A Sociological Approach to Misappropriation

51 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2009 Last revised: 23 Mar 2009

See all articles by Elizabeth A. Rowe

Elizabeth A. Rowe

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: March 2, 2009


This paper is grounded on the premise that sociological analysis can be of great benefit to trade secret law. More specifically, a sociological approach can improve our understanding of the social factors involved in the complex interplay between legal doctrine and compliance. As the first article to apply sociological analysis to trade secret law, this paper uses a group which constitutes the largest segment of the workforce, namely, Generation X and Generation Y (collectively referred to and coined in the Article as New Generation Employees) as a case study for analyzing how values and social norms influence compliance with trade secret laws.

The Article examines the reported societal effects on the values of New Generation Employees. Unlike the Baby Boomers these New Generation Employees, for instance, are likely to change jobs quickly, protect and prioritize their self-interests, expect immediate gratification and rewards from employers, start their own companies, and use technology with great ease. It then discusses how the attitudes and behaviors of these New Generation Employees map closely to the circumstances that are often present in trade secret misappropriation cases. This suggests a possible upward trend in trade secret misappropriation as New Generation Employees outnumber others in the workforce.

By drawing on the sociological literature, the Article, for the first time, applies theories about employee theft to trade secret misappropriation. It integrates the values of New Generation Employees with principles of equity theory, work climate theory, and societal change theory in a framework that (a) offers some insights into what motivates employees to misappropriate trade secrets, and (b) offers corresponding general preventive measures to protect trade secrets in the workplace. It also explores how New Generation Employees' values and norms could test existing legal doctrine related to trade secret misappropriation, ownership, and liability.

Finally, the Article considers more broadly the importance and usefulness of studying attitudes, behaviors, and cultural influences in intellectual property. Changes in attitude about intellectual property in general might have implications for innovation, protection, compliance, and enforcement norms in the United States. The Article also posits that this kind of analysis which combines social science with intellectual property law might also be of some benefit to the frustrations United States companies experience in dealing with the foreign enforcement of their intellectual property rights.

Keywords: trade secrets, generation x, generation y, sociology, employee theft, misappropriation, boomers, younger generation, trade secret misappropriation, social norms, new generation, trade secret protection, workplace, employees

Suggested Citation

Rowe, Elizabeth A., A Sociological Approach to Misappropriation (March 2, 2009). University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 2009-14, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1351969 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1351969

Elizabeth A. Rowe (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics