Anthony Levandowski, an ex-engineer for Google’s self-driving car unit has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for trade secret theft shortly before he joined Uber. Levandowski loaded more than 14,000 Google files onto his laptop before leaving the firm in January 2016.
On August 27, 2019, Levandowski was charged by the Department of Justice, alleging the theft of critical engineering information about the hardware used on Project Chauffeur. The charges disclosed that Levandowski transferred thousand of files onto his laptop before leaving the organization.
“It was wrong of him to take all these files, and it erases the contributions of many, many other people that have also put their blood, sweat, and tears into this project that makes a safer self-driving car,” the prosecutor Katherine Wawrzyniak voiced in her closing statement. “When someone as brilliant as Mr. Levandowski and as focused on his mission to create self-driving cars, to make the world safer and better, and that somehow excuses his actions, that’s wrong.”
Later Waymo released a statement that resonated with Wawrzyniak’s sentiments. The company says that Levandowski’s theft has been enormously disruptive, constituted a betrayal, and the effects would have been even more severe had it gone undetected.
Levandowski spoke briefly on his behalf: “The last few years have forced me to come to terms with what I did. I want to take this time to apologize to my colleagues at Google for betraying their trust.”
Levandowski admitted to accessing the document about one month after leaving Google. On August 4, 2020, he formally pleaded guilty to one of the thirty-three charges initially brought up against him.
Levandowski had sought a sentence consisting of home confinement, a fine, and community service. Still, U.S District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said on Tuesday that home confinement would give “a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. Prison time is the answer to that.” Although, his prison sentence will be delayed until after the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also fined with $95,000 and is asked to pay $757,000 as compensation to Google.
Initially, Levandowski was ordered to pay $179 million to Google, over a contract dispute. He soon declared bankruptcy, after that ruling.
“Today marks the end of three and a half long years and the beginning of another long road ahead. I’m thankful to my family and friends for their continued love and support during this difficult time,” Anthony Levandowski’s attorneys revealed after the sentencing.
Meanwhile, Levandowski has started a new company, Pronto, which offers safety systems for trucks. So, in his letter to Alsup, the engineer asked for a sentence that would help him continue advancing the world through technology. To which Alsup replied, “give a speech to 200 people, titled “Why I Went to Federal Prison.”
Following the indictment, Pronto, declared its Chief Safety Officer, Robbie Miller, would take over as CEO.
However, Levandowski is not done in the legal department. He filed a lawsuit claiming that Uber owes him money as part of its agreement to acquire Otto that it never paid. The reason being the trade lawsuit with Waymo effectively killed the deal’s prospects and the financial rewards it would have given Levandowski.
Levandowski is asking for at least $4.1 billion as compensation, which is approximately equal to the last recorded valuation of Uber Freight, the self-driving trucking business the company salvaged from its Otto acquisition.
Levandowski was a pioneer in robotic vehicles, a superstar engineer in the fast-paced world of self-driving cars who helped in jumpstarting a Google division dedicated to the technology. The engineer’s guilty plea leaves him a bankrupted convicted felon. He also quoted in a letter to Alsup that, “his last few years of courtroom battles were a grueling lesson in humility.”