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. Our Trade Secret Team has over 50 years of cumulative experience in this space and can pass along 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.
The timing of these investigations is critical. Jones Walker’s Trade Secret Team has assisted numerous companies with these investigations and can help strengthen how your company protects its trade secrets. Please contact me, Tom Hubert, or P.J. Kee if your company finds itself in a potential trade secret dispute.