Former Uber Head Charged With Trade Secret Theft

The US Justice Department has confirmed that a federal grand jury in San Jose has indicted Anthony Scott Levandowski for theft of trade secrets.

Levandowski was a Google (Waymo) engineer from 2009 and was apparently one of the founding members of the group that worked on Google’s self-driving car project. He abruptly resigned from Google without notice on 27 January 2016.

At the time of his resignation, Levandowski was the lead of Google’s Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) engineering team.

Trade secrets

Levandowski joined Uber and was then made head of Uber’s self-driving program.

In 2017 Uber was hit by a trade secrets lawsuit alleging that Levandowski had stolen technology contained in 14,000 documents, from Alphabet self-driving subsidiary Waymo for use by Otto (a company then acquired by Uber).

The technology involved related to Waymo’s proprietary laser guidance system, or Lidar, according to the lawsuit, which the companies later settled, when Uber agreed to pay Waymo $245m (£199.4m) in 2018.

Uber had always denied having any knowledge of the documents, but eventually fired Levandowski after he repeatedly asserted his constitutional right against self-incrimination leading up to the trial.

“All of us have the right to change jobs,” said US Attorney Anderson, “none of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”

Levandowski is alleged before his departure from Google to have downloaded from secure Google repositories numerous engineering, manufacturing, and business files related to Google’s custom LiDAR and self-driving car technology.

The data is said to include circuit board schematics, instructions for installing and testing LiDAR, and an internal tracking document.

Levandowski has been charged with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets, and was arraigned on the charges on 27 August.

Each charge carries a possible sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Bail conditions

Levandowski was released on a $2m (£1.6m) bond, and he reportedly maintained his innocence in a statement read outside court.

He insisted that he downloaded the documents as an authorised Google employee and never brought those files to Uber or any other company.

But Levandowski has been ordered to wear an ankle bracelet, and he has surrendered both his US and French passports to the FBI.

He has also been temporarily banned from airports.

Levandowski has reportedly also stepped down as boss of another self-driving start-up called Pronto, which he launched after his departure from Uber.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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