Thursday, January 23, 2014

Federal conviction for trade secret theft? A comment on Nosal by Karl Manheim and Jeffery Atik

Stealing a trade secret (reprehensible though this may be) has generally not attracted federal criminal liability. Yet in the recent prosecution of David Nosal, the Justice Department applied a computer hacking statute to convict a departing employee for a rather run-of-the-mill trade secret theft: the unauthorized taking of customer lists. Many if not most trade secrets -- like the customer lists involved in Nosal -- are stored on computers. As such, aggressive use of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could convert many trade secret misappropriations -- traditionally civil offenses and a state law matter -- into federal crimes. And this policy shift -- criminalizing and federalizing -- results from the determinations of prosecutors and judges, and not from Congress.

For more of this comment, see Theft of Trade Secrets Brings Federal Conviction on Loyola Law School's faculty blog, Summary Judgments.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce by Anupam Chander

I saw a caravan once, in Afghanistan. It was a little caravan: three camels and a small family. But it was enough of a caravan to invoke in my imagination the Old Silk Road. I wondered (until a French officer ordered me to leave the area) where the travelers came from and where they were headed. All I could take away was their direction of travel: East.

In the Electronic Silk Road, Anupam Chander describes digital trade routes. The new trade proceeds along electronic pathways; it is fiber and cable and not camels that transmits value across great distances. But the Electronic Silk Road Chander studies has a marked geography; place still matters. We find Silicon Valley and Bangalore and (as before) China, marking the major stops and starts along the way (Chander likes the word entrepĂ´t).

And the poles of the Electronic Silk Road, like the Old Silk Road, have valency. Chinese goods seduced the West for centuries: spices and trade goods and the silk that gave name to the trading route. The problem for the West was China’s notorious indifference to Western goods -- the West did not produce much the Chinese wished to have. Money was only a partial solution. It could of course pay for Chinese goods, but money, even in the days of gold and silver, was effectively a future claim on the West held by China. The Old Silk Road did not fit the mercantilist design of offsetting streams of goods.