One current and five former Fitbit employees accused of knowingly stealing trade secrets from former employer Jawbone, which ceased operation in 2017, have been indicted. The two companies have gone to court in the past over similar allegations. If convicted, the defendants could face up to 10 years in prison.
According to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice obtained by Ars Technica, the six former Jawbone employees who migrated to Fitbit allegedly violated confidentiality agreements with Jawbone, and knowingly possessed trade secrets from the company. Four of the six defendants worked for Jawbone between May 2011 and April 2015, and received employment offers from Fitbit between March and April 2015. One defendant resigned from Jawbone in March 2014, and began working for Fitbit later that year.
The indictment alleges that the six defendants were aware that they were walking off with trade secrets they weren’t supposed to have. “[Homeland Security Investigations] has devoted more than two years to investigating these allegations of the theft of trade secrets,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Spradlin in the DoJ statement. “HSI considers these types of charges extremely serious, and is dedicated to safeguarding against any illegal corporate practices adversely impacting other businesses.” The defendants are scheduled to appear in court July 9.
Jawbone and Fitbit’s contentious relationship, rivaling the conflict between Samsung and Apple, has embroiled the companies in lawsuits with one another for years, with the former accusing Fitbit of repeatedly poaching employees and obtaining confidential information in the process, and the latter accusing Jawbone of patent infringement. Fitbit previously dismissed theft of trade secrets allegations made by Jawbone in an earlier lawsuit as “fictional.” If this week’s indictment can be seen as a victory for Jawbone, its a relatively hollow one. Last year, Jawbone went out of business, and liquidated its assets, so it’s not as if Fitbit losing means a big win for the now-defunct company.