Former senior executive at Google’s self-driving car project sentenced to 18 months in prison for large trade secret theft
Anthony Scott Levandowski, a former Google (Waymo) senior executive has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for trade secret theft.
In March this year, Levandowski had pleaded guilty to taking sensitive documents from his former employer Google, before joining bitter rival Uber Technologies.
The case began when Levandowski was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Jose in August 2019 for the theft of trade secrets, after he loaded more than 14,000 Google files onto his laptop before leaving Waymo in January 2016.
US District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said Anthony Levandowski had carried out the “biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen.”
What is notable about this case is that Levandowski was a founding member of Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo.
Levandowski had been seeking a sentence of 12 months’ confinement at his home in San Francisco, arguing that he had pneumonia, and could die of coronavirus in prison.
But Judge Alsup said that home confinement would “[give] a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. Prison time is the answer to that,” Techcrunch reported him as saying.
However he did rule that Levandowski could begin his custodial sentence after the Covid-19 pandemic had peaked.
Prosecutors in the case had been seeking a 27-month prison sentence.
“Today marks the end of three and a half long years and the beginning of another long road ahead. I’m thankful to my family and friends for their continued love and support during this difficult time,” Levandowski said in a statement provided by his lawyers after the sentencing.
“The last three and a half years have forced me to come to terms with what I did,” Levandowski told reporters. “I want to take this time to apologize to my colleagues at Google for betraying their trust, and to my entire family for the price they have paid and will continue to pay for my actions.”
Levandowski, who filed for bankruptcy on 4 March, has previously agreed to pay nearly $756,500 in restitution to cover Alphabet costs assisting the government’s investigation, according to court papers.
The bankruptcy declaration followed a California state court confirming that Levandowski owes $179 million to Google for violating employment contracts.
The case began back in 2017, when Google’s Waymo filed a trade secrets lawsuit against Uber, alleging that Levandowski had stolen technology contained in 14,000 documents, from Waymo for use by Ottomotto (a company subsequently acquired by Uber).
Uber in February 2018 agreed to pay Waymo $245m (£184m) in shares to settle the legal dispute over trade secrets.
And in June 2018 the boss of Uber admitted his firm was talking with Waymo.
As part of that settlement, it was decided that an independent software expert would be drafted in to review Uber’s technology for any Waymo links.
In November 2019 that expert review found that Uber was still using Waymo technology for its own autonomous vehicle technology.
And now in a fresh twist, it has emerged that Levandowski, who now runs self-driving truck company Pronto, is suing Uber for a staggering $4.1 billion, even though he faces prison time.
Levandowski’s lawsuit makes startling claims against Waymo and Uber, saying that he had told Google’s Larry Page he was leaving Waymo to start his own self-driving firm Ottomotto which was subsequently acquired by Uber.
This new lawsuit, filed as part of Levandowski’s bankruptcy proceedings, mostly focuses on Uber’s agreement to indemnify Levandowski against legal action when it bought his self-trucking company, Otto Trucking.
It also includes new allegations concerning the settlement that Waymo and Uber reached over trade secret theft claims.
“No new comment on this most recent desperate filing,” an Uber spokesperson told Techcrunch in an email.
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