Published in Transportation

German car parts maker says Nvidia stole its secrets

by on23 November 2023

Ex-employee made blunder

A German car parts maker, Valeo Schalter und Sensoren, is suing Nvidia for nicking its tech after one of its former employees showed the GPU maker some source code by mistake.

The former employee showed something he shouldn't have when minimising a PowerPoint slide at a joint Microsoft Teams meeting both companies were attending.  The information was the source code for an assisted parking app.

The two tech companies were on the call as they were suppliers on contract for a parking and driving assistance project with a major automotive OEM.

Under the contract terms with the OEM, engineers from Valeo and Nvidia had to schedule collaboration meetings so that "Nvidia employees could ask Valeo employees questions about Valeo's ultrasonic hardware and data associated with the hardware."

The complaint, filed by Valeo in the US District Court for Northern California, goes on to allege misappropriation of trade secrets by Nvidia, through which the company claims the GPU-maker attempted to take a shortcut into the automotive marketplace by using its stolen software.

Nvidia was a newcomer to the automotive market, introducing its Nvidia Drive platform at the CES trade show in 2015. Valeo says it only discovered the theft during a conference call on 8 March 2022 between its engineers and those of Nvidia to collaborate on work for an automotive OEM, a customer of both companies.

Valeo develops automotive hardware, such as cameras and sensors, and software to process the data from the hardware. The court filing states that Valeo previously provided the OEM with hardware and software for its autonomous vehicle technology. It asked Valeo to provide ultrasonic hardware only. For the software, the OEM chose Nvidia.

One of the Nvidia engineers was Mohammad Moniruzzaman - a former employee of Valeo. During the call, he shared his screen using Microsoft's Teams software to present questions for the Valeo participants.

A source code window was also visible on his screen after the presentation, which the Valeo participants recognised as belonging to their company.

According to the filing, one of the Valeo engineers succeeded in capturing a screenshot as evidence. According to Valeo, the source code file names allegedly visible in the screenshot were identical to those used in its source code, and it claims the source code was similar to proprietary code maintained in Valeo's repositories.

Valeo conducted a comprehensive internal forensic IT audit and alleges it discovered that Moniruzzaman had copied four repositories containing the code for Valeo's parking and driving assistance software before leaving the company in May 2021.

According to the court filing, Nvidia said it removed Moniruzzaman's additions to its code. However, those additions underwent "a peer review process of 10-30 iterations of feedback loops" before the code was fully merged into Nvidia's database.

Valeo contends that this process of extensive edits by others means it is not realistic that Nvidia could have entirely removed Moniruzzaman's contributions.

Last modified on 23 November 2023
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