CAR JACKING: Former Nissan Employees in Japan Arrested for Suspected Trade Secret Theft

On May 13, 2014, a former employee of Nissan in Japan was arrested by the Economic Affairs Division of the Kanagawa Prefectural Police on suspicion of trade secret theft.  The arrest was made under the trade secret provisions of Japan’s Unfair Competition Prevention Act (“UCPA”).

The former employee, identified as Kenichi Okamura, a Japanese national, worked at the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan until he resigned in July 2013.  Before his resignation, he allegedly copied, on four different occasions, approximately five thousand electronic files pertaining to sales and marketing plans for Nissan’s popular “X-TRAIL” SUV.  He allegedly copied the files from Nissan servers to a private storage device that he took with him when he left the company. 

Mr. Okamura had access rights to this data as part of his work for Nissan. Although police suspect that he intended to use the misappropriated data at his new place of employment or sell it for other financial gain, they believe that he has not yet done so.

The arrest of Mr. Okamura comes two months after another high profile arrest for trade secret theft—that time of a former Toshiba employee.  In March, it was widely reported that Toshiba was cooperating with police in the arrest of a former employee accused of disclosing to SK Hynix trade secrets relating to Toshiba NAND flash memory.  The former employee worked at a Toshiba facility in Yokkaichi (Mie Prefecture).  He allegedly downloaded research data on Toshiba’s latest NAND memory products and took that information with him when he joined SK Hynix in Korea.

While it is not customary for Japanese police to announce with specificity the charges against suspects in custody, in these cases, the police reported that they had arrested the former employees for trade secret theft under the UCPA.

These recent arrests suggest that Japanese companies, like their U.S. counterparts, are getting serious about protecting trade secrets.