According to Universal Hub, the first we could find reporting this, AMD is suing four former employees for breach of contract, trade secret violations and just about everything else you’d sue for if someone stole your favorite puppy.
Lost in the multiple rounds of layoffs from AMD and the knock-on effects of good engineers leaving for greener pastures is the story of four other employees that left with a bit more than the average severance package, or so goes the court case. The allegations basically state that there are two major breaches of contract among these former AMDers, and some related things. The first is the requirement that for two years after you leave AMD you do not recruit any formerly fellow employees. This is sometimes called poaching and is generally frowned upon by employers. The second allegation is that there was a conspiracy to take trade secret and proprietary documents from AMD, this being the more entertaining one of the claims.
There are a couple of things to note about this case, not that it stands out as these cases go, but in this case AMD really seems to have done their homework. In a lot of these types of cases, that isn’t always true, but there are a lot of neon signs pointing in that direction here. For example, AMD doesn’t just allege that things were taken off of their machines with an external drive, they provide the serial numbers of the devices they say were used in the court filings. The temporary injunction that AMD obtained requires the defendants to specifically retain those particular devices as well as their regular computers. In other words, AMD hired a computer forensics team that, well, did their homework.
When someone sues in court and they request a temporary injunction, they are often asked to post a bond in the event that their court case is not proven out. This bond covers any damage done to the defendant based upon the effects of the temporary injunction, and is usually proportional to the likelihood of one side prevailing and the nature of what is being asked for. The one attorney we could catch a quick comment from said that 10,000 dollars is an awfully low bond if the allegations are correct. He noted that shows some indication of the court seeing evidence for serious damage to AMD and very little damage to the defendants for putting up a temporary injunction. Once again evidence that homework was done right.
That is the big picture, let’s take a look at a few oddities we noticed in the filings. First AMD asks for a temporary injunction because any further exposure of those documents to Nvidia will cause irreparable harm. The time-frame when the damage began started in July of 2012 when Robert Feldstein, described by a former co-worker as a “stand-up kind of guy“, left allegedly with documents in hand. Did AMD not notice the documents leaving their offices? If they are so concerned about the damage wrought by Feldstein’s actions then why did they wait so long to file for a temporary injunction?
“The last day Mr. Feldstein used his AMD computer before leaving for Nvidia, two external storage devices were connected to his computer.”….
….”Onto those storage devices, three highly confidential files – two licensing agreements with significant customers, and a document outlining proposed strategies to AMD’s Strategic licensing- were transferred.”
The time-frame of the actions, while they began in July, continue through this last week as the filing notes that the last person, Kociuk, has not yet entered Nvidia’s employ as the other three already have. The only conclusion that we can draw from this time span between the first event and the filings is that the forensic team noticed something from one of the later departures and started looking in to past behaviors. This may have also lead to some of the later players as well. In any case, AMD’s sleuths seem to have dug up a larger pattern of alleged contract breaches and trade secret pilfering than that perpetrated by a single actor.
“After Defendant Desai decided to work for Nvidia, she and Defendant Kociuk emailed about how Ms. Desai could manipulate and eliminate certain data on her AMD Computer” If true, this boggles the mind, and not just due to sheer stupidity. The case law in the area of personal use of computers and equipment issued by your employer is well settled at this point and usually codified in your employee handbook. To whit, if the company provided the computer they own it and everything on it, and you are unlikely to get anywhere if you try to argue it.
For someone at this level of management who has access to proprietary information at a company to not understand such a basic piece of knowledge does, actually, boggle the mind. They had to have known the basics, any decent manager does. This begs the question why? Why would one use work-based email that goes through work servers and likely leaves a copy on those work-provided servers hosting the work-based email. This is basic stuff, and it is why we struggle with the logic trail behind the alleged actions. Maybe someone can enlighten us in the comments or forums, or maybe the defendants did nothing wrong and those were actually innocent cat pictures they were trading. Stranger things have happened, but by the time you get to device serial numbers, you know what files were removed.
Ms. Desai is the defendant accused of taking the largest number of files from AMD’s Perforce server. Perforce is an asset management database with a version control system common to many projects. It is often used to manage art and technical assets in game creation where a number of people on a team to work on complex and non-text documents at the same time. Perforce is not geared directly towards code-revisioning like Github, it is more of a system to organize and share large complex projects with many binary file types. The range of projects that Ms. Desai had access to on Perforce is not yet known from the court documents, however, the number that she is claimed to have taken, more than 200, is again quite significant. That’s more than just a few cat pictures. Others are alleged to have taken more than 150,000 documents.
The kicker here, again from the original complaint, is “By virtue of their employment and responsibilities, Defendants Feldstein, Desai, and Kociuk were given access to trade secrets and other confidential and proprietary information….” In other words, they had access to information, and lots of it according to AMD. And removal of such is not usually taken lightly, something that executives of this level have to be keenly aware of. The level of forensic detail all but assures that AMD knows something of the documents taken and views it more seriously than someone backing up their personal funny cat pictures before they leave the office.
All in all, these filing paint a pretty grim picture of what went on at AMD around the time of these departures, and shortly after. Given the level of detail that AMD has, they seem to have done their homework before filing the paperwork. The size of the bond that AMD was made to post once again indicates that the court sees things in the same way. Since the alleged offences are substantial, as are the injunctions AMD asked for, so a low bond indicates a pretty strong case. That said, at this point there are only allegations, and from one side at that. Don’t jump to any conclusions yet.S|A
Note: Our favorite bit of this whole story so far is that we get to know the top-secret information of the serial numbers on the devices used to transfer information. Can anyone tell us any details about things like the brand, size, and model of the storage devices from these numbers? Post your answers in our forums.
Editor’s note: For those who wish to do their own digging the court case is Number 13-40007-TSH filed in United States District Court District of Massachusetts.