There are such solutions, if your device is rooted. In that case, some anti-theft apps such as Cerberus are able to integrate into the system part (ROM) of the device, so a factory-reset wouldn't help the thief.
However: As we are talking about the "clever thief", he will first grab the device, switch it off, take it into some Faraday cage before switching it on again, then boot into recovery/download mode, and flash a new ROM. Bummer. Protection gone.
So there is no 100% protection. Technically, it might be possible if it's integrated into the hardware itself – but I've never heard that such a thing was done for a consumer smartphone.