Nothing good can be said of the coronavirus, but to the extend that anything like the slightest silver lining on the darkest cloud can be seen, we can take the smallest amount of solace in the fact that banal misdeeds seem so much lesser now than they did a mere few weeks ago, and in fact almost seem a relief in comparison to the other news we're forced to confront on a daily basis. In that spirit, here is a quant story about trade secrets that harkens back to a simpler time when corporate misdeeds felt like a relatively significant issue.
In a comfortingly familiar tale, the self-driving car startup Zoox copped to the fact that four of its employees stole trade secrets from their former employer Tesla on their way out the door after settling a lawsuit with the ubiquitous electric car manufacturer (and nascent ventilator maker, but again, let's not let our current reality intrude.) Tesla had filed a lawsuit against Zoox in March alleging that its former employees took documents and trade secrets related to Tesla's proprietary WARP system — a software program that oversees the logistics of manufacturing and shipping its vehicles.
While the outline of the case is certainly familiar to those who have observed trade secret cases that have played out in public, this one does offer some new wrinkles. Beyond the explicit admission from Zoox, it would seem that the conspirators weren't so surreptitious as you might expect from those committing a crime, even a white-collar one. The Verge reports that one of the employees emailed proprietary documents to his personal email account with the words "you sly dog you", while another emailed different documents to himself with the subject "Good Stuff," which, if you were to give any credit, are at least somewhat less obvious than "Fwd: secret docs attached (Tesla don't look)".
In addition to an undisclosed settlement, Zoox will also preform an audit to ensure that none of its employees have any other proprietary Tesla information, which, given the two examples above, wouldn't be too hard to find on a company server. The settlement another blow to a company that has had to lay off over one hundred employees due to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, it's an odd comfort to know that, in a world where every event and activity is now glimpsed through the prism of social distancing and economic collapse, there are still some good, old-fashioned IP crimes out there.