A former Google engineer accused of stealing trade secrets for Uber was arrested Tuesday and charged with looting Google’s top-secret files.
Anthony Levandowski was charged by San Francisco federal prosecutors with downloading 14,000 documents about Google self-driving car unit Waymo in December 2015 — when he was deep in talks to sell his own self-driving startup to Uber for $700 million.
Two months after downloading the files, including “circuit board schematics,” and “an internal tracking document,” Levandowski signed a term sheet to sell his startup, Otto, to Uber, the feds said.
Levandowski, who voluntarily surrendered to the feds on Tuesday, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years if convicted. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was released on a $2 million secured bond. He will wear an ankle monitor and has to report back to court on Sept. 4.
The criminal charges revive a closely watched legal battle between Waymo and Uber that had Google’s autonomous-driving car company claiming that the ride-hailing giant misappropriated Waymo trade secrets and infringed on its patents.
That case was settled last year for $245 million in the middle of the trial — but not before Waymo’s lawyers attempted to implicate former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in the scheme.
Kalanick took the stand and admitted that Uber needed to develop self-driving cars to survive, but denied knowingly stealing any technology from Google.
San Francisco prosecutors said their probe is ongoing and declined to comment on whether Uber or Kalanick are targets.
“All of us have the right to change jobs,” San Francisco US Attorney David Anderson said in a statement. “None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”
“We’ve cooperated with the government throughout their investigation and will continue to do so,” an Uber spokesperson said.
Levandowski, who was fired by Uber in 2017, “didn’t steal anything, from anyone,” his lawyers said, adding that no Waymo files ever made their way to Uber.
“The downloads at issue occurred while Anthony was still working at Google — when he and his team were authorized to use the information,” according to a statement by Ramsey & Ehrlich LLP lawyers. “Anthony is innocent, and we look forward to proving it at trial.”
The civil trial was one of the most closely watched trials in Silicon Valley — it even involved Waymo playing the famous “Greed is good” speech from Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” in the courtroom.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, in a letter made public following the settlement, admitted that his company was “acknowledging and correcting mistakes of the past.”
“We agree that Uber’s acquisition of Otto could and should have been handled differently,” he wrote. Khosrowshahi said Uber did not believe that it came into possession of any of Waymo’s trade secrets.
Following the announcement of the charges, Levandowski stepped down as CEO of his latest venture, a driver-assistance tech startup called Pronto AI.
Uber shares closed down by 20 cents Tuesday, at $33.11.
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