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Logistics Firm Claims Former Exec Took Secrets to Start New Firm

by Chris Brook on Wednesday November 4, 2020

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This US logistics company claims a former board member stole company secrets to set up his own competitor.

When Fraser Robinson joined the board of Vanguard Logistics Services, a California freight forwarding company, he had ulterior motives, the company alleged last week.

The company accused Robinson of deceiving the company before going on to steal some of its most valuable, confidential information in a complaint last week.

The complaint claims that Robinson, a former Uber executive, conspired with another former co-worker there to steal algorithms, data, and other intellectual property two years ago in order to start their company, Beacon Technologies Ltd.

In a 50-page complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last Tuesday, Vanguard Logistics Services called Beacon, which also specializes in freight logistics, "a copycat competitor that used Vanguard’s stolen assets to cause further, ongoing harm to Vanguard’s business."

According to the court document, Robinson knew nothing about logistics, freight forwarding, or shipping services when he came to the company in later 2017. He also lacked capital, assets, technology, trade secrets, and intellectual property.

To compensate, the company claims Robinson began “copying and taking data, documents, trade secrets, IP, technology, strategic plans, business plans, customer lists, supplier lists, and business partner lists.”

One example of this included in October 2018, when he allegedly gained access to a document-sharing site used by Vanguard and technology developers JiffyShip and copied secret, proprietary information.

Because of his job role, Robinson reportedly also had access to product demos and prototypes, research and development data, sales and pricing data, analytics engines, and other IP, trade secrets, and proprietary information – access he abused according to Vanguard.

On information and belief, the complaint alleges Robinson and Dmitri Izmailov, the other former Uber executive, used Beacon servers, emails, and/or accounts to access and steal even more confidential information from Vanguard and its affiliates. All the while Robinson reportedly hid his efforts to start a new company while attempting to obtain equity in the company he was allegedly defrauding.

“During this time, his contracts with, roles in, and fiduciary duties to Vanguard and its owners were still in effect; he was still a consultant, advisor, board director, and steering committee member; and he still had obligations to perform his duties for, and in the best interests of, Vanguard and its owners,” the complaint reads.

A spokesman for the company last week said Robinson betrayed Vanguard’s trust – not to mention its non-disclosure agreements.

"We trusted Fraser Robinson as a director and fiduciary of the company, this included legal stipulations around non-disclosures and protection of Vanguard's IP, and he betrayed that trust,” a spokesman for Vanguard Logistics said last week, "It is fitting that Fraser Robinson launched a company founded on fraud and named it Beacon, a word that describes a warning signal. Anybody doing business with him should certainly beware.""

The UK-based Beacon, which has been backed by Uber founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, Google's Eric Schmidt, and Amazon's Jeff Bezos, announced a $15 million funding round on May 31.

Beacon, for its part, has countered the claims.

“We are surprised to hear that Vanguard have filed these proceedings. The papers have not yet been issued by the court and have not been served,” the company told publications, "What we have seen so far is an ill-thought out action which is entirely without merit and which has been brought in the wrong jurisdiction. Any claim will be robustly defended.”

Vanguard points out in its complaint that the company took steps to protect its confidential information, providing it on a need to know basis, maintaining password protected and encrypted networks, and required employees to sign NDAs and other agreements - it even made efforts to "mark, segregate, and safely file, store, and transmit Confidential Information."

Judging by the allegations in the court filing, that didn't stop Robinson however.

Tags: IP theft

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Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Data Insider. He is a technology journalist with a decade of experience writing about information security, hackers, and privacy. Chris has attended many infosec conferences and has interviewed hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site which is a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.