Ex Google engineer faces 18 months in prison for trade-secret theft, which Google says has resulted in tremendous loss for the company, and a breach of ethics within the industry. The judge seems to agree.
Anthony Levandowski, an ex-engineer with google’s self-driving unit, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing trade secrets.
Levankowski, who was working on Google’s Waymo car, took tons of files regarding the project with him when he moved to join Uber in January 2016. He led Uber’s Robocar project but was later fired when he was accused of trade theft.
Levandowski was hoping for a sentence of an year’s home confinement. He has been allowed to serve the sentence at a later date as he suffers from pneumonia and catching the Covid-19 virus could be fatal for him.
The prosecutors had demanded a 27- month sentence.
US District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said Anthony Levandowski had carried out the “biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen”.
Judge Alsup said, “Billions [of dollars] in the future were at play, and when those kind of financial incentives are there good people will do terrible things, and that’s what happened here.”
Judge Alsup insisted on a custodial sentence as otherwise stealing of trade secrets would not be treated as a serious crime and there would be no deterrent for it.
He said a non-custodial sentence would amount to “a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets”.
Levandowski was forced to file for bankruptcy in March as he owes Google nearly $179 million for the loss caused due to the theft. This is in addition to other fines of $757,000 in restitution and a fine of $95,000.
Levandowski said in a statement: “Today marks the end of three-and-a-half long years and the beginning of another long road ahead.” He also said that the last 3 years had been tough and he apologized to his colleagues in Google and his family for his wrongdoing and the trouble it caused to all.
“Anthony Levandowski’s theft of autonomous technology trade secrets has been enormously disruptive and harmful to Waymo, constituted a betrayal, and the effects would likely have been even more severe had it gone undetected,” said a Waymo spokesperson.
Uber settled a lawsuit from Alphabet over the trade secrets theft, but the dispute between the companies continues.
Levandowski has was a star engineer in the new growing tech of self-driving cars and was a founding member of Google’s autonomous car division. After leaving Google he started a self-driving truck company called Otto. He sold it to Uber in 2016 and joined them.
Shortly thereafter, Google filed a lawsuit against Uber for theft of trade secrets. It alleged that the acquisition of Otto allowed them access to Waymo technology and Uber was complicit in the theft of technology.
Levandowski refused to co-operate in the case but ultimately negotiated a plea deal with payment of fines. Bu the amount has forced him to file for bankruptcy.
Levandowski is also demanding nearly $4 billion from Uber as he says he was never paid for the acquisition of Otto. Uber says the deal died a quick death because of the theft accusations.
The $4 billion demand is based on the present valuation of Uber Freight, the self-driving freight unit, which Levandowski says uses his Otto technology.
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