Former Google Engineer Faces Criminal Charges for Stealing Self-Driving Car Secrets That He Sold to Uber

An Uber driverless car sits in a garage in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg/AP)

Former Google executive Anthony Levandowski, whose move to Uber prompted a bitter multimillion-dollar lawsuit more than two years ago, was charged Tuesday by federal officials for his alleged theft of self-driving car trade secrets.

The U.S. attorney’s office indicted Levandowski, 39, in federal court in San Jose over claims he stole or attempted to steal confidential files from Google subsidiary Waymo that helped him form an autonomous big-rig company he later sold to Uber for about $680 million. The 33 charges against Levandowski carry a maximum penalty of 10 years and $250,000 each, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Google sued Uber in February 2017 over the acquisition, hinging much of its case on allegations that Levandowski conspired with Uber to steal 14,000 sensitive self-driving-car files that served as the foundation of Otto and later Uber’s robot car unit.

Levandowski was alleged to have taken from Google schematics and designs for light sensing technology known as Lidar that is essential to autonomous vehicle operation. Uber said during the civil case that it never implemented any of Google’s proprietary technology into its own designs.

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

Attorneys for Levandowski in a statement denied any wrongdoing. “He didn’t steal anything, from anyone,” according to the statement by Ramsey & Ehrlich LLP. “The downloads at issue occurred while Anthony was still working at Google—when he and his team were authorized to use the information. None of these supposedly secret files ever went to Uber or to any other company.”

“Anthony is innocent, and we look forward to proving it at trial.” Levandowski himself couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Google’s lawsuit against Uber, pitting an upstart against one of the world’s most valuable companies, riveted Silicon Valley for nearly a year, culminating in the testimony of Uber’s bad-boy co-founder and former CEO, Travis Kalanick. With its tale of corporate espionage, treachery and boundless ambition, Google had sought to derail Uber’s self-driving-car unit, which is central to its plan to one day turn a profit by, in part, eliminating payments to human drivers.

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Source: Washington Post