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Florida lawmakers introduce proposal to stop Chinese espionage, theft of trade secrets

Gov. Ron DeSantis said over the last decade, the Communist Party of China has been stealing intellectual property from U.S. governmental and academic institutions.
Credit: AP
Flowers bloom near the Florida Capitol buildings Monday, March 4, 2013, in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida Legislature convenes its 60-day session Tuesday. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference in Tallahassee Monday, describing a new proposal that state lawmakers will introduce in the legislative session to address the theft of intellectual property and trade secrets by members of the Community Party of China.

DeSantis said over the last decade, Chinese nationals and governmental agents have been stealing intellectual property from governmental and academic institutions in the United States and in Florida. A new bill would roll out measures to prevent what DeSantis called a "pervasive threat" to the American economy.

“For far too long, the Communist Party of China and other foreign adversaries have been deliberate in their economic infiltration of other nations, the United States in particular,” DeSantis said. “China has made it a mission to steal intellectual property from our businesses, our government and our academic institutions, all to further fuel their global objectives."

House Speaker Chris Sprowls and other members of the Florida House and Florida Senate also spoke about the issue, describing the loopholes that the bill would close. The measure would prevent academic institutions from establishing foreign-language or cultural programs from certain countries, including China, North Korea, Syria and more.

That includes the controversial Confucius Institute, which the state of Florida terminated partnerships with in 2019.

DeSantis also discussed the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which received emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Saturday. Florida is tentatively expected to receive 175,000 doses of the vaccine, possibly later this week, DeSantis said.

The state lawmakers' 60-day session is set to begin Tuesday.

See below for a list of provisions in the proposed legislation on preventing foreign theft and combatting corporate espionage in Florida:

Protecting Institutions of Higher Education 

  • Every higher education institution, including their DSOs and foundations, will have to report any gift received from a foreign source that is $50,000 or more. Disclosures will be made to the Board of Governors or the Department of Education.
  • Random audits by state inspectors general will review at least 10% of the foreign gift agreements.
  • Research institutions will monitor foreign travel and provide an annual report of work-related foreign travel and activities listing travelers, locations and foreign institutions visited.
  • Research institutions will more fully screen foreign applicants for research positions.

Safeguarding Public Entities and Recipients of Public Grants or Contracts 

  • Every state agency or political subdivision must disclose any grant, money, gift or anything of value worth more than $50,000 from any foreign source to the Department of Financial Services within 30 days of receipt.
  • Private entities that apply for grants or want to do business with the state of Florida or receive large grants must disclose financial ties worth more than $50,000 with China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, or Venezuela or their agents.
  • Public entities are prohibited from entering into agreements or accepting donations to set up propaganda missions of China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela. These countries of concern exploit cultural agreements to influence and push their agendas on the state and local level.

Combatting Corporate Espionage in Florida

  • Modernize the terminology in trade secret theft­ crime to expedite enforcement.
  • Create a trafficking in trade secrets crime for any person who traffics or attempts to traffic in trade secrets they know or should have known was stolen.
  • Include greater penalties for theft­ or trafficking in trade secrets if the crime intends to benefit a foreign government or entity.
  • Allow a court to issue an injunction to prohibit improper use of a trade secret, require actions to protect the trade secret, or require payment of a reasonable royalty for use of a trade secret.

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