The theft of trade secrets is prevented by the 1996 Economic Espionage Act . Economic espionage is defined as stealing trade secrets (ideas, formulas, products, etc.) and either gaining economically from them or selling or giving them to a foreign power. With increasing globalization, economic espionage is a growing concern to companies that want to stay competitive in the unregulated global market.

Economic espionage can be committed by a U.S. citizen, but under United States law, foreign nationals can also be prosecuted if their actions hurt U.S. citizens or the United States in general. Economic espionage can entail stealing an idea or product, or simply conspiring to do so. This law was designed to protect the proprietary secrets, products and information developed by businesspeople from being exploited by others without compensation. It is vigorously prosecuted by the Department of Justice and individuals face harsh penalties of up to 15 years in federal prison. Companies who engage in economic espionage aren’t off the hook, either – they can pay up to $10 million for stealing trade secrets.

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