Intellectual property theft involves robbing people or companies of their ideas, inventions, and creative expressions—known as intellectual property. This can include everything from trade secrets to Proprietary products to movies, music, and software.
The FBI investigates intellectual property theft in two different ways. Traditionally, the FBI looked at IP theft/theft of trade secrets (industrial espionage) as a white-collar violation under our Criminal Investigations Division. Our new approach to IP theft is an enhanced relationship between the FBI’s Criminal and Counterintelligence Divisions when working theft of trade secret cases. A trade secrets case (economic espionage) when worked under the counterintelligence program occurs when the involvement of state-sponsored actors is suspected. Our goal is to contain and/or even prevent the theft as quickly as possible, no matter who’s behind it.
In 2022, intellectual property theft cost U.S. businesses 1.12 billion dollars.
The FBI’s intellectual property investigations focus on the theft of trade secrets and copyright infringement on products that can impact people’s health and safety, like counterfeit parts for cars and electronics. The FBI works with partners in the private sector and other law enforcement agencies at all levels to investigate these cases.
Economic espionage costs the American economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year and puts our national security at risk. Historically, economic espionage has targeted defense-related and high-tech industries. But recent FBI cases have shown that no industry, large or small, is immune to the threat. Any company with a proprietary product, process, or idea can be a target. Any unprotected trade secret can be illegally stolen.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has designated espionage as the FBI’s number two priority-second only to terrorism.
The FBI has dedicated agents and analysts located at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. The IPR Center strives to share critical information and raise awareness of the dangers of IP theft, fraud, cyber intrusions, and trade violations by coordinating with 25 key federal and international government agencies, as well as private sector partners, to combat IP theft around the world.
If you believe your company is a victim of these crimes, contact the FBI at 800-CALL-FBI, the FBI El Paso Field Office at (915) 832-5000, or the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center at www.ice.gov/iprcenter.
Investigators cannot act if they are not aware of the problem. The FBI will minimize the disruption to your business and safeguard your privacy and your data during its investigation. Where necessary, the FBI will seek protective orders to preserve trade secrets and business confidentiality.
If your company has invested time and resources in developing a product or idea – Protect It!
Jeffrey R. Downey
Special Agent in Charge, FBI El Paso