California has become a hub of technological advancement for the United States, as well as around the world. When it comes to innovative technologies that can enhance the lives of consumers, medical patients and professionals, competition is fierce. It is not uncommon for one company to accuse another of stealing trade secrets, particularly in the information and technology sector. It is important to understand the difference between a trade secret that can harm business and knowledge that someone did not necessarily pick up while working for a competitor.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office provides the following information that simplifies the definition and impact of trade secret theft:
- A trade secret is knowledge that is not generally known by someone who has not worked for a particular company.
- Knowledge of said information would give a company an economic edge over competitors.
- A trade secret dispute must be business-related.
A good example of technological trade secret litigation is a recent lawsuit filed against Uber Technologies Inc., by Waymo on behalf of its Alphabet Inc., unit. According to the Los Angeles Times, the plaintiff is seeking nearly $2 billion in damages, as well as an order that blocks the Uber company from working with specified self-driving technology. Waymo executives claim that Uber engineers who used to work for Alphabet are using trade secrets to develop self-driving hardware – a contentious area in the technological field, as numerous companies are competing to develop driverless vehicles for the general population.
An Uber spokesperson says that it is important for employees to have control over their mobility and choose where to work, as it encourages innovation and a healthy economy. It remains to be seen whether the self-driving technology in question is determined to be general knowledge among engineers, or secrets previously only known by the plaintiff company. The outcome of this lawsuit may influence future decisions regarding technological knowledge.