Software developer Mohammad Moniruzzaman made a big mistake during 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, just after leaving Germany-based automotive technology company Valeo Schalter und Sensoren, according to the lawsuit filed 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 in a collaborative video call with four people from his former 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 gaming and PC computer processors that have helped propel it to a $1.2 trillion market capitalization, as “a recent entrant in the automotive industry.”
The two firms were hired by the automaker — unnamed in the lawsuit — to develop parking assistance software despite NVIDIA’s “total lack of experience” with such technology, the lawsuit in San Jose US District Court alleged.
Germany-based Moniruzzaman, who helped build, code and develop Valeo’s parking and driving assistance software, realized his experience “would make him extremely valuable to NVIDIA,” the lawsuit claimed.
He left Valeo and it was only because of his mistake during the video call six months later that Valeo officials started to piece together what he did before he left.
During the call, Moniruzzaman finished a PowerPoint that he presented to the nine other participants through a screen-sharing feature 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. Back on the screen was another window showing code from his former employer Valeo and a file description that read “ValeoDocs,” the lawsuit alleged.
“Valeo participants on the video conference call immediately recognized the source code and took a screenshot before Mr. Moniruzzaman was alerted to his mistake,” 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 “all of Valeo’s parking and driving assistance source code from his Valeo computer to a personal computer,” the lawsuit alleged.
Included were tens of thousands of files, large amounts of proprietary code and “masses of Valeo Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and Excel spreadsheets explaining various aspects of the technology to further facilitate his understanding of the stolen code,” the lawsuit said . alleged.
Moniruzzaman would later transfer the stolen files to his NVIDIA-issued computer using a USB stick, the lawsuit alleged. “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 states.
Two months ago, according to the lawsuit, Moniruzzaman was convicted in Germany of illegally acquiring, using and disclosing Valeo’s trade secrets.
Valeo claimed in its lawsuit that the stolen information has been “shared with other NVIDIA software engineers who have access to and use Valeo’s trade secrets.”
Those secrets “gave NVIDIA and its engineers a shortcut in developing its first parking assistance software and saved NVIDIA millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars in development costs,” the lawsuit claimed. “By 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 completely unknown” to NVIDIA until May 19, 2022. That’s when Moniruzzaman called NVIDIA to tell the company that he was under criminal investigation in Germany for alleged copyright infringement. infringement and that the police had seized his laptop and mobile phone, according to the letter from the Bardehle Pagenberg law firm filed in court by Valeo.
Moniruzzaman also told NVIDIA that the “alleged code had only been stored 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 an injunction barring NVIDIA from using Valeo’s trade secrets, plus unspecified back pay and damages, a share of NVIDIA’s profits and millions of dollars to match development costs allegedly saved by allegedly using the secrets.