Anthony Levandowski, who worked on autonomous vehicles at Google, has been charged with stealing trade secrets from the company.
Levandowski, a pioneering self-driving car engineer, was charged by federal prosecutors, with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google on Tuesday.
Levandowski reportedly downloaded approximately 14,000 files from Google, before transferring them to his personal laptop over a period of months after leaving the company. The engineer began talks to join Uber following his departure from Google.
Some of the files included “critical engineering information” about hardware for autonomous cars and “schematics for the printed circuit boards used in various custom Lidar products”. Lidar is a surveying technique that measures the distance to a target by illuminating that target with laser light, before measuring the reflected light with a sensor.
Uber and Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit over the dispute back in February 2018. Four days into the trial, Uber agreed to pay Waymo a fee in the region of $245m. The federal judge who oversaw the civil trial recommended that federal prosecutors undertake a criminal investigation in May 2017.
“All of us have the right to change jobs,” said the US attorney David Anderson in a statement. “None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”
Anthony Levandowski joined Google in 2007. He initially worked on Street View before working on a project of teaching a car to drive itself. Levandowski continued with the same team, even after the launch of Waymo, before resigning from Google in 2016 without giving notice.
He subsequently announced a new startup, Otto, which aimed to build self-driving technology for trucks. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016, however, there were many issues with the self-driving vehicles that the company piloted. Ultimately, Uber agreed to take the cars off the streets after they were seen running red lights on two occasions.
If convicted, Anthony Levandowski faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, plus a fine of $250,000 plus restitution for each count.
Levandowski was charged on Tuesday afternoon in San Jose after turning himself in. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a $2m bond.