Senate panel sends trade secrets bill to the floor

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday easily approved legislation that would strengthen federal law and provide damages for U.S. companies victimized by the theft of corporate intellectual property.

Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchGOP lawmakers ask IRS to explain M wasted on unusable email system GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Schumer says Pacific trade pact may have enough votes to pass the Senate MORE (R-Utah) and Chris CoonsChris CoonsDem blasts Trump on 'jail' line: 'That's what dictators do' Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis MORE (D-Del.), who teamed up on the measure that was approved by voice vote, said their bill would give businesses stronger and more consistent legal protections when their trade secrets are stolen in an effort to help stem billions in losses.

”Trade secrets are the only form of intellectual property that lack protection under federal civil law,” Hatch said.

Hatch and Coons urged Senate leaders to quickly bring the bill to the Senate floor citing widespread support in both chambers and among a diverse range of business leaders including DuPont and the National Association of Manufacturers.

“It is clear that Democrats and Republicans in both chambers recognize that American businesses continue losing significant revenue and American jobs to trade secret theft, a national problem the bill intends to fix," Coons said.

Hatch said he is optimistic the bill could reach President Obama's desk. 

Ahead of the Thursday's mark-up, Hatch and Coons detailed why Congress needs to pass the measure.

"Every year, industrial spies infiltrate American companies, stealing valuable trade secrets and leaking them to domestic competitors and corporations overseas," Hatch and Coons wrote wrote in an op-ed in The Hill.

“This crime cripples innovation and hampers economic growth, costing U.S. businesses billions of dollars each year,” they wrote.

Hatch and Coons won over their colleagues by reworking the bill after it ran into hurdles in December.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseMoney for nothing: Rethinking CO2 Dem takes Exxon fight to GOP chairman's backyard Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP MORE (D-R.I.) said Thursday that he previously had "grave" concerns but thanked Hatch and Coons for making the changes that spurred him to co-sponsor the bill.

Hatch assured committee members that the bill does not pre-empt state law because states are free to add further protections. 

They also addressed questions on whistleblower protections and questions about property seizure.

The lawmakers argued that the measure would provide the Justice Department and other federal agencies with more tools to aid companies in combatting trade secret theft.

Last year, the Justice Department brought only 15 criminal cases for trade secret theft, the lawmakers said.

Most of the cases are handled in state courts where differing laws has made it more expensive and complicated for U.S. companies to fight theft issues, they said. 

"At a time when trade secret theft is more prevalent than ever, U.S. companies must be able to protect their trade secrets in federal court," the lawmakers wrote in the op-ed.