Trade secrets: releasing innovation from costly espionage

05'21" 27/01/2016
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MEP Constance Le Grip expresses hope that the new directive will protect business and academia know-how while also paving the way for whistleblower protection.
Protect non-patented trade secrets from industrial espionage, provide a legal framework for EU businesses to prevent external attacks, and one day, perhaps, also protect whistleblowers. We met with the MEP in charge of the new directive against industrial espionage. Good afternoon Constance Le Grip. Hello. You are the rapporteur on this new directive which will most likely see the light of day after long negotiations, it was very tough to bring agreement among the various parties and governments. What strikes me as I read the first articles is that it starts with a long list of exceptions.

So my first question is, who is affected by this trade secrets directive?
The directive aims to protect innovation and creation in Europe. The keys for our competitiveness, this innovation, research and creation represent extremely important added value for the creation of jobs, economic development, the smooth functioning of the internal market and are under threat and vulnerable to attacks and espionage.
Constance Le Grip
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
EU patents haven't been enough? -EU patents are an essential achievement. Most of the time, trade secrets precede application for a patent. Manufacturing processes, the design, the 'small' secrets bring the added value, competitiveness and the competitive advantage of small, medium or large businesses.

The directive also aims to prevent theft, stealing, espionage... A large part of the debate, I would say, has centred on so-called whistleblowers. These are the people who reveal trade secrets from the inside, disclosing illegal activities, be it fraud or a criminal offence. Initially they were to be part of the directive, they are now excluded.
Can you confirm this? -Journalists, all those practising journalism, exercising freedom of information, in the name of the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the EU Charter: freedom of opinion, expression, information and media pluralism, they are excluded from the scope of the directive.

Whistleblowers, those who defend the European public good, are also excluded from the scope of the directive. This means that they cannot be prosecuted or sanctioned if they reveal information, even if they have obtained it by illicit means and under the condition that disclosure is in the European public interest.
Constance Le Grip
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
Therefore, there isn't a common approach to whistleblower protection for now. That is, legislation to not only protect but also encourage them to disclose information and become a whistleblower.
It's true that the aim of the current legislation was not to establish a European legal status for whistleblowers nor to concretely draw up the normative or regulatory framework under which whistleblowers could operate legally, the objective was the smoother functioning of the internal market.

You are however totally right that it is a subject of real growing concern in the European Parliament and I think among all the political parties, in light of all of the recent scandals which have borne witness to the importance of the work of whistleblowers, to think through providing real protection and jointly developing - however long it takes - a normative framework to regulate and protect whistleblowing in Europe.
Constance Le Grip
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
Employees which have worked for a company for a long time and for whatever reason, be it that they enter retirement or change companies, take their know-how and experience to a new company elsewhere.

Can they be taken to court for this?
No, we wanted to enshrine the burning obligation to respect and ensure full enjoyment of job mobility. There are growing rates of industrial and economic espionage in Europe, as in other areas of the world. We know that inside and outside the EU competition is fierce and cutthroat, that there are cases of industrial espionage of illicit misappropriation and of extremely dishonest, rogue and malicious competition practices, and they continue to grow. We need a common EU legal framework both for the definition and protection of European professional know-how to provide a basis for mutual trust so that exchanges in Europe between businesses, and between businesses and universities, research labs, suppliers and subcontractors can take place in a climate of trust.

Thank you very much, Constance Le Grip. -Thank you.