17 August 2020

Trade secrets theft: former Google engineer sentenced to prison

In our previous article, we discussed a US case concerning the theft of trade secrets. This case has now concluded, with Anthony Levandowski being sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The case arose initially as a civil matter between Google and Uber, which reached settlement during trial. A criminal case was then brought against Anthony Levandowski, and in March 2020, he pled guilty to one of the charges in a plea deal with prosecutors. He was sentenced this month (August 2020), as well as being fined and ordered to pay $750,000 of restitution.

This shows how seriously the US takes trade secrets theft. The US Department of Justice is willing to pursue vigorously individuals who they suspect of such theft, which may cause others to think twice before committing a similar offence.

Criminal cases relating to IP are very rare in the UK. In 2014, a change in the law – which was met with some scepticism at the time – meant that intentional copying of a registered design could result in a criminal conviction, whereas it had previously been a civil matter. However, in the six years since this law was passed, we are not aware of this new criminal provision ever having been used in the UK.

It is possible that in the next few years the UK may sign a trade deal with the US, and it seems likely that IP rights will be considered during negotiations. It will be interesting to see whether the UK will align itself with US law and practice when it comes to trade secrets theft.

For more information on how we can help to actively enforce your IP rights in the fight against infringement, visit our specialist enforcement page or contact the author, Sam Giles, directly.