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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Companies and other organizations increasingly must face serious and complex threats to their business and infrastructure.  Whether the threat is trade secret theft, rogue insiders, cybercrime adversaries, aggressive competitors, or misconduct by business and supply chain partners, companies should remain constantly vigilant and defense ready. Adversaries, including especially cybercriminals operating exclusively in the digital domain, are often highly motivated, sophisticated, resourced, and innovative. The opaque, pervasive, and global nature of modern digital networked environments presents opportunities for criminals. The sophistication and relentless creativity of these bad actors pose significant challenges to companies and law enforcement agencies in being able to detect, assess, mitigate, attribute, and deter these threats. Because available tools and real-world practices to address these threats often outpace the law, companies are called upon to develop their own comprehensive approaches to investigate and remediate these forms of risk. In doing so, companies must be willing to assume a certain level of risk to effectively investigate and obtain sufficient insight to counter the problems.
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The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania recently ruled that a forum-selection clause in a former employee’s non-compete agreement may bind their new employer for purposes of establishing personal jurisdiction.

Matthews International Corporation (“Matthews”), a manufacturer of cremation furnaces, filed an action in the Western District of Pennsylvania against former employees and two competitors, Implant Recycling, LLC (“Implant”) and IR Environmental Solutions, Inc. (“IR Environmental”), alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition. According to Matthews’s complaint, its former employees saved confidential company information and trade secrets on their personal USB drives and emailed company files to themselves before leaving Matthews to join Implant or IR Environmental. These former employees were subject to non-competition agreements that required them to submit to personal jurisdiction in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas or the Western District of Pennsylvania.
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Recently the District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a decision that illustrates the risks of taking an informal approach to protecting confidential business information. As described below, in Pauwels v. Deloitte et al., No. 19-CV-2313 (RA), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28736 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2020), the court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint, finding that the facts alleged by Plaintiff failed to give rise to a valid claim for misappropriation because (among other issues) Plaintiff failed to impose adequate protections on his alleged confidential business information.

The Plaintiff worked as an “independent advisor” to the Bank of New York Mellon (“BNYM”), earning upwards of $750,000 per year for his advice on how to optimize BNYM’s investments in alternative energy companies (e.g., wind farms).  No contract governed the relationship; instead, Plaintiff submitted periodic invoices for his advisory work. In the course of his work, Plaintiff developed an investment model as a tool for analyzing BNYM’s alternative energy investments, and in his complaint he alleged that the tool was his proprietary information. Over the course of several years, Plaintiff sent BNYM more than 100 spreadsheets showing implementations of his investment model. Eventually, BNYM retained Deloitte to provide the analyses and severed its relationship with Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleged that Deloitte improperly used his proprietary model when advising BNYM.
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For the first time, a United States federal court has held that a civil action for private damages under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) can arise from acts of misappropriation that occur completely outside the United States – as long as they have a nexus with some activities within the U.S. In Motorola Sols., Inc. v. Hytera Commc’ns Corp., Ltd., No. 1:17-cv-1973 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 6, 2020) (an earlier decision in this case was previously discussed on this blog here), Motorola alleged that Hytera Communications, a Chinese company, hired away three engineers who then took with them Motorola trade secrets, including thousands of Motorola’s confidential technical documents containing millions of lines of source code and other highly confidential information.

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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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Crowell & Moring invites you to attend the third installment of our Trade Secrets Webinar Series: Top 10 Tips for Safeguarding Trade Secrets, taking place on Tuesday, March 10th at 02:00 pm (EDT).

Instituting and maintaining a trade secret protection policy is a challenge. If no policy is yet in place, it may be difficult to decide where to begin. For an existing policy, ensuring its efficacy and adequacy under the law is time-consuming. Regardless of your situation, the solution is to take purposeful and informed action to improve the protection of your highest priority trade secrets.

Join Crowell & Moring attorneys Jim Stronski, Anne Li, and Robert Kornweiss to hear their top 10 tips for safeguarding your company’s trade secrets – a list of concrete actions you can assess, adapt, and implement based on your company’s priorities.

To register, please click here.
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The United States has long struggled with intellectual property (IP) theft facilitated or condoned by the Chinese government. Just in the past year, a CNBC CFO survey reports that one in five North American corporations have had their IP stolen by China, and just below one-third of CFOs of North American-based companies on the CNBC Global CFO Council state that Chinese firms have stolen from them during the last decade. This IP theft is very costly. In fact, some sources estimate that the annual cost that international IP theft imposes on the United States exceeds $225 billion in counterfeit goods and could be as elevated as $600 billion.

Chinese entities have been alleged to steal IP from foreign companies using methods such as trading with or forming joint ventures with the companies and then gaining access to their sensitive or proprietary information. Businesses have also willingly allowed Chinese partners to access this information in exchange for accessing China’s immense market. Some examples of alleged Chinese IP theft include a conspiracy to hack into U.S. defense contractors’ computer networks to steal sensitive military data and the fact that the Chinese military has infrastructure that can look suspiciously similar to that used by the United States. In the context of urging NATO allies to ban Chinese 5G equipment, Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity Summit last September that China is committing “the greatest intellectual property theft in human history.”
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