The Theft of Creativity

The Theft of Creativity
Joining Forces to Stop It


Photograph of a light bulbOne of our recent investigations involved the theft of confidential documents pertaining to automobile technology. Another dealt with counterfeit military and commercial airplane parts. And a third case found us working jointly with Chinese authorities to identify multinational groups selling counterfeit software.

All three cases involved the theft of intellectual property, often defined as “creations of the mind”—like designs, inventions, proprietary business information, literature, music, and movies.

It’s serious business. These crimes can cause significant harm—financial and otherwise—to the rightful owners of the property, to the American consumer, and to the U.S. economy by robbing the nation of jobs and tax revenues.

The FBI plays a leading role in investigating intellectual property crime with our many partners. We’re currently working over 400 such cases—many with a global nexus.

Intellectual property crime encompasses many areas, including copyright and trademark infringement, counterfeit goods, and television signal/cable theft. At the FBI, our top priorities are two-fold. First, the theft of trade secrets—which affects not only a company’s bottom line, but also American competitiveness around the world. And second, product infringements that can impact the health and safety of consumers, such as counterfeit parts for aircraft, cars, electronics, and health products.

So far in fiscal year 2010, we’ve opened 35 counterfeit health and safety investigations and 56 theft of trade secret cases. We’ve had investigative successes in both areas—for example:

Theft of trade secrets: 

  • A New York City computer programmer was indicted for stealing proprietary computer code from his old employer and taking it to his new job. More
  • In California, three individuals pled guilty to conspiring to break the encryption algorithm developed by a satellite TV provider to protect its signal. More

Health and safety infringements:

  • Two Texas men were sentenced for manufacturing and selling counterfeit pipe couplings used in oil fields. More
  • The owner of a repair station certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Florida was sentenced for inspecting and testing certain aircraft parts without authorization. More

We’ve also recently joined forces with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board on “Operation Fractured Skies,” which focuses specifically on counterfeit parts in commercial and military aircraft.

Working closely with our partners in both public and private sectors is key to our success. Some of the joint efforts we’re involved in include:

As the Internet and advances in traditional distribution methods allow American businesses, inventors, and artists to market their “products” worldwide, the threat from criminals and criminal organizations who want to profit illegally from their hard work grows. But so does the commitment of law enforcement and governments around the world to find new and effective ways to combat the threat…together.