Baker McKenzie surveyed over 400 companies and groups, and conducted eight in-depth interviews with officials from agencies such as the FBI and the US Chamber of Commerce.
Healthcare was the most affected sector, with 33 percent of executives reporting trade secret theft. Former employees and third-party suppliers committed the most theft.
Fewer than one third of companies said they have an action plan in place to respond to trade secret theft, even though 82 percent of executives said their secrets are important to their businesses. Almost half (48 percent) of respondents said that trade secrets are more important than patents or trademarks.
This reflects a “marked disconnect between the importance that corporate executives place on their trade secrets and the measures they are taking to protect them”, according to Baker McKenzie.
Companies must implement appropriate protective measures, from securing computer networks and monitoring employee electronic use, to providing training, developing corporate policies and implementing non-disclosure agreements.
Paul Rawlinson, global chair of Baker McKenzie, said: “Throughout modern corporate history, some companies have gone to great lengths to safeguard their trade secrets. Colonel Sander’s handwritten original recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken was famously kept locked in a safe at KFC corporate headquarters.”
He added: “Today’s trade secrets are more susceptible to the threat of being hacked or downloaded, but they are of no less value to the companies that own them.”