Are Your Trade Secrets in These Earrings?
Even the best tech companies make mistakes. Stupid mistakes, regardless of their intent, when it comes to protecting key trade secrets. During a recent deposition in the continuing smart car litigation filed by Alphabet (Google) against Uber, it was revealed that Alphabet liked to make earrings from physical pieces of components from its smart car technology and give them away to departing team members. Of course, a company is free to do whatever it likes when it comes to selecting gifts for giving away. Using pieces from discarded parts from one's research and development may help reduce global carbon footprint and advance recycling goals, but it certainly will not help in a future multi-million dollar trade secret lawsuit involving said technology!
Essentially, Alphabet is suing Uber alleging that Uber stole vital trade secrets covering Alphabet's autonomous self-driving car project. Uber is fighting back arguing that Alphabet's technology that is the subject of the lawsuit lost whatever trade secret status it may have had because Alphabet was giving pieces of it away in its earrings gifted to departing employees.
Lawsuits are all about finding that magic bullet evidence on which to fashion a compelling narrative to sell to the judge and jury. I think Uber may have found their magic bullet.
A defense based on earrings is definitely more sexy and intuitive than evidence about encrypted networks, dual-authentication passwords, physical access restrictions and video surveillances. These are the kinds of evidence that send a bored judge or jury to sleepy land, especially after a heavy lunch.
One more best practice added to the long list of trade secret protection protocols: do not give gifts bearing pieces of your company trade secrets! Sounds obvious right? You would be surprised.