As autonomous vehicles quickly move farther towards the mainstream, the underlying technology has become increasingly more valuable and has led to an uptick in the theft of autonomous vehicle (“AV”) trade secrets. Indeed, criminal prosecutions of former employees for trade secret theft have been on the rise, especially in the autonomous vehicle segment. Two recent cases underscore the enforcement agencies’ efforts to stem the rise in trade secret theft in the AV segment. Anthony Scott Levandowski was a former executive at both Uber and Google. He departed Google and created a new company named Ottomotto, LLC that was later purchased by Uber. Levandowski pled guilty to theft of trade secrets from Google, admitting that he downloaded approximately 14,000 files from an internal, password-protected Google server to his personal laptop, including a key internal tracking document from Google that detailed the status of its self-driving car program. Levandowki faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and $250,000 fine plus restitution.
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On February 13, 2020 the United States filed a sixteen-count superseding indictment against Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. and several U.S. based subsidiaries (collectively “Huawei”) charging Huawei with racketeering, money laundering, and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. The new charges, announced by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Justice Department’s Criminal and National Security divisions, and the FBI, are the latest of a number of enforcement actions by the U.S. Government against Huawei, and yet another escalation in the U.S. Government’s quest to prevent Huawei from stealing trade secrets and other sensitive intellectual property from American companies.
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On August 26th, 2019, a federal indictment was unsealed, revealing that federal prosecutors have brought 33 criminal charges against a former Google engineer who worked on the company’s self-driving car project from its founding in 2009 through his resignation in January 2016. The indictment alleges that in the months before his departure, the former Google employee downloaded from a secure database multiple engineering, manufacturing and business files related to Google’s custom LiDAR and self-driving car technology. The indictment further alleges that when the employee stole the files he was also working for two of Google’s main competitors in the self-driving space, Tyto LiDAR LLC, and 280 Systems, Inc.
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The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently unsealed a December 13, 2017 indictment of Chinese national, Xudong “William” Yao, who was charged with nine counts of trade secret theft. The charges stem from Yao’s theft of more than 3,000 files between September 2014 and February 2015, including trade secret information such as source code and technical specifications, from an unnamed suburban Chicago locomotive manufacturer. The stolen documents generally pertain to the Illinois manufacturer’s train control systems. According to the indictment, Yao began downloading files just two weeks after beginning his employment with the Illinois company and continued to download files while simultaneously negotiating for and accepting a job with a Chinese “provider of automotive telematics service systems.” He began working for the Chinese company several months after being fired from the Illinois company for reasons unrelated to the theft of documents, and Yao’s employer did not discover the theft until sometime later.
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Criminal trade secret prosecutions have been on the rise nationwide. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI have been partnering with businesses to combat trade secret theft and to vindicate the rights of corporate victims of such crimes. Emerging industries are a natural arena for trade secret theft – as new technologies start to

Autonomous vehicle technology, while still young, is already a major catalyst of trade secrets-related litigation. In 2018, Uber settled a lawsuit alleging theft of self-driving technology trade secrets from Waymo (Google’s self-driving car spinoff) for $245 million. With the future of the automotive market (and trillions of dollars) at stake, self-driving technology trade secrets are

In an indictment unsealed last week, the U.S. Department of Justice charged two companies – one based in China and the other in Taiwan – as well as three individuals, with trade secret theft, conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, economic espionage, and other related crimes. These charges are the latest in a recent string

In July 2018, U.S. District Judge James Patterson imposed a $59 million penalty against China’s largest wind-turbine firm, Sinovel Wind Group LLC (“Sinovel”), for stealing trade secrets from a Massachusetts-based technology company, American Superconductor Inc. (“AMSC”). This fine was imposed as restitution to the American company, AMSC, after Sinovel was found guilty of stealing

On June 14, 2018, six former and current Fitbit employees were indicted in the Northern District of California for alleged federal trade secrets offenses. The individuals are accused of either stealing market research regarding fitness tracker opportunities from Jawbone, or stealing internal studies – including a comparison study of consumer behavior in which consumers wore