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Reviewing The Trade Secret Short Film "The Company Man: Protecting America's Secrets" (FBI 2015)

2.5 out of 4 stars

The FBI produced a short film in July 2015 about a Chinese-backed attempted trade secret theft prosecution that actually occurred. Somehow I missed it; perhaps I was focusing on opposing the just-signed Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), which was merely fledgling legislation a year ago. Having been referred to this film today, I'd planned to watch it under a doctor's supervision (for fear of blood pressure issues) this weekend. Instead, it beckoned me like the latest episode of Veep, so I watched it this afternoon. I was not disappointed.

Here's my quick review:

First, production quality was pretty good. I was able to immediately identify that the criminals were Chinese by the pan-flute music that accompanied their first entrance. That kind of musical signaling was also helpful to me when watching Big Trouble in Little China the first ten times.

Second, there was also a good implicit reference made -- once, at the end of the credits -- about how better but hyper-complex cybersecurity (like not letting potential business partners roam your office while heading to the bathroom) might have prevented this true story of foiled trade secret theft from even occurring.* Thanks for mentioning that.

Third, SPOILER ALERT! I was impressed at how this successful prosecution occurred without the DTSA in place! Given that the DTSA was just signed, I'd assumed that we'd only now be able to go after these criminals. Imagine my surprise to discover that US companies have been able, all along, to capture foreign-government backed thieves and have them imprisoned under law that's been around for 20 years (i.e., the Economic Espionage Act). I wish Congress had known that before they nearly unanimously passed the DTSA with the understanding that it's a critical missing cog in US law.

Fourth, and last, it was gratifying to note that the employee who risks his life to help capture the criminals is endlessly motivated by his need to pay bills, like sending his daughter to Princeton (mazel tov!) The film does not indicate whether he was ever paid a wage commensurate with that of his vacuous boss, whose wealth is indicated by a Cadillac (our poor engineer is driving an older junk heap). Is the FBI implying that the hollowing out of the middle class is a real thing, and that US companies and their 1% chiefs should pay their valued mid-level skilled employees a livable wage? If so, kudos. Of course, public school teachers should be exempted from the foregoing, but I digress.

Overall, I give this film 2.5 stars (out of 4). I enjoyed it and survived the experience, indeed with a few laughs. I look forward to the possible sequel: Company Man Two: The DTSA Adds a Layer of Confusion to the Exact Same Result. I'm sure that the folks in the FBI's marketing department will come up with a better title, and it will be engrossing viewing.

Look for more trade secret film reviews coming this summer!

* Here’s the reference: “Corporate Attorney: … The culture shift from this experience has been that it's everybody's job to protect the intellectual property, that everybody needs to be vigilant about protecting this information.”

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