Some really worrying news: Last month the EU Parliament voted in favour of the Trade Secrets Protection Directive – that harmonises the rules on the protection of trade secrets. If this approved by the EU Council will be binding on all Member States. This seems to be yet another move designed to keep the EU ahead in the ‘Innovation Game‘ at the expense of consumer protection. If passed – the law could give corporations new powers to prosecute and criminalise whistleblowers, journalists, and news organisations that publish leaked internal documents – deterring people from speaking out about corporate malpractice.
CLICK HERE Trade secrets: Whistleblower protection not a priority. The Trade Secrets Directive is out of the starting blocks, but the creation of a protected ‘whistleblower’ status may take some time. EurActiv France reports.
Trade secrets will now share a common definition and common protections across all 28 EU member states. MEPs adopted the Trade Secrets Directive by a large majority in Strasbourg this Thursday (14 April).
Under this directive, all European companies will enjoy the same level of protection against corporate espionage. Constance Le Grip, a French Republican MEP (EPP group) and the Parliament’s trade secrets rapporteur, said that in voting to protect business secrets, MEPs had decided “to protect our innovation, to defend our European competitiveness”.
No protection for whistleblowers
But the potential consequences of this bill on the freedom of information have raised a certain amount of controversy, particularly surrounding the question of whistleblowers that act in the public interest by exposing malpractice.
CLICK HERE The version of the directive adopted by MEPs on 14 April contains an exemption “for the purpose of revealing […] misconduct, wrongdoing or illegal activity […] in the public interest”. Any potential whistleblower must demonstrate to a judge that their actions fulfilled these criteria before protection can be granted. “With whistleblowers, a judge has to decide because their legal status is less firmly defined than that of a journalist,” Rozière said. In all, the directive provides only very partial protection for whistleblowers: it cannot stop companies prosecuting individuals that reveal confidential information, but it can provide an angle for legal defence.
European Parliament Committee Copyright, Trade Secret Votes
16/06/2015 BY DUGIE STANDEFORD FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH
……Also Tuesday, [the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee] JURI approved a report by French MEP Constance Le Grip, of the European People’s Party, on the protection of trade secrets against theft and misuse. Companies need safeguards against economic and industrial espionage in order to innovate, but journalists carrying out investigations must be shielded against revealing their sources and the public has a right to be informed, the committee said.
Under the draft rules as adopted by the committee, victims of trade secret theft will not have a right to redress if the trade secret was acquired, used or disclosed for several reasons: (1) To make legitimate use of the right to freedom or expression and information, including media freedom; (2) To reveal misconduct, wrongdoing, fraud or illegal activity, provided that the respondent acted in the public interest; (3) To protect “a general public interest or any other legitimate interest” recognised under EU or national law, or by judicial practice.
MEPs inserted a clause providing that the rules won’t affect the disclosure of business-related information by EU institutions or national public authorities. JURI authorised the launch of informal talks with the Council, the committee said.
Despite some minor improvements to the EC’s text, the trade secrets directive “is still bad news for access to information,” said Health Action International Policy Advisor Tessel Mellema. Researchers, reporters and whistle-blowers won’t be properly protected when using information to protect the public from dangerous corporate products or practices, she said. Pharmaceutical companies may use the law to justify withholding the release of clinical trial and other medicine safety and efficacy data, she said.
Health Action International cautioned that harmonising the protection of “commercially confidential” information across the EU under the proposed measure would work against the current global shift towards open research model and would slow drug research and development. The EC “wrongly believes” that better trade secret protection is “the magic bullet to keep Europe in the innovation game,” said Mellema. But fully open projects such as the Human Genome Project show the benefits of open research and innovation, she said.