The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Oldest Game

Industrial espionage is as ancient as industry itself—and a frequent accomplice to the rise of empires. From classical Greek cities to modern U.S. corporations, the theft of trade secrets has marked a transfer of power almost as routinely as bloodshed. The methods have switched from old-fashioned spying to online hacks, but the motivation remains the same: winning.

In the 18th century, a rising United States was the main culprit. Alexander Hamilton stressed the need to steal European technical knowledge, while Benjamin Franklin openly encouraged British artisans to immigrate to America—and, implicitly, to bring British machinery with them. “[M]ost of the political and intellectual elite of the revolutionary and early national generation were directly or indirectly involved in technology piracy,” writes the Fordham University historian Doron Ben-Atar in his book Trade Secrets. Today, however, the United States is the one defending its position against other perpetrators—most notably China.


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