A former Qualcomm Inc. employee who downloaded nearly 450,000 files of secret source code to his home computer before quitting to take a job with rival Nokia Corp. was sentenced to three years' probation Wednesday for stealing trade secrets.
Michael Laude, 47, had code that represented "virtually all of Qualcomm's product line," according to the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego.
A thorough investigation produced no evidence that he shared the code with his new employers at Nokia, a major Qualcomm rival, said Mitch Dembin, an assistant U.S. attorney, though Laude "had enough information to bring Qualcomm to its knees."
A Nokia spokesman, William Plummer, said Nokia was unaware of the theft and never benefited from stolen information. Nokia cooperated with the federal investigation.
Laude's attorney, Jeremy Warren, said his client made a mistake by failing to return the information when he left Qualcomm.
"It's a sad case because he's been a law-abiding guy his whole life and he got into trouble because he's a pack rat," Warren said. "It's been a very embarrassing moment in his life but, fortunately, no one got hurt here at all."
Laude held engineering and product management jobs at San Diego-based Qualcomm from June 1992 to October 2002, when he gave a day's notice that he was leaving. The following week, he joined Nokia, which is based in Espoo, Finland.
He pleaded guilty in October 2006 and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Lorenz in San Diego federal court.
Qualcomm raised concerns about Laude to the FBI after Nokia identified him in 2004 as an architect of a software platform designed to compete with Qualcomm's own products, according to the federal government and Qualcomm.
Laude downloaded more than 300,000 Qualcomm files to his home computer during a two-week period after the company granted him access in June 2002 and amassed nearly 150,000 more on his hard drive before leaving the company four months later, the government said.
Qualcomm has since tightened its security practices, said Alex Rogers, a company attorney.
"Our assessment so far is that we were fortunate there was no damage," he said.
We assume the relatively light sentence was based on the lack of demonstrable intent due to the former employee not having shared the source code information with his new employer. That said, we found it interesting that it was NOKIA's press release on this employee's responsibilities as a new hire that triggered the FBI investigation.