Wow, truly, who could have seen this coming? Earlier today, federal prosecutors in California charged former Google and Uber employee Anthony Levandowski with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets. Before the alleged-theft stuff, Levandowski was well known in Silicon Valley as an expert on self-driving cars and Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) technology. He started the project at Google, in the division now known as Waymo, and then set out independently. He formed a startup known as Otto that was then acquired by Uber after he had formed a connection with then-CEO Travis Kalanick.
According to the indictment, “On or about December 11, 2015, [Levandowski] downloaded approximately 14,000 files” from a Google SVN server. (SVN is short for subversion, a type of version-control software similar to git.) Because he worked on the project as a Google employee and on the company’s behalf, these files were company property. “These files contained critical engineering information about the hardware used on Project Chauffeur self-driving vehicles, including schematics for the printed circuit boards used in various custom LiDAR products,” prosecutors stated, referencing the sensor technology that many autonomous-vehicle projects rely on. Each of the 33 counts is tied to a file Levandowski supposedly stole.
Last year, Uber and Waymo settled a lawsuit after Waymo accused the company and Levandowski of conspiring to steal trade secrets. (Over the course of that lawsuit, Waymo produced a sizable list of suspect actions and Google queries from Levandowski and associates.) The case went to trial briefly before the parties settled, with Uber paying Waymo. Mr. Levandowski was referred by the judge in that case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Today’s charges are the result of that criminal inquiry.
In a statement, Levandowski’s attorney’s said, “This case rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year and a half ago. The downlaods at issue occurred while Anthony was still working at Google — when he and his team were authorized to use the information.”
If convicted, Levandowski faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution for each violation.