Ex-Google Engineer in Plea Agreement Over Federal Trade Secret Theft Charges – a Lesson in Trade Secret Protection.
March 20, 2020, Federal prosecutors had charged Google’s senior self-driving car engineer with 33 counts of trade secret theft stemming from his departure to start a competing start-up company. Apparently confronted with computer forensic evidence, he admitted that he downloaded over 14,000 files with detailed engineering information about hardware used on Google’s self-driving cars and transferred them to his personal laptop. In a plea agreement, he pled guilty to one count. It is expected that he will serve 2 years in prison and pay at least a $1 Million fine. Consider that the plea agreement (1 out of 33 counts) may have been reached because it was a live issue whether Google properly protected the information as a trade secret – a condition to finding a violation of the federal statute 18 U.S.C. s. 1832. Lessons here are first, start-ups (and their investors) should take care that the business isn’t built on improper sources of information, especially where key employees have come from competing organizations, and second, to take precautions to protect trade secrets so that Federal enforcement of trade secret theft is a viable course of action.