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Trade secret quandary at Uber

The Uber quandary seems to get thicker and thicker as the story and evidence keeps unraveling. It first made news when Waymo, a sister company of Google, filed a suit against Uber claiming that they stole trade secrets relating to their lidar sensors for self-driving cars. Allegedly, a former employee downloaded thousands of files before leaving their company and sold the information to Uber for $680 million.

Of course, Uber denied the allegations, and the former employee of Waymo pleaded his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, refusing to testify. A jury trial was set to begin in December, but then new evidence came to light, postponing that trial to Feb. 5, 2018.

A 37-page letter from the attorney of a former Uber security manager, labeled a whistleblower, was unsealed with some disturbing allegations. Some of those allegations were read aloud during previous Waymo hearings. Allegedly, Uber's deputy general counsel had known about the letter, as did other high officials at Uber, and had not turned the letter over, outraging the U.S. District judge.

Allegations in the letter accuse Uber of destroying and concealing records of illegal practices. They are also accused of using hardware and software that prohibits tracking of Internet connections back to Uber. Uber security managers allegedly were trained in using the tools.

But that is not all. Uber teams were accused of impersonating drivers and riders to gain information from competitors. The allegations also include unlawful wiretapping, hacking into a competitor's database, inflating the company's value and more. The list goes on and on.

To top off the allegations, the former security manager claims Uber retaliated against him by giving him a negative performance review and demoting him for bringing the illegal and unethical tactics to the attention of his bosses. Uber claims he was just a poor employee. But the same former employee is now a consultant for Uber making $1 million a year and appears to now be rebuffing some of the accusations in the letter his attorney wrote.

Protecting your trade secrets from competitors can make or break a business, especially in highly-visible markets, such as Uber. Trade secrets and intellectual property attorneys can help company officials decide the best way to protect these valuable assets. As in this Uber debauchery, protecting intellectual property from within a company is as important as protecting it from outside competitors.

Source: San Francisco Chronical, "Uber spied on rivals, stole trade secrets, letter alleges," Carolyn Said, Dec. 15, 2017

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