Here’s a typical pattern for a trade secrets lawsuit in Northern California: U.S. tech company hires Chinese national. Employee returns to China to start a similar venture. Litigation follows, claiming the ex-worker has stolen valuable trade secrets.
A new suit filed by the Chinese ride-hailing app UCAR flips that narrative on its head.
In the Wild West that is the driverless car industry, UCAR Inc. claims that four former employees who worked on a vehicle autopilot project in Silicon Valley stole the company’s trade secrets and are using them to attract funds from outside investors in the U.S. for their own company.
‘When confronted, Defendants effectively admitted that their actions were the product of simple greed: they had learned that if they took UCAR’s property, they could obtain tens of millions of dollars of investment, so they did,” wrote RuyakCherian name partner Korula “Sunny” Cherian in Tuesday’s complaint.
U.S. District Judge Edward Davila of the Northern District of California issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday barring the men from working on any project “based on UCAR data, information, or work product developed while at UCAR.”
The UCAR suit comes as competition in the race for automous vehicle technology is heating up. In February Waymo LLC, the driverless car subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., sued Uber Technologies Inc., accusing the company of patent infringement and trade secret theft. Uber is trying to push the dispute into arbitration.
UCAR, which announced this month a new $1 billion funding round, is going after former employees Yan Li, Hua Zhong, Da Huo, and Zhenzhen Kou, whom the company accuses of trolling for investors using trade secrets developed on the job for UCAR. Attorneys have not yet entered appearances for the defendants.
According to the complaint, all four abruptly resigned in March from UCAR’s U.S. subsidiary, which was working on data analysis and software related to driverless vehicles.
UCAR is represented by RuyakCherian, a technology and competition law boutique with offices in Washington, D.C., and California. The firm was founded by the former chairman of now-defunct Howrey, Robert “Bob” Ruyak, and his longtime colleague Cherian. Cherian declined to comment when reached by phone.