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poolevertCivil claims for trade secret misappropriation have always been grounded on state law, with only limited access to federal courts. That would change with the Defend Trade Secrets Act (S.1890) now pending in Congress as an amendment to the Economic Espionage Act. The proposed law enjoys broad industry and bipartisan political support, and was favorably reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 28. Most of the focus to this point has been on the need for a federal option when misappropriation occurs across state or national borders. But at the recent hearing a new amendment was proposed and accepted that would have an impact well beyond the original legislation. Suggested by Senators Patrick Leahy and Chuck Grassley, this part of the law would provide immunity under federal and state law to whistleblowers who confidentially report suspected illegal activity to the authorities.

The idea for this proposal originated with a draft article, Tailoring a Public Policy Exception to Trade Secret Protection, recently posted by Professor Peter Menell of the UC Berkeley School of Law. Professor Menell was confronting what should be a rather obvious issue: how do we support and encourage the private disclosure to government of needed information about possible wrongdoing, while recognizing the legitimate secrecy interests of business owners? It turns out that current law does not provide a clear answer, and this has negative consequences for whistleblowers and law enforcement.

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