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Misuse of proprietary information

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Anson, a product engineer at a medium-sized company, was the designer of an innovative electronic thermometer that later became the bestselling product of the company.  He left after his company was acquired by another company.


Later, Anson joined a medical equipment company which used to be a major competitor of his former employer.  He learnt that they intended to develop a new electronic thermometer.  He also noticed that a slight modification of the electronic thermometer he designed for his former employer could serve as a new product. In order to impress his new employer, Anson decided to design a new thermometer based on the product of his old company, neglecting the non-disclosure agreement he signed with his former employer on product information.

Case Analysis

What Anson did was a breach of trust of his former employer and he may face lawsuits from them for infringing intellectual property rights and breaching the non-disclosure agreement signed.


Anson may contravene the Rules of Conduct of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) if he is a member of the institution, which prohibit an engineer from making use of proprietary confidential information for personal gain.  When working with new clients or changing employment, an engineer has a moral obligation to honour confidential and proprietary information gained from his previous employment, particularly the specific business or technical information from clients or employers.


The Rules of Conduct of HKIE also require an engineer to offer complete loyalty to his employer, past and present, in all business affairs and discharge his duties with integrity and in accordance with the highest standards of business ethics. An engineer is expected to properly credit the contributions of others in engineering practice.

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