Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is American Superconductor Fighting Chinese Windmills?

Don Quixote:      "Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, 
              thirty or forty hulking giants?"
Sancho Panza:  "What giants?"
In Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes' masterpiece (1605 part I, 1615 part II) Cervantes wrote that Quixote was tilting at windmills, because he thought they were ferocious giants. This lead to the English expression: "tilting at windmills", which means: "attacking imaginary enemies" or "fighting unwinnable or futile battles". 

American Superconductor is suing its former largest customer Sinovel Wind Group Co. of Beijing in several law suits in China for alleged trade secret theft and "copyright" (I think it might be patent and copyright) infringements.American Superconductor is seeking 1.2 billion dollar in damages. 

Is American Superconductor the 21st century version of Don Quixote? 

In June 2011, American Superconductor discovered an imperfect replica of its software in a Sinovel wind turbine. Then they found the possible leak, an engineer at a subsidiary in Austria, who was sentenced to a year in prison.

American Superconductor chief exectuvie Daniel McGahn was quotes saying that they had strong evindence against Sinovel and that hundreds of emails between senior Sinovel staff members and our now incarcerated former employee were found. That these messages give a detailed account of the timetable of the crime and  show that certain senior level Sinovel employees knew that these intellectual property rights were illegally obtained.

To find trade secret thiefs can be elusive. Unless your company have the right safety procedures in place so that trade secret theft can be avoided or at least traced, courts will think you are fighting an imaginary enemy, just like Don Quixote was doing. So protect your company so that your battles will be neither unwinnable nor futile. 

Read Erin Ailworth's article for the Boston Globe here.

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