American Convicted for Stealing Trade Secrets From US Iron Company to Transfer to China

March 6, 2019 Updated: March 6, 2019

A former 30-year employee of a leading American iron company was found guilty with seven counts of theft of trade secrets by a jury at a federal court in Chicago on Feb. 25, each count is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Robert O’Rourke downloaded 1,900 proprietary files two days before he resigned at Dura-Bar, a Woodstock, Illinois-based company that produces cast iron products used for manufacturing and construction, according to court documents.

He was arrested in September 2015 at the airport before he could take a flight to China—where he was planning to work for a Chinese iron company and competitor of Dura-Bar as its vice president.

O’Rourke’s attorney Anthony Masciopinto is preparing a motion to vacate the guilty portion or ask for a new trial, with a filing deadline of March 25, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

“He did not reasonably believe them [the files] to be trade secrets,” Chicago Business quoted Masciopinto as saying on March 1.

O’Rourke, 59, of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, joined Dura-Bar, the world’s largest producer of continuous cast iron bar products, in 1984. In more than 30 years, O’Rourke took the positions of plant metallurgist, quality assurance manager, and finally sales representative.

To develop new markets for the company, O’Rourke traveled to China and other locations frequently. This is when he met with people from the Chinese competitor—and prospective future employer—in eastern Jiangsu Province.

The Department of Justice press release on Feb. 28 said that in late 2013, O’Rourke kept his position within Dura-Bar, but began several months’ negotiations for a new job with this Chinese company, which the court did not name.

During the trial’s opening statements, U.S. prosecutors told jurors that O’Rourke wanted to look for a new job after he became frustrated with Dura-Bar’s new management, which made decisions he disagreed with.

O’Rourke once texted his ex-wife: “It’s not what I’m worth to Dura Bar in my job, it’s about the damage I could potentially do to the business.”

O’Rourke vented with his co-workers while going out drinking with them, telling them he planned to quit and join the Chinese company. One of his co-workers reported the news to the management, who then discovered that O’Rourke had downloaded the files. The company then reported to the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The week after his resignation, the FBI arrested O’Rourke at the at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and found the proprietary files, both physical and digital, in his suitcase, which pertained to manufacturing and lab documents.

U.S. Judge Andrea R. Wood has set the sentencing for June 3, 2019.

“The case shows the difficulties manufacturers face in protecting intellectual property,” Crain’s Chicago Business commented on March 1. The issue of intellectual property theft has been a major sticking point for the United States in its ongoing trade negotiations with China.

“There’s a tremendous amount of sensitivity right now about China’s theft of intellectual property,” Grantland Drutchas, a Chicago litigator on intellectual property, told Crain’s.