Ex-Google engineer sentenced to 18 months in prison for trade secret theft

Ex-Google engineer sentenced to 18 months in prison for trade secret theft


Anthony Levandowski


Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Tuesday by a federal judge after pleading guilty to stealing the search giant’s trade secrets, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Levandowski later brought stolen files related to self-driving car technology to Uber when he expanded the rival’s autonomous driving unit.

The theft triggered a high-profile and bitter lawsuit between Google’s self-driving car arm, which was renamed Waymo, and Uber two years ago. The indictment focused on Levandowski’s work with Otto, a self-driving freight forwarder that the engineer founded and acquired from Uber in 2016. Google claimed that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 “strictly confidential” files describing research into self-driving technologies and brought them to Otto.

“This is the biggest business secret crime I’ve ever seen,” said District Attorney William Alsup, who pronounced the conviction, on Tuesday. “It wasn’t small. It was massive.”

Levandowski will be able to start his prison term after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the Justice Department said. Alsup also ordered Waymo to pay more than $ 756,000 in restitution and a fine of $ 95,000.

The sentence is the last turning point in the long-standing legal drama between Waymo and Uber. The case, which was brought to justice in San Francisco two years ago, provided a rare glimpse into the high-stakes environment of large tech companies that typically try to protect their inner workings from the public. But just a few days after the process, which was expected to take at least three weeks, the two companies abruptly settled, giving Waymo 0.34 percent of Uber’s equity.

Levandowski’s lawyer and Uber did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Waymo called the prison sentence a “win” for the laws of technology secret. “Anthony Levandowski’s theft of autonomous technology trade secrets was enormously disruptive and harmful to Waymo, a betrayal, and the repercussions would likely have been more serious if it had remained undetected,” said a spokeswoman.

In March was Levandowski ordered to pay a $ 179 million fine to Google for the theft. Hours after the award was given to Google, the engineer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Last year, Levandowski was indicted from the Department of Justice with 33 theft and attempted theft of Google business secrets. The indictment alleged that Levandowski had stolen secrets related to lidar technology (for “light detection and distance measurement”).

The technology enables self-driving cars to “see” their surroundings and to recognize traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and other obstacles. The files downloaded by Levandowski reportedly included circuit diagrams, instructions for installing and testing Lidar, and an internal tracking document, the Department of Justice said.

Even after the agreement between Waymo and Uber last year, Levandowski continued to develop self-driving technology with a new startup called Pronto.ai. After the indictment, Pronto said Levandowski would no longer serve as the startup’s CEO.

CNET’s Dara Kerr contributed to this report.

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