We don't often consider the role of intellectual property in international intrigue and espionage, to the extent that we give consideration of the real life existence and application of spycraft, but perhaps we should rethink how we consider the matter. After all, what is spying but the clandestine search for secrets and information, and the biggest corporations have seemingly as many to entice the corporate spy as governments do for their public-sector counterparts. It takes what can be the mundane in intellectual property and adds a dash of Ian Fleming and Graham Greene, albeit without some of the dramatic flourishes.
Take the recent case involving a bedrock American company and foreign actors trying to make off with intellectual property. Two men, Alexander Yuryevich Korshunov and Maurizio Paolo Bianchi were charged with one count each of trade secret theft after purportedly stealing information from G.E. Aviation pertaining to engineering designs and patterns for jet engines. While there were no late night break-in, complete with balaclavas and flashlights, the pair did allegedly conspire to pluck the information from the minds of former G.E. Aviation employees. Bianchi, formerly employed at an Italian G.E. Avaition subsidiary, left his post to begin working with a company that had dealings with a Russian firm similarly in aviation, where Korshurov was employed.
At his new job, Bianchi hired three current or former employees of the G. E. Aviation subsidiary to consult on and create a technical report for jet engine accessory gearboxes. Subsequently, Korshurov paid these same individuals to meet with him and provide updates to the technical reports.
As you might have suspected by the fact that such information about the plot is now available, this particular conspiracy did not come off cleanly; the FBI, with the aid of G.E. Aviation, was able to apprehend Bianchi and Korshurov, and the matter now rests with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio. It is as yet unknown what sort of jail time the pair might face if found guilty, or if any charges are due the trio of consultants hired to provide the plans and information.
It might lack the panache of a James Bond or the meticulousness of a George Smiley, but our pair of corporate spies certainly had ambition and a willingness to work outside the already wide margins of what is acceptable within the larger corporate culture. I think that no one is surprised that something like this happens, but that it doesn't happen more.