By this time most people have heard of Kevlar and many of them know that the strong synthetic fiber is widely used in body armor and for many other purposes.
Kevlar was developed in the United States five decades ago by DuPont, which owns a trademark on the product.
DuPont invested heavily in Kevlar over the years first to develop it, then to manufacture and market the product, which is also used by the automobile industry and in fiber optic cables.
Secrets worth stealing
Are the Kevlar “trade secrets” controlled by DuPont worth stealing? You bet they are. And a South Korean company recently made a strong effort to do just that.
Fortunately, at least two of the people involved in the Kevlar conspiracy have been brought to justice.
The South Korean company, Kolon Industries, wanted to have its own Kevlar-like product and compete with DuPont. It tried to accelerate the process by paying off former DuPont employees to divulge trade secrets.
One of the guys they greased worked for DuPont for more than 30 years and was involved with Kevlar-related technical research and development. He had signed a confidentiality agreement with DuPont.
Another former DuPont employee was an engineer and a salesman. He had also pledged not to cough up proprietary information.
Former co-worker consulted
Word about the conspiracy leaked out when one of the retirees asked a former DuPont co-worker some technical questions.
Law enforcement then got into the picture. One of the ex-DuPont guys was confronted and agreed to cooperate. His phone calls with Kolon people were tapped, his e-mails were read, and in-person meetings were recorded for audio and video.
Both former DuPont employees have been sentenced for their crimes.
Kolon Industries and five of its executives were indicted for theft of trade secrets. The company has pleaded guilty to the charges and was ordered to pay $85 million in criminal fines and $275 million in restitution.
Is that the end of it? Maybe for now for Kevlar and DuPont wannabes. But make no mistake, efforts persist to acquire trade secrets from American companies by any and all means.