Dyson, the company founded by inventor James Dyson (pictured), has claimed that one of its employees has been working as a corporate spy - handing details of confidential developments at the firm to German rival Bosch.
Dyson has filed proceedings in court.
The claimsAccording to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the company claims that Bosch was using an employee in a special unit of Dyson's digital motors plant. The employee had access to cutting-edge developments as they were helping to test and form new ideas. Dyson says that Bosch paid the mole through an unincorporated business.
In a statement, Dyson said: "Dyson has confronted Bosch with evidence of wrongdoing but it has refused to return the technology. Nor has it promised not to use the technology for its benefit, forcing Dyson to take legal action."
Mark Taylor, Dyson Research and Development Director, said: "Bosch's Vice President for engineering employed a Dyson engineer and benefited from our confidential know-how and expertise. We have spent over fifteen years and £100m developing high-speed brushless motors, which power our vacuum cleaners and Airblade hand dryers. We are demanding the immediate return of our intellectual property."
CasesWe cannot know at this stage what happened, and will have to wait for the court to determine whether there has been any wrongdoing.
However, elsewhere corporate espionage is not entirely unknown. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, it costs the world's 1,000 largest companies over £22.4 billion a year.
There have been some very high-profile cases. In 2001 Fortune magazine accused Proctor & Gamble of spying on Unilever, and was said to have looked through their rubbish. Proctor & Gamble admitted it had broken its own rules when looking into Unilever's haircare business, and eventually settled out of court.
In 1998, Tennessee-based shaving company employee, Steven Louis Davis, was sentenced to 27 months in prison for industrial espionage. He worked for Wright Industries, which had been contracted to provide services to Gillette. He was found guilty of having stolen trade secrets.
In 1997 Harold C. Worden, an employee of the Eastman Kodak Corporation, retired and established his own consulting firm. Before retiring he had worked on a machine which produces plastic for consumer film, and when he left he took thousands of documents about the machine's development - marked 'confidential'. By the time he was arrested he had made $26,700 from selling the information. As part of a plea arrangement, he plead guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property and was sentenced to a year in prison.