Pssstà.I've got a secret. I'll let you in on it, but don't breathe a word. Here it is: “Everything in the rubber industry is a secret.”
Oh, you already knew the operative word in the rubber biz is “proprietary?” That if you ask people at some companies what the weather's like, they'll answer “proprietary,” even if rain is pelting the roof?
I imagine it's that way for a couple of reasons. It's a hyper-competitive business, and every edge is important. And then, it's a chemical-based industry. How you use those chemicals and related materials can mean the difference between a high-performing, high-value rubber product and a commodity anyone can make.
So it does make sense that at a recent rubber conference and exhibition in China, according to a couple of people who attended, about 300 or so delegates taken on a visit to a tire plant were repeatedly told: “No pictures!” As soon as they arrived, nearly everyone whipped out their cameras and fired away.
This makes a nice segue into a trial that is going on in federal court in Knoxville, Tenn., the U.S. vs. two former Wyko Tire Technology Inc. engineers.
The authorities say these photobugs talked their way into Goodyear's Topeka, Kan., tire plant and proceeded to photograph the tire maker's Swab Down System, used to wrap rubber around cable. Very proprietary. And valuable, apparently, since the would-be secret agents and Wyko planned to use those photos to help build an identical machine for a Chinese buyer, according to the district attorney.
China involved in theft of trade secrets! Well, that's a new one. The next thing you know people will be accusing it of hacking into search engines like, say, Google.
In any event, being an experienced reporter, I decided to use my expertise to find out just what is so special about Goodyear's Swab Down System. I started by using one of the tricks of the trade—a very proprietary technique. I'll share it with you if you keep it to yourself.
I Googled “Swab Down System.”
The first thing to come up was a video on You Tube. It had a coded title that I couldn't quite decipher. Here it is, verbatim: “why nudist girl swab down in publich, so sexy body.” After reviewing this video six or seven times, I decided no, that's not Goodyear's system.
There were other even more worthless videos produced by 13-year-old boys who should have been doing their homework, but I never got very far with those. I did read about the swab extraction tube and Baby Orajel Teething Swabs, but they just don't seem very tire-oriented.
So I guess this really is top secret, after all.
The interesting point is Goodyear naturally doesn't want its secrets revealed, and the district attorney and judge are of the same mind. They feel if the photos are shown, the Swab Down System won't be a trade secret anymore, and isn't that what this case is all about?
The defendants' lawyers don't agree with the idea of keeping proprietary information, well, proprietary. And that's why they are defense attorneys, and not members of the rubber industry.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.