Ex-Google engineer charged with self-driving car secrets theft

August 28, 2019 09:41
Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski (L) leaves a federal court in San Jose, California after his arraignment hearing on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

Anthony Levandowski, a pioneer in self-driving car technology, was criminally charged on Tuesday with stealing trade secrets from his former employer Google before joining rival Uber Technologies, Reuters reports.

The 33-count indictment made public by the US Department of Justice largely mirrors allegations that the Waymo unit of Google parent Alphabet, where Levandowski had worked, made in a 2017 civil lawsuit against Uber, the report said.

Levandowski, 39, pleaded not guilty to the charges through one of his lawyers, at an arraignment before a judge in San Jose, California.

The lawyers said Levandowski stole nothing, and that they look forward to proving his innocence at trial.

The judge set a preliminary bail package of US$300,000 cash and the pledging as collateral of two properties worth US$2 million.

Another hearing to set final bail terms has been scheduled for Sept. 4, as government lawyers said they need more time to assess Levandowski’s finances.

Levandowski surrendered his US and French passports and will wear and ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts. 

The defendant could face up to 10 years in prison on each count if convicted.

Levandowski’s prosecution is one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile trade secret theft cases, as engineers race to develop technology for self-driving vehicles, Reuters noted.

Prosecutors accused Levandowski of stealing materials in late 2015 and early 2016 related to Waymo’s self-driving car technology.

They said he did this after deciding to leave and form his own self-driving company, Ottomotto, which Uber later bought.

The alleged stolen materials included details related to Lidar, a crucial sensor technology, according to the indictment.

All people are free to change jobs, US Attorney David Anderson said at a news conference. “But what we cannot do is stuff our pockets on the way out the door.”

Levandowski left Waymo in early 2016 and eventually took over Uber’s self-driving car project before being fired.

“For more than a decade, Anthony Levandowski has been an industry-leading innovator in self-driving technologies,” and the government’s case is a “rehash” of discredited claims, his lawyer Miles Ehrlich told reporters at the courthouse.

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