Photograph by Jim Dowdall/Lockheed Martin

Intellectual-Property Threats Abound for U.S. Companies

  1. Threats From China
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    Threats From China

    China is a major source of alleged intellectual property theft against U.S. companies, which have mixed success winning lawsuits in China's courts.

    In one of the biggest breaches in recent years, in March 2011 hackers targeted RSA Security, a company that sells security tokens to access corporate networks. The hackers used vulnerability in the tokens to access the network of Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor, most likely to obtain military secrets and intellectual property.

    Photograph by Jim Dowdall/Lockheed Martin
  2. "Hacktivism"
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    "Hacktivism"

    Activist hackers, or hacktivists, can also be a danger to companies. For example, early last year members of Anonymous, the hacker collective, copied and publicly released sensitive files of H.B. Gary Federal, a security company.
    Photograph by Jean-Francois Deroubaix/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
  3. Inside Jobs
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    Inside Jobs

    Insiders are among the biggest threats corporate intellectual property. According to a survey of 607 businesses by the CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University, 43 percent of companies say they experienced at least one cybercrime incident by an insider in 2010.

    The threat goes up significantly after insiders have landed a job elsewhere. Security company Symantec found that 65 percent of insiders who steal corporate secrets had already accepted jobs at a competing company or founded a start-up at the time of the theft.

    Photograph by Nick Veasey/Getty Images
  4. Bring-Your-Own-Device
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    Bring-Your-Own-Device

    Companies are increasingly letting workers use their personal smartphones and tablets for work, which can add to the complexities of securing corporate data. A survey by Yankee Group, a business consulting company, found that 60 percent of companies allow consumer software and devices in the workplace this year, up from 43 percent a year earlier.
    Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
  5. Tech-Based Defenses
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    Tech-Based Defenses

    Security experts advise that companies use some basic defenses like educating employees about intellectual property theft, requiring strong passwords and blocking workers from documents that they do not need access to. Security consultants also recommend multiple layers of technology to fight intellectual property theft. Among other measures, they suggest using firewalls, document tracking systems and technology that detects unusual activity by employees on corporate networks.
    Photograph by Rich Hendry/Gallery Stock
  6. Blocking the Cloud
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    Blocking the Cloud

    To reduce the potential for secrets leaking, some companies also block consumer cloud storage services like Dropbox from their networks., for fear that employees could use them to stash corporate documents.

    Photograph by Kai Wang/Gallery Stock
  7. Prosecuting IP Thieves
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    Prosecuting IP Thieves

    Federal authorities make occasional arrests for intellectual property theft and win infrequent convictions. In August, for example, a former Motorolaemployee was sentenced to four years in prison for trying to leave the country with more than 1,000 confidential Motoroladocuments. Federal prosecutors said she secretly worked for a Chinese telecommunications company while a Motorola employee.

    Photograph by Cade Martin/Gallery Stock
  8. Averting Security
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    Averting Security

    Even the most comprehensive security measures against intellectual property theft can be bypassed. Employees can use difficult-to-prevent tactics like photographing sensitive information, copying and pasting information into personal email accounts and reading secrets over the phone.
    Michael Blann/Getty Images
  9. Increasing Litigation
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    Increasing Litigation

    U.S . patent-infringement lawsuit filings reached an all-time high of 4,015 in 2011, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The rise highlights the high stakes of intellectual property or, as some say, a dysfunctional patent system that invites excessive litigation.

    The same study found that the number of patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grew 5 percent in 2011 to 244,430. The number has increased by an average of 4.5 percent annually since 1991.

    Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  10. Major Damages
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    Major Damages

    Apple scored a big victory in August when a federal jury decided that Samsung infringed on Apple's smartphone and tablet designs. The jury recommended that Samsung pay $1 billion in damages for its "willful" violations.

    The median award by a jury in patent infringement cases was $8.7 million from 2006 to 2011, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers study. In bench trials, where a judge determines the award, the median amount was far less, at $400,000 over the same period.

    Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg