Prosecutors trying to stop intellectual property theft were dealt a blow in United States v. Qin (12-1015), where the Sixth Circuit held that evidence of stealing electronic parts and schematics from one employer was not similar enough to a charge of stealing trade secrets from a different employer. Judge Donald’s opinion notes that evidence of bad acts under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) is admissible only for limited purposes and under limited conditions. Finding that the stolen parts and documents were not trade secrets, it holds that “pilfering office supplies” and “misuse of resources” is not the same as trade secret theft. The opinion also relies on the potential for delay and juror confusion as creating too high a risk of unfair prejudice given that the government already had sufficient evidence to prove criminal intent.
This decision requires a very tight correlation between allegations of trade secret theft and similar-sounding bad acts before those acts can be admitted under Rule 404(b).