Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery stopped by the Chamber today for a roundtable discussion about a new law his office and the Chamber collaborated on during the 2014 legislative session to help protect employers from the theft of trade secrets. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Justin Pierce, who has a really good handle on the challenges employers are facing with this issue.
We are very fortunate that Mr. Montgomery is the top prosecutor in the county. His office has made it a priority to work with the business community to ensure that we preserve and protect a legal environment that encourages entrepreneurism and job creation, as evidenced by his wading into what can be a thorny issue in the workplace.
Theft of trade secrets is a difficult crime for law enforcement agencies to prosecute. Oftentimes businesses that were victims of the theft of intellectual property or trade secrets found that law enforcement agencies were ill-equipped to confront the crime, often advising firms to instead seek remedy in the civil system. At issue are fundamental questions like what a trade secret is and how to quantify a trade secret’s value. Montgomery’s office wanted to rectify those shortcomings in the law and give prosecutors the tools they need to protect victims.
This is a growth area for law enforcement agencies. Businesses are increasingly faced with issues of intellectual property leaving their possession via methods as passive as an email or a thumb drive. But in the click of a mouse, a business’ very existence can be threatened.
Some of this can be traced to generational changes in the workforce. Millennials who grew up downloading copyrighted content on file transfer sites might not recognize that what they’re doing with their employer’s electronic property as a criminal act.
Employers should make their policies on electronic materials clear. When it comes to an employer’s policies on the use and possession of electronic materials that might contain trade secrets, the clearer the policy the better.
It’s not unusual for employees to be allowed to be in possession of a company’s trade secrets as part of the normal course of doing their jobs. But employers would be wise in their employment manuals to provide clear expectations for employees on the treatment and protection of those items to help prevent potential legal tussles in the future.
For those of you who are interested in the broader issue of cyber security, I encourage you to join us on Oct. 8 for a special half-day event at the Montelucia Resort in Paradise Valley entitled Cyber Essentials to Protect Your Business: An Exploration of the New Cybersecurity Framework, which we’re presenting in conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. You can check out the agenda and register here.