Start-up Accuses Facebook of Publishing Trade Secrets

Start-up Neural Magic sued Facebook in the District Court of Massachusetts for allegedly publishing their trade secrets on GitHub, specifically algorithms developed by Neural Magic which enable neural networks to run on commodity computers.  They claim a former employee who went to work for Facebook stole the ideas from their code.

Neural Magic was founded by Nir Shavit, an MIT professor, and Alex Matveev, an MIT research scientist, to build on some of the research they had done at MIT. One of their technologies, a set of computer algorithms, allegedly took decades of research to create. “These algorithms have the potential to revolutionize the field of artificial intelligence, in part by allowing complicated mathematical functions to run efficiently on commodity-based computers — using no special hardware,” the complaint states. They say the technology would allow for much larger data sets and could be important for advancements in healthcare, online shopping, and bringing AI technology “to the masses.”

Aleksander Zlateski was a postdoctoral researcher at MIT before joining Shavit and Mateev at Neural Magic as the first employee; he eventually became the Technology Director. When Zlateski left the company in July of 2019 to work at Facebook, he assured Shavit and Mateev his work there would not be related to his work at Neural Magic.

In December 2019 Facebook published an open-source compiler on Github with “the same proprietary algorithms that form the heart of Neural Magic’s technology and intellectual property,” the plaintiffs claim. They say Zlateski breached the non-disclosure agreement he signed when joining Neural Magic and cite communications which lead them to believe he was involved in the project at Facebook.

Neural Magic said Facebook and Zlateski ignored requests to take the information down from Github. It is requesting an award of three times actual damages and punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees, seizure of property including their trade secrets, and an injunction prohibiting further use of their trade secrets.

“Neural Magic can only see what Facebook has already published to GitHub, which includes further Neural Magic technology in addition to the said compiler. Zlateski could disclose (and on information and belief has disclosed) even more to Facebook, for use internally or in future open source releases. Those continued disclosures would further damage Neural Magic’s business and market opportunities,” the complaint says.