Austin TX Business Law Blog

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Another Apple Employee Charged with Theft of Trade Secrets

How can I guard against theft of my company’s trade secrets?

Recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a second Apple employee and accused the employee, who is a Chinese citizen, of attempted theft of trade secrets.  The allegedly stolen information concerned Apple’s autonomous car project.  This FBI investigation comes just months after similar charges were filed against another Apple employee for seeking to steal trade secrets concerning the same project.  Our Austin, Texas trade secrets lawyer discusses the Apple employee saga and how you can protect your company secrets below.

The Theft Charges Detailed 

The two Apple employees charged with theft of trade secrets both worked on the innovative “Project Titan,” Apple’s self-driving car team.  Jizhong Chen was one of just 5,000 employees who participated in the project, which had been kept secret for years.  Further, Chen was one of the so-called core employees who worked directly on the project.  As a member of the electrical engineering team, Chen was privy to some vital information concerning the project.
Several other employees caught Chen taking pictures of areas in which the project was under development.  Additionally, Chen allegedly backed up information about the project from his workplace computer to a personal hard drive.  Chen is said to have been in possession of over 2,000 files of confidential Apple material and hundreds of photographs of sensitive information. The FBI arrested Chen before he was scheduled to fly to China to visit a sick family member.  He now faces up to 10 years in prison.

Protecting Trade Secrets

Texas has adopted a Uniform Trade Secrets Act.  The Act defines what a trade secret is and what protections a trade secret should be afforded.  A trade secret means all forms of information, including technical, engineering, scientific, and business, and any plan, prototype, method device, or other information that the owner of the trade secret has taken steps to protect and which could derive an economic value.

As a small business owner, you must take steps to protect your trade secrets so that they are entitled to legal protections.  Start by working with your trade secret attorney to identify what your business’ trade secrets consist include.  You should then take steps to restrict employee and public access to these secrets through labeling documents confidential or storing them in a secure physical or electronic database.  Your attorney can help you to further protect your trade secrets through an employment agreement.

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