Lawyer Urges Other Businesses To Consider Whether Their Processes Are Effective To Counter Threat
The BBC yesterday reported the arrest of a former Apple employee accused of stealing confidential information relating to their driverless car project.
The former employee had been responsible for developing software and hardware for Apple’s autonomous vehicles, and was set to move to a potential competitor - Xiaopeng Motors. The report states that the employee had downloaded “copious pages of information” from a secret database, including a 25 page “blueprint” for a self-driving car, engineering schematics, technical reference manuals and technical reports.
Expert Opinion“The material in question would be considered Intellectual property and when such material is created by an employee during their employment, the rights to this material will usually belong to the employer.
“However, to reinforce the statutory provisions, we advise Employers to ensure that their contracts of employment contain an assignment of IP rights, and where IP is a critical aspect of that employee’s role, we would suggest seeking specialist advice to ensure that the Company’s rights are protected.
“Whist general duties of fidelity and fiduciary duties implied into every employment contract may help prevent an employee’s unauthorised disclosure of confidential information during the course of their employment, these implied duties cease at the termination of the contract. We would therefore recommend carefully constructed post-employment restrictions be included within the contract of any employee/director or contractor exposed to your company’s confidential material, trade secrets or intellectual property.
“These might include restrictions on the disclosure of confidential materials and restrictions on other competitive activities, such as working for a direct competitor for a specific period (intended to have the effect of protecting the confidential information.
“Another is an obligation to bring any post-employment restrictions to the attention of any future employer.
“The latter is a vital clause, as if a future employer is aware that the individual is acting in contravention of their contractual obligations, say, by taking up employment with them during a restricted period, then the company may have the right to take action against the future employer for procuring a breach of contract, not just the ex-employee.
“We would also urge any business in which confidential materials are generated or used to carefully consider whether they have effective processes and procedures in place to dissuade departing employees from seeking to use this for their own, or a competitor’s advantage.”
Sybille Steiner - Partner
The team of experts at IM Protect frequently advise on steps that can be taken, at the recruitment stage and ahead of any employee’s departure to help protect business interests and limit the impact to the business when that member of staff leaves.