Ex-Google engineer jailed for stealing trade secrets

AP
A former Google engineer has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets to build robotic vehicles for its ride-hailing service.
AP

A former Google engineer has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets before joining Uber’s effort to build robotic vehicles for its ride-hailing service.

The sentence handed down on Tuesday by US District Judge William Alsup came more than four months after former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski reached a plea agreement with the federal prosecutors who brought a criminal case against him last August.

Levandowski, who helped steer Google’s self-driving car project before landing at Uber, was also ordered to pay more than US$850,000.

Alsup had taken the unusual step of recommending the Justice Department open a criminal investigation into Levandowski while presiding over a high-profile civil trial between Uber and Waymo, a spinoff from a self-driving car project that Google began in 2007 after hiring Levandowski to be part of its team.

Levandowski eventually became disillusioned with Google and left the company in early 2016 to start his own self-driving truck company, called Otto, which Uber eventually bought for US$680 million.

Before leaving Google, though, Levandowski downloaded a trove of Google’s self-driving car technology, resulting in him facing 33 counts of intellectual property theft. He wound up pleading guilty to one count, culminating in Tuesday’s sentencing.

The accusations turned Levandowski, once highly regarded for his early inroads into self-driving cars, into a notorious figure “almost synonymous with greed run amok in Silicon Valley,” his own lawyers acknowledged in court documents filed last week.

The lawyers argued Levandowski deserved some leniency because there was never any evidence that he used Google’s trade secrets while overseeing Uber’s self-driving car division. He lost that job in 2017 while asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when Uber was still defending itself against Waymo’s lawsuit.

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