Before Anthony Levandowski worked for Uber, he was at Google helping them start their autonomous vehicle efforts. Now prosecutors have charged Levandowski with 33 charges of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google.
The indictment follows a series of issues between Uber and Google. Uber had bought a self-driving company founded by Levandowski, for $680 million, in the summer of 2016.
In the criminal indictment filed, Levandowski is accused of downloading around 14,000 of Google's files then taking them out of the company with his own laptop before he left. This was after Levandowski had already begun discussing his options with Uber. The filing claims he took engineering information about Google's hardware as well as “schematics for the printed circuit boards used in various custom Lidar products”.
Uber and Waymo, Google's self-driving car company, had already reached a civil settlement at the beginning of 2018. The settlement meant that Uber would pay Waymo around $245 million. A judge overseeing the civil case recommended that a criminal investigation be conducted as well.
“All of us have the right to change jobs,” said the US attorney David Anderson in a statement announcing the charges. “None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”
If Levandowski is found guilty and convicted he could be sentenced to ten years in prison and be fined $250,000. Levandowski was arraigned, plead not guilty, and was released on a $2 million bond.
The charges follow what had been a spectacular career for Levandowski. He was seen as a special engineering talent when he was attending UC Berkeley and began focusing on autonomous technologies back in 2004.
He then was hired at Google in 2007 and quickly was working within the new self-driving division. Eventually that team would turn into Waymo and by early 2016 Levandowski would suddenly leave the company and begin his own. Otto was founded to begin creating autonomous technology for trucks.
Then Uber purchased Otto in August of the same year which was originally viewed as a success for the ride-hailing company. Now they had their own autonomous company with its own team of self-driving engineers.
However it was soon apparent that Lavandwoski wasn't living up to his potential. Uber prematurely started testing their autonomous cars and he found himself going up against regulators from the California state government. The Uber tests were also unsuccessful as they broke several traffic laws and ran red lights.
Only months later Waymo filed a lawsuit against Levandowski's alleged theft and in May of 2017, Uber fired him when he failed to provide documents to the court.
“Uber regrets ever bringing Anthony Levandowski on board,” the Uber attorney William Carmody told a jury during the Uber-Waymo trial. “For all his time at Uber, all Uber has to show for Anthony Levandowski is this lawsuit.”
Levandowski didn't stop there, he founded a religion worshipping artificial intelligence and a new autonomous car startup called Pronto.AI.
Levandowski’s attorneys, Miles Ehrlich and Ismail Ramsey, issued their own statement: “This case rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year and a half ago,” they said. “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.”
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