White Collar Crime – Theft of Trade Secrets

Everyone’s had frustrating work experiences. In those situations, it’s tempting to jump ship and work for someone else.

In the heat of the moment, acquiring and redistributing closely held knowledge to a competitor can seem like a good idea.

However, it constitutes a theft of trade secrets, and if you aren’t careful, it can cost you more than a good working relationship with your employers.

If you’re facing federal counts of theft of trade secrets, the Zoukis Consulting Group can help. Learn more about these charges below so you can understand how laws around crime work.

What Is the Theft of Trade Secrets? 

Theft of trade secrets occurs when you give insider knowledge to a competitor or business that doesn’t already have access to that information.

Theft of trade secrets examples include:

  • Chemical formulas 
  • Mathematical calculations
  • Marketing techniques or strategies 
  • Trade deals 

In some instances, theft of trade secrets includes handing over customer or client information to a competitor who wouldn’t otherwise have that knowledge. 

The Economic Espionage Act also stresses that trade secrets not only encompass various kinds of knowledge but it is considered protected as long as someone went out of their way to ensure their secrecy through:

  • Photography
  • Writing
  • Memorization

These are not the only ways to protect trade secrets, but some of the most relevant. 

Another integral part of determining what information constitutes a trade secret is being able to prove that knowing the information is valuable because of the limited number of persons with access to the information.

Penalty for Theft of Trade Secrets 

Although theft of trade secrets used to be regulated by state law, now it’s a federal crime. That means not only that your trial takes place in a federal rather than a state court but also that the laws surrounding the theft of trade secrets are significantly more uniform. 

This is a result of the Economic Espionage Act. It was drafted in 1996 but ratified in January 1997. 

Consequently, if you’re accused of theft of trade secrets, you may be fined up to $250,000

This increases if it’s a corporation found guilty of theft of trade secrets. In that scenario, the fine can be as much as five million. There is also a possibility of imprisonment. 

The maximum prison sentence for theft of trade secrets is ten years. 

Penalties for Theft of Trade Secrets for a Foreign Government 

However, the penalty for theft of trade secrets increases if you act for a foreign government or body.

In that scenario, the fine increases up to $500,000, and the prison sentence extends to as much as 15 years. 

If a corporation commits theft of trade secrets for a foreign government, agency, or industry, it is liable for a fine of ten million or a prison sentence. 

Note that whether you or your organization commits theft of trade secrets, there is always a possibility that you will receive both a fine and a prison sentence, not just one or the other. 


The last part of the penalty for theft of trade secrets involves forfeiting any property or money you received as part of stealing trade secrets. 

This includes any material you obtained without authorization to pass on to another organization or government. It also includes any money or goods you received for committing the theft of trade secrets. 

Federal Versus State Penalties 

Although theft of trade secrets is a federal crime, many states issue their own penalties at the state level. 

For instance, according to California law, theft of trade secrets is punishable by a fine of up to 5,000 dollars and a minimum prison sentence of one year or both. 

Civil Charges 

While theft of trade secrets is a federal crime, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that a person or organization that steals trade secrets won’t face a civil suit. 

Even if you face charges at a federal level, the company or organization with legal and exclusive rights to the stolen trade secrets may still want to bring independent charges against you.

The resolution of these charges may well happen out of court, but it’s important to understand that any penalty you incur in a civil suit will be independent of those administered at a federal level.

How We Can Help 

The laws surrounding the theft of trade secrets are complicated. That makes them challenging for a layperson to navigate.

We can work with you to help you mitigate the penalty for theft of trade secrets and arrange the best outcome possible for you.

Let a Trade Secret Lawyer at the Zoukis Consulting Group Help You 

Theft of trade secrets is a type of law that can feel dense and abstruse to the average person. That makes it challenging to navigate alone.

Luckily, you don’t have to. A good trade secret lawyer from the Zoukis Consulting Group will help you interpret the law around the theft of trade secrets and work with you to ensure you receive fair and reasonable consequences.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation.