses, criminal enforcement of trade secret theft may more strongly deter future bad actors through the imposition of prison sentences and monetary restitution.”