The technology Intel Corp. was working on was so promising — and secret — that the company says it has invested more than $1 billion in the project.
Only a few hundred people worldwide know the details of the memory technology known as 3D XPoint, and the processes for developing it “are not written in any textbook or taught in any school,” according to Intel.
But in September that world of high-tech secrecy nearly collapsed as an Intel computer hardware engineer at the company’s Folsom campus tried to download details of the project the night before leaving for a competing firm, a lawsuit filed in federal court in Sacramento Tuesday alleges.
The lawsuit names engineer Doyle Rivers, who worked at Intel’s Folsom campus, and alleges that he violated confidentiality agreements and trade secrets by trying to access Intel’s computer files late on the night of Sept. 9 as he prepared to leave his job for one with competing Micron Corp.
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“In September 2018, Rivers secretly accepted an engineering position with Micron and then, as he prepared to leave Intel for that job, engaged in a covert and calculated effort to collect Intel’s confidential, proprietary, and trade secret technical and personnel information,” the 17-page lawsuit alleges. “A few days before he left Intel, Rivers tried to access and copy a ‘top secret’ designated Intel file that Intel’s electronic security system blocked from being copied.
“The ‘top secret’ Intel file that Rivers attempted to download related to Intel’s independent, highly confidential work to productize 3D XPoint into its Optane™ line of products and was not something that was shared with anyone outside Intel, including anyone at Micron.”
Rivers, who is listed in public records as living in El Dorado Hills, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Online databases do not list a current telephone number for him, and email addresses listed for him were invalid.
He did not respond to a request for comment sent to his LinkedIn profile.
Micron noted in an email response that it is aware of the lawsuit but is not the target of the allegations.
“Micron is not a party to the complaint, and Intel has not alleged any unlawful conduct by Micron,” the statement read. “Micron’s policies and team member training help ensure that the intellectual property of others is respected and safeguarded.”
Intel, which employs nearly 6,000 workers at its Folsom operation, said it has a duty to defend its technology.
“Intel has invested billions of dollars in the development of the intellectual property critical to its success in some of the most competitive industries in the world,” spokesman William Moss wrote in an email response to The Bee. “We place great faith and trust in our current and former employees, but we have an obligation to protect our intellectual property and other proprietary information, and we will not hesitate to act to prevent their misappropriation.”
The lawsuit portrays both Intel and Micron as willing partners in the development of the technology until recently, saying that they both were engaged in a joint venture that was ending and be replaced by both companies building their own teams to compete in selling the technology.
Rivers was involved in the project and “had access to Intel’s highly confidential, trade secret information that Intel did not share with the public or with any other entity unless pursuant to a confidentiality agreement.” the lawsuit says.
Rivers also had a secret job offer from Micron, the suit alleges.
“The night before he left, Rivers plugged a USB storage device into his Intel computer for more than an hour, from 10:40 p.m. until 11 :40 p.m.,” the suit says. “During that time, Rivers accessed a highly sensitive compilation of Intel personnel information and copied that information to the USB device.”
The suit says that Intel believes Rivers “copied additional confidential Intel files to the USB device,” and that he later “aggressively” tried to lure other Intel colleagues to join him at his new job. Those actions violated confidentiality agreements and an employment agreement he signed when he began working with Intel in October 2010 that forbid him from poaching Intel workers for a year after leaving the firm, the suit says.
Rivers gave notice on Sept. 10 that he was quitting that day, the suit says, and participated in an exit interview where he was reminded about the confidentiality agreements. He also signed a “Trade Secret Acknowledgment Form” agreeing not to use Intel’s secret information for his benefit or others’ without written permission, the suit says.
“Demonstrating he was well aware of the wrongful nature of his actions, Rivers attempted to hide his misconduct,” the lawsuit says. “As soon as Intel detected his downloading of files, it sent a letter to him demanding that he not destroy any evidence and that he return the USB device immediately.
“Rivers never responded to Intel, nor did he return the device. Instead, he handed the USB device over to his new employer.”
Intel continued to wrangle over retrieving the data, eventually discovering that the USB had been turned over to a forensic investigator who found the device had been wiped clean, the suit says.
By then, the suit says, Intel had been told that Rivers was no longer represented by Micron attorneys but his own personal lawyer, who is not identified in the lawsuit.
“When Intel demanded an explanation from Rivers’ counsel about the destruction of evidence on the USB device, Rivers’ counsel confirmed that Rivers downloaded the compilation of personnel information and other documents from his Intel laptop to his USB device, uploaded some of that information to his home computer, and used his home computer to wipe the USB device,” the lawsuit says.
Intel says it made “the reasonable request” to have an independent investigator inspect Rivers’ home computer to be certain no Intel data remained on it. Intel gave Rivers until Nov. 16 to comply, the lawsuit says, but Rivers refused.
Eleven days later, Intel sued, alleging breach of contract and violations of the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act, and asking for preliminary and permanent injunctions to stop Rivers from disclosing any secret Intel information.