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Trade secrets in the tech industry: What to expect

Innovation and the tech industry are intimately linked. Big tech companies spend billions of dollars every year trying to stay ahead of the competition, employing thousands of people to work on cutting-edge projects meant to give their product a leg up.

With this push for constant innovation comes a real risk: the theft of trade secrets. It’s a problem the tech industry will have to brace for, with a recent high-profile case offering a clear example.

The race for self-driving cars

There is one technological advancement that seems to have captured the minds of some of America’s largest tech companies: self-driving cars. Whichever business can successfully design, manufacture and sell a safe, effective autonomous vehicle could be looking at a bright financial future. This makes the research, information and schematics each company uses during development quite valuable.

So valuable, in fact, that a former Google engineer is facing 33 counts of both theft and attempted theft of trade secrets related to autonomous vehicles.

According to a report from CNBC, prosecutors claim Anthony Levandowski downloaded thousands of different files related to self-driving cars to his personal computer while at Google, then abruptly quit. He went on to launch a self-driving truck company, which was later acquired by Uber – and gave those files to his new employer.

The files he’s accused of stealing contained “critical engineering information” including schematics. Shortly after the charges were brought in August of 2019, Levandowski pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Could this be the start of a trend?

Tech companies are shaping the future, spending big bucks to get there. Which is why this case may signal the start of something larger. The Wall Street Journal described the charges against Levandowski as “a warning to Silicon Valley,” suggesting prosecutors might be extra judicious when a tech employee working on a sensitive project jumps to another company.

While self-driving cars get the headlines now, the stealing of trade secrets applies to every business, including in Colorado where tech jobs are aplenty. Whether it’s a new app, an engineering breakthrough or innovative software, a company’s valued secrets deserve protection. When an employee violates that trust, legal action may be the most effective response.

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