American business interests in Japan are calling on Tokyo to use its clout to move the global marketplace towards a robust and uniform system of protection against the theft of trade secrets.
The position paper Viewpoint, published by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), comes amid the growing problem of theft of competitive information—such things as manufacturing techniques, sophisticated technologies, secret formulas and company strategy—particularly by electronic means.
This proprietary information has become increasingly important to the value of companies in high-end manufacturing, defense, health care, and other sectors, and often represents years of work and millions of dollars worth of research.
“Trade secret theft directly threatens the revenue and growth potential of Japanese and American companies,” says the paper, written by the Chamber’s Intellectual Property Committee. “The impact of trade secret theft can be devastating to both business and consumers.”
ACCJ calls on the Government of Japan to work with its trading partners to put in place best practices around protecting trade secrets, press signatories of the World Trade Organization to adopt laws that conform more closely to its rules on intellectual property protection, advocate for restoring a dispute mechanism within the WTO which has long been suspended, and support industry-led efforts to protect trade secrets.
Under TRIPS–Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights—WTO members are expected to provide “effective protection” for intellectual property, but the paper says that in many countries, including the EU, laws protecting trade secrets are “underdeveloped and in some markets, protection is effectively non-existent,” or available only on a contractual basis.
“In addition, the litigation systems in some countries require public disclosure of the trade secret in any enforcement action, which is clearly counterproductive,” it says.
The ACCJ also urges Tokyo to support voluntary standards set by members of industry, rather than setting rigid regulations, to combat theft, and help establish “safe harbors” for sharing information related to theft and threats without disclosing trade secrets.
“Protecting know-how is critical to the growth of Japanese and American industry… Therefore, it is critical to the long-term competiveness of both the United States and Japan to cultivate a policy environment that makes it possible to mitigate any threat,” to these valuable assets, the report concludes.
Japan has the third largest economy in the world, after the United States and China. Its largest trading partner is China.