Violating Employer Trust: Intellectual Theft Allegations Against Employees of a Silicon Valley Solar Company

Our Oakland business attorney works with Northern California companies facing a myriad of legal disputes. Business fraud and employee malfeasance are old problems but wrongdoers are constantly finding new twists. Now more than ever, businesses need a trusted and experienced Oakland small business law firm on their side.

The Oakland Tribune reported this week on a lawsuit involving SunPower, the leading solar panel maker in the Silicon Valley. In the suit, SunPower accuses five former employees of stealing highly sensitive business information, such as computer files and sales documents, and taking those files to business rival SolarCity. The suit is pending in federal court and alleges criminal charges pursuant to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

According to reports, the central defendant is Tom Leyden, the former managing director of SunPower’s East Coast operations. Leyden left his former employer in August and joined the growing start-up, SolarCity, as vice president of commercial sales in September. SunPower alleges that Leyden used flash drives to download thousands of business files and also accessed customer data reflecting more than $100 million in sales. Leyden also recruited Matt Giamini, Dan Leary, Felix Aguayo and Alice Cathcart to join him in leaving SunPower for SolarCity and the allegations further suggest that those ex-employees also copied company documents to personal devices prior to their departure. The lawsuit alleges that SolarCity knowingly accepted these fraudulently obtained files.

SunPower has a long history in our state. The company was founded in 1985, was acquired by Cypress Semiconductor in 2002, and as spun off as its own public company in 2005. It is largely owner by a French oil company and had more than 5,000 worldwide employees. Notable facilities include solar panel systems in San Jose and Santa Clara as well as a solar ranch being developed in San Luis Obispo County. SolarCity is based in San Mateo and is focused on installing solar systems rather than owning its own facilities. The company has complete over 17,000 installations across the nation including both commercial and military installations.

By necessity, employers place a great deal of trust in employees. When this trust is violated, an employer can suffer significant business losses. There are a number of legal claims that might be appropriate including claims under trade secret, intellectual property and misappropriation principles. In some cases, employer may also have contractual claims against a former employee who steal business property.

Small businesses need to have legal counsel who can help them recover after an Oakland business fraud incident. At The Brod Law Firm, our experienced Oakland small business attorney can help. We represent Northern California small businesses in complex litigation matters including business fraud, intellectual property, employment law, insurance disputes and contracting and partnership matters. We can also help companies protect themselves from future harm by drafting contract including those aimed at protecting intellectual property. We do not require a minimum level of billings for our business clients and we will work with each client to ensure matters are handled in a cost-effective manner .
If you are the owner or manager of a small business in Northern California, please contact our office today to discuss how we can work together to protect your company and help you achieve business success.

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