The Simmons College Center for Competitive Intelligence in Boston will enrol its first students in May. It aims to train the 21st-century counterparts of James Bond - spies who will gather information not for countries, but for companies about their competitors.
Courses include such topics as trade secrets and laws restricting fraud, invasion of privacy, unfair competition and copyright infringement. Students will learn intelligence-gathering methods - including how to spy on multinational firms - and the implications of bribery and trespassing.
The field is growing fast. The industry association, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, has grown from 150 members when it was founded in 1986 to about 7,000 today. Within four weeks of its being announced, more than 100 prospective students had inquired about the Simmons programme.
Gerald Miller, author of Millennium Intelligence: Understanding and Conducting Competitive Intelligence in the Digital Age and chairman of the new programme, said: “Just think about the number of firms that are R&D-intensive, which are very much science-based, technology-based, which have a global presence, which have a leading share in their markets: chemicals, pharmaceuticals, processed food products.
“Pepsi can’t call Coke and Coke can’t call Pepsi. But if I’m Coke and want to find out about Pepsi, I can call Pepsi distributors, I can find Pepsi customers. All of those contacts are legal.”
The increase in demand for corporate intelligence training follows the passage of the United States Economic Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to steal trade secrets from a US firm.
Companies have been under pressure to create a licensing system for corporate intelligence experts, certifying that they know which forms of information gathering are legal and which are not.
“If you’re not certified, what’s to prove that you know what you’re doing?” said Dr Miller, who has also worked as a corporate intelligence consultant.
One other American university offers a research and intelligence analyst programme, but only at graduate level. The programme, founded in 1992 at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania, is the only four-year, private, pre-professional training programme for intelligence and research analysts in the world. Most of its graduates work as intelligence analysts for the government.
The programme at Simmons will cost $23,868 (£16,700) for courses leading to a masters degree in competitive intelligence.