Ex-Uber engineer accused of stealing Google’s self-driving car secrets

Former Google engineer indicted for stealing trade secrets, giving to Uber

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday filed a criminal indictment against an ex-Google and Uber engineer for stealing self-driving technology from Google before joining its rival, Uber Technologies Inc.

The accused, Anthony Scott Levandowski, a 39-year-old engineer and former head of Uber’s self-driving vehicle efforts, has been indicted on 33-counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1832.

Levandowski had worked at Google’s self-driving car unit, which was later rebranded as Waymo. According to the indictment, Levandowski illicitly downloaded thousands of confidential files related to engineering, manufacturing, and business for Google’s LiDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) and self-driving technology, in the months before he left Google.

Levandowski abruptly resigned from Google in January 2016 to launch his own start-up, Ottomotto, a self-driving truck company, which he eventually sold to Uber. However, before leaving the engineer allegedly transferred critical engineering information about the hardware used on the self-driving project to his personal laptop, the indictment said.

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

At the time Levandowski took the files, he was involved with two companies competing with Google in the self-driving space: Tyto LiDAR LLC and 280 Systems, Inc., which later became Ottomotto. In May 2016, Otto acquired Tyto, shortly after Uber Technologies, Inc. agreed to acquire Ottomottoand hire Levandowski.

Levandowski surrendered himself in at the San Jose courthouse on Tuesday morning. He pleaded not guilty to all counts at his arraignment on Tuesday afternoon.

If convicted, he could face up to 10 years of imprisonment, and a fine of up to $250,000, plus restitution, for each violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1832. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553

The prosecution is being handled by the Office of the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of California’s new Corporate Fraud Strike Force and is the result of an investigation by the FBI.

Commenting on the indictment, Uber said it has “cooperated with the government” in the investigation, while Waymo appreciated the work of the DOJ and the FBI, saying they have “always believed competition should be fueled by innovation.”

Levandowski’s attorneys issued a statement on his behalf stating that he stole nothing and is innocent of the charges.

“For more than a decade, Anthony Levandowski has been an industry-leading innovator in self-driving technologies. He didn’t steal anything, from anyone,” the statement reads.

“This case rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year and a half ago. 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.”

To recall, the 33-count indictment largely mirrors allegations that Waymo’s lawsuit had made against Uber in February 2017, which claimed that Levandowski had stolen around 14,000 confidential and proprietary files from Google. However, the lawsuit was settled about a year later, where Uber agreed to pay Waymo a 0.34% equity stake amounting to about $245 million based on Uber’s valuation at the time.

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