Stealing white

By Del Quentin Wilber via bloomberg.com   Article

“There’s white, and then there’s the immaculate ultrawhite behind the French doors of a new GE Café Series refrigerator. There’s white, and then there’s the luminous-from-every-angle white hood of a 50th anniversary Ford Mustang GT. There’s white, and then there’s the how-white-my-shirts-can-be white that’s used to brighten myriad products, from the pages of new Bibles to the hulls of superyachts to the snowy filling inside Oreo cookies. …

In the 1940s chemists at DuPont refined the process until they hit on what’s widely considered a superior form of ‘titanium white,’ which has been used in cosmetics and plastics and to whiten the chalked lines on tennis courts. DuPont has built its titanium dioxide into a $2.6 billion business ….

Starting in the 1990s, if not earlier, China’s government and Chinese state-run businesses began seeking ways to adopt DuPont’s methods. …

… John Carlin, the assistant attorney general in charge of the U.S. Department of Justice’s national security division. ‘This is theft. And this—stealing the color white—is a very good example of the problem. … It’s about stealing something you can make a buck off of. It’s part of a strategy to profit off what American ingenuity creates.’

Most trade-secret theft goes unreported. Companies worry that disclosing such incidents will hurt their stock prices, harm relationships with customers, or prompt federal agents to put them under a microscope. … it’s often difficult to win a conviction for conspiracy to commit espionage. … China won’t even release the records or serve the subpoenas that might contribute to a prosecution. To win in court, companies must prove they properly safeguarded their trade secrets, something many fail to do.

DuPont/Chemours does shield its titanium dioxide process. Guards patrol its plants, which are surrounded by tall fences. Visitors have to be escorted and are forbidden from taking photographs. Documents and blueprints must be signed out, bags inspected. Employees sign confidentiality agreements and are relentlessly drilled on protecting proprietary information. Work is compartmentalized so that few employees have access to everything in a plant. The company vets all its contractors.”

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