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Intellectual Property Theft Alleged at 160 MPH

Posted Tuesday, December 8, 2015 by Daniel Mills

In a sport that costs tens of millions of dollars to compete and the results are decided by thousandths of a second, any advantage can mean significant rewards. The 2015 F1 season has just ended and it saw Ferrari make significant improvements over its 2014 campaign. Ferrari still finished a distant 2nd to Mercedes in the Contstructor's points, but that was an big improvement over the 4th place finish in 2014 behind Mercedes, Red Bull, and Williams.

Bloomberg Business reports today that a former Team Leader at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains decided to leave Mercedes at the end of this season and join Ferrari. According to the report, recently released filing documents allege that Benjamin Hoyle informed Mercedes in May that he intended to leave in May. Mercedes got word that Mr. Hoyle intended to join Ferrari at the end of the year so they reassigned him to other work unrelated to Formula 1, removed data from his laptop, and gave him a new email address.

The report states that Mr. Hoyle was "found looking at race reports and took confidential data." Furthermore he deleted files in an attempt to cover it up. Ferrari stated that Mr. Hoyle is not joining the company any time soon.

I've written in this blog several articles about Trade Secrets and the lengths that companies must go to protect themselves from theft. Access to data is so critical to an organizations success, but that same access provides a major exposure to loss of property that took millions to develop, and can cost millions more in damages in the hands of a competitor.

So if the hyper competitive and secretive world of Formula 1 can have such thefts, what is the average small to mid-size business to do to prevent such losses. To start, proper network monitoring of access and file transfers is essential. Also controlling employee hardware, phones, thumbs drives, etc. is also necessary. Finally, having the right policies in place in your employee handbook and taking a zero tolerance policy to any breach helps establish a culture that can minimize the exposure. But as with all things, there is seldom a way to prevent a violation of trust.

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