Protecting your company's trade secrets and other intellectual property is vitally important, even more so when your company is one of the largest in the world. Top businesses don't stay on top for long if they allow their ideas and methods to walk out the door to competitors. And having a former employee take those ideas to one of the most noteworthy (for good or ill) companies in the U.S. is bound to make for turmoil and legal drama.
Amidst a lawsuit from Google accusing them of IP theft, Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the former head of its self-driving car program and the employee accused in the case. Levandowski is accused of having taken 14,000 documents from his former employer Google related to their self-driving car program Waymo and its attendant technologies, and bringing them to Uber, which is working on its own self-driving car program. He had been in charge of Uber's self-driving car program until recently, when he had been moved to an operation role. Levandowski's termination was related to his failure to cooperate with Uber's efforts to demonstrate that the company had been develop its own self-driving car technology, independent of Google's Waymo.
Levandowski was brought into the Uber fold when Otto, the self-driving truck company he'd founded, was acquired by Uber in August 2016 for a reported $680 million. According to the lawsuit, with Levandowski and Otto came trade secrets related to Waymo's LiDAR technology, which the suit alleges Levandowski stated he would replicate at a competitor and which Uber are supposedly currently building. Google's attorneys have also claimed that Otto was created as a shell company in an attempt to discreetly move the stolen documents to Uber.
A lawsuit related to IP (or anything for that matter) is seemingly the last thing that Uber would need at present, given a plethora of other problems at the company. While the validity of the claims made in the lawsuit will be determined in court, the importance of strong employee agreements and security measures for sensitive IP and trade secrets is never in question.