Lawsuit claims NVIDIA stole rival’s secrets

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Software developer Mohammad Moniruzzaman made a big mistake on a video call, one that would lead to his criminal conviction and a trade-secrets lawsuit against his former employer, Santa Clara chip giant NVIDIA.

Moniruzzaman had taken a job at NVIDIA in 2021, right after quitting Germany-based automotive-technology company Valeo Schalter und Sensoren, according to the lawsuit against NVIDIA by Valeo.

But both companies had related contracts with an automotive company, so in March 2022, Moniruzzaman found himself and four NVIDIA colleagues on a collaboration video call with four people from his previous employer, Valeo.

His screen-sharing was to go dramatically awry.

Valeo described itself in the lawsuit as “a leader of key technology in the automotive industry for a century.” The company described NVIDIA, founded in 1993 and known for the gaming and PC computer processors that have helped drive it to a stock market valuation of $1.2 trillion, as “a recent entrant to the automotive industry.”

The two firms were hired by the major automotive company — unnamed in the lawsuit — to develop parking-assistance software, despite NVIDIA’s “total lack of experience” with such technology, the lawsuit in San Jose U.S. District Court alleged.

Germany-based Moniruzzaman, who helped build, code, and develop Valeo’s parking and driving assistance software, realized that his experience “would make him exceedingly valuable to NVIDIA,” the lawsuit claimed.

He quit Valeo, and it was only through his error during the video call six months later that Valeo officials began to piece together what he did before he left.

During the call, Moniruzzaman finished a PowerPoint he was presenting to the nine other participants through a screen-sharing function that allowed the others to see his computer screen on theirs, according to the lawsuit. He minimized the presentation window, according to the lawsuit, but he did not end the screen-sharing. Remaining on the screen was another window, showing code from his previous employer Valeo, and a file description that read “ValeoDocs,” the lawsuit alleged.

“Valeo participants on the videoconference call immediately recognized the source code and took a screenshot before Mr. Moniruzzaman was alerted of his error,” according to the lawsuit. “By then it was too late to cover his tracks.”

Valeo conducted a forensic audit of its computer systems and found that in April 2021, Moniruzzaman copied “the entirety of Valeo’s parking and driving assistance source code from his Valeo computer to a personal computer,” the lawsuit claimed.

Included were tens of thousands of files, large amounts of proprietary code, and “scores of Valeo Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDF files, and Excel spreadsheets explaining various aspects of the technology to further facilitate his understanding of the stolen code,” the lawsuit alleged.

Moniruzzaman would later transfer the stolen files to his NVIDIA-issued computer using a USB stick, the lawsuit claimed. “As part of the German criminal investigation, Mr. Moniruzzaman’s NVIDIA computers were seized, and law enforcement confirmed the presence of the stolen source code files and also discovered the teaching and training documentation discussed above,” the lawsuit said.

Two months ago, Moniruzzaman was convicted in Germany for unlawful acquisition, use, and disclosure of Valeo’s trade secrets, according to the lawsuit.

Valeo claimed in its lawsuit that the stolen information has been “shared with other NVIDIA software engineers who have access to and are using Valeo’s trade secrets.”

Those secrets “provided NVIDIA and its engineers a shortcut in the development of its first parking-assistance software, and saved NVIDIA millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars in development costs,” the lawsuit claimed. “In using these stolen trade secrets to develop a competing product, NVIDIA has diminished the value of Valeo’s trade secrets to Valeo.”

NVIDIA declined to comment on the lawsuit. A June 2022, letter to Valeo’s lawyers from a German law firm representing NVIDIA said Moniruzzaman’s actions “were entirely unknown” to NVIDIA until May 19, 2022. That’s when Moniruzzaman called NVIDIA to tell the company he was under criminal investigation in Germany over alleged copyright infringement, and that police had seized his laptop and cell phone, according to the letter from law firm Bardehle Pagenberg filed in court by Valeo.

Moniruzzaman also told NVIDIA the “alleged code had been stored only locally on his laptop” and was not accessible to other NVIDIA employees, the letter said. NVIDIA has “cooperated fully” in its dispute with Valeo, according to the letter.

“NVIDIA,” the letter said, “has no interest in Valeo’s code or its alleged trade secrets.”

Valeo is seeking a court order barring NVIDIA from using Valeo trade secrets, plus unspecified restitution and damages, a share of NVIDIA’s profits, and millions of dollars to match the development costs purportedly saved by allegedly using the secrets.

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