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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Coronavirus-related emergency measures may limit litigants’ ability to protect trade secrets in state court. State courts are drastically altering their operations in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, including closing courthouses, continuing trials and other deadlines, suspending rules requiring paper filings, and encouraging, if not requiring, telephone and videoconferencing.

New York State, which as of the publishing of this piece was the state with the highest number of confirmed cases in the United States, has imposed some especially restrictive measures for litigants in state court. New York’s Chief Administrative Law Judge, has restricted all non-essential filings (and has also postponed all “nonessential” services). New York courts are only accepting filings pertaining to emergency matters, which the Administrative Order defines to include criminal matters; family court; certain Supreme Court matters including guardianship matters, emergency election law applications, and extreme risk protection orders; and civil housing matters, including landlord lockouts, serious code violations, serious repair orders, and applications for post-eviction relief. The Order is available here. Filings in most civil suits are, accordingly, restricted.
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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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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