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A Trade Secret Wake-Up Call

December 30, 2019

Anthony Levandowski was the co-founder and technical leader of Google’s Waymo project, which produced Google’s self-driving car. A U.S. federal grand jury in California has issued a 33-count criminal indictment against Levandowski, charging him with theft and attempted theft of Google’s self-driving car trade secrets. According to the indictment, Levandowski downloaded numerous engineering, manufacturing and business files concerning Google’s technology.

Those claims seem to appear on a regular basis in trade secret litigation. They raise questions faced by most companies: How can they maintain a trusting and collegial ethos but still protect the technologies and other trade secrets that represent the bulk of their value?

Think in terms of areas of management system protections related to people, processes and technology that can help an organization manage, mitigate and measure its trade secret risks. These include implementing relevant policies, procedures, records and training to help staff understand, manage and document what is done with trade secrets. Having an assigned cross-functional team manage the company’s confidential information and managing suppliers’ and other relevant third-parties’ access and use of such information, are also vital.

Additionally, a clear understanding of what the company’s “crown jewels” are — where they are located, and how they are used internally and externally — and conducting systematic risk assessments to help determine the most useful and cost-effective ways of protecting such information are needed to keep a company’s technical, physical and other protections at their most effective.

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