In this article, we take a postcolonial management approach to exploring the lingering significance of postcolonial imagery in shaping legal disputes between host country and foreign multinational corporations. We apply a critical discourse analysis to the Korea versus Orbotech industrial espionage lawsuit, in which the Korean government accused a foreign multinational corporation of leaking its ‘national core technology’. Through this analysis we demonstrate how industrial espionage discourse was used to fight Korea’s negative reputation as a technological imitator, associate Korea with global technological leaders, and disassociate itself from other ‘imitators’. In response, Orbotech’s industrial espionage discourse has aimed to reproduce Korea’s imitator stigma. Our findings highlight the continual role of the imagined North/South and West/rest symbolic boundaries in constructing global business hierarchies even when the marginalized party—Korea—has already moved to the elite economies club. While international management studies rarely address industrial espionage beyond its technical meaning, we underline the embeddedness of industrial espionage as a discourse in maintaining and disrupting the geopolitical business landscape.
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© The Author(s) 2020.
- Industrial espionage
- intellectual property
- international management and business studies
- legal disputes
- postcolonial imagery