October 14, 2019

October 14, 2019

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Not So Fast And Furious – Executive Indicted for Stealing Self-Driving Car Trade Secrets

Back in March, 2017, we posted about a civil lawsuit against Anthony Levandowski, who allegedly sped off with a trove of trade secrets after resigning from Waymo LLC, Google’s self-driving technology company. Waymo not only sued Levandowski, but also his new employer, Uber, and another co-conspirator, Lior Ron. Since our initial post, things have gotten progressively worse for the Not So Fast and Furious trio: (1) Levandowski was fired in May, 2017; (2) Uber settled, giving up 5% of its stock, which totaled $245 million dollar;  and (3) the case against Levandowski and Ron was sent to arbitration, where the arbitration panel reportedly issued a $128 million interim award to Waymo.

Just when things couldn’t seem to get any worse, they did.

On August 15, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Levandowski on 33 counts relating to trade secret theft. Levandowski has pled not guilty, has been released on $2 million dollars bail, and  is currently wearing an ankle monitor.

This legal saga is a reminder that trade secret theft is serious… it not only has civil consequences, but also criminal ones.  Unfortunately, trade secret theft happens every day.  And regardless of whether your company has trade secrets regarding self-driving car technology, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or customer information worth less than a hundred thousand dollars, it’s important to make sure your company’s information is protected.

Equally important is knowing how to investigate potential trade secret theft. Some helpful tips as you launch your investigation:

1. Secure and preserve all relevant computing devices and email/file-sharing accounts.

2. Consider enlisting the help of outside computer forensic experts.

3. Analyze the employee’s computing activities on company computers and accounts.

4. Determine whether there is any abnormal file access, including during non-business hours.

5. Examine the employee’s use of external storage devices and whether those devices have been returned.

6. Review text message and call history from the employee’s company issued cell phone (and never instruct anyone to factory reset cell phones).

7. Enlist the help of outside counsel to set the parameters of the investigation.

© 2019 Jones Walker LLP

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About this Author

Joseph F. Lavigne, Jones Walker, unfair trade practices lawyer, noncompete violations attorney
Partner

Joe Lavigne is a partner in Jones Walker's Labor & Employment Practice Group and a lead trial attorney for the firm's Trade Secret Non-Compete Team. His practice focuses on prosecuting and defending claims of employee misconduct including trade secret violations, unfair trade practices, noncompete violations, invasion of privacy, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and theft. He also advises clients on employment policies and practices and negotiates employment agreements for employers. 

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