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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A recent decision by the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York reinforces that owners of trade secret computer programs should carefully approach copyright registration in order to maintain both copyright and trade secret protection. This includes being conscious of copyright regulations allowing the partial and redacted registration of computer code with the Copyright Office.

In a recent manifestation of this principle, Capricorn Management Systems accused GEICO of misappropriating Capricorn’s trade secret source code for medical billing software. Last week, the court granted GEICO’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the code was not entitled to trade secret protection, in part because it was registered, unredacted, with the U.S. Copyright Office, and was therefore publicly available.
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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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Source: Claudia Künkel (Flickr)

A lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages based on allegations that the rideshare company was founded based on stolen trade secrets can now move forward after a jury in San Francisco Superior Court decided last month that the plaintiff’s claim was timely filed. The complaint alleges that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and others misappropriated Plaintiff Kevin Halpern’s idea for a startup called Celluride Wireless Inc. – a peer-to-peer service enabling passengers to summon drivers and track them with their cell phones. Halpern claims that he disclosed information about his idea to Kalanick under the promise of secrecy around 2006. The Uber app was launched four years later.

In defense, Kalanick claims that Uber Chairman Garrett Camp, also an individual defendant in the lawsuit, came up with the idea that later became Uber when the two were in Paris. According to Kalanick and Camp, Camp’s initial concept was for a limo timeshare service.
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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 second installment of our Trade Secrets Webinar Series: Trade Secrets are Not Intellectual Property – At Least Not in the European Union, taking place on Tuesday, February 11th at 11:00 am (EDT).

How are trade secrets defined in the EU versus in the US?

How do the US and EU judicial bodies differ in their view of trade secrets, and how does that protect, or leave vulnerable, your company’s most valuable information?

How might cross-border (or transnational) companies protect their intellectual property assets and prepare for threats when subject to dual (EU & US) enforcement?

During this webinar, Crowell & Moring attorneys Jan-Diederik Lindemans and Judith Bussé will guide you through the small differences in the language and theory behind the EU Trade Secrets Directive and the US Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), and the important consequences these have on your trade secrets protection and strategy.

To register, please click here.
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Christopher M. Warman allegedly has some valuable fudge recipes. In his second action to protect what he claims to be a valuable trade secret recipe for fudge, Warman’s complaint does not sugar-coat the parties’ sticky situation. He and his company have sued his ex-wife, Christine Falvo, and her company for a myriad of claims—trade secret

In Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, the Supreme Court strengthened the federal government’s ability to protect trade secrets and confidential business information from disclosure in response to a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request. Food Mktg. Inst. v. Argus Leader Media, __ U.S. __, 139 S. Ct. 2356, 2366 (June 24, 2019). Under the facts of that case, the Court held that where the government received a third-party’s commercial and financial information and this information was treated confidentially, the information was exempt from disclosure and the government could not disclose it in response to a FOIA request. Many predict that this decision, which we previewed earlier this year, will help protect companies that provide sensitive information to government agencies and make it more difficult for the general public (including journalists and competitors) to access this information.
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