Ex-Google Engineer Charged with Stealing Trade Secrets for Self-Driving Cars
Anthony Levandowski was charged with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets for allegedly selling the secret information to Uber
An ex-Google engineer was slammed with charges this week after he allegedly stole secrets from the tech company about self-driving cars and sold them to Uber.
Anthony Levandowski was charged with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets for allegedly selling the exclusive information to Uber, who is one of Google’s direct competitors in the race to build robotic vehicles, according to an indictment obtained by PEOPLE.
The legal document, which was filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Jose, California states that Levandowski allegedly downloaded thousands of files from Google’s self-driving car project, referred to as “Project Chauffeur”, in the months before his departure from the company.
Levandowski’s attorney Miles Ehrlich, however, tells PEOPLE his client is innocent and “didn’t steal anything from anyone.”
“For more than a decade, Anthony Levandowski has been an industry-leading innovator in self-driving technologies. He didn’t steal anything, from anyone,” Ehrlich says. “Anthony is innocent, and we look forward to proving it at trial.”
Representatives at Google and Uber did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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Levandowski first began working at Google as an engineer in 2007, where he signed an employment agreement that included a confidentiality form, prohibiting any employees from sharing the company’s information with anyone else, according to the indictment.
Before abruptly leaving the tech company in 2016, Levandowski was one of the founding members of “Project Chauffeur” and the head of the project’s Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) engineering team.
Many of the files he allegedly downloaded included “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,” the indictment states.
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The engineer was also involved with two separate companies who competed with Google in self-driving technology around the time of his departure. One of those companies, Ottomotto, was later acquired by Uber.
The indictment states that if Levandowski is found guilty, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and fines of $250,000 per count.
“All of us have the right to change jobs,” United States Attorney David L. Anderson said Tuesday in a statement, according to NBC News. “None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”
The case is an offshoot of a 2017 lawsuit filed by Waymo, a self-driving car company spun off from Google, NBC News reports.
At the time, Uber agreed to settle the case by paying Waymo $245 million, but the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit decided that it was best to open the criminal probe, as there was likely enough evidence to suggest theft had occurred.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson with Waymo says: “We have always believed competition should be fueled by innovation, and we appreciate the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI on this case.”
Meanwhile, Ehrlich notes that the case has already been discussed and says that Levandowski was “authorized to use the information” from Google, but refuted claims that his client sent them to Uber.
“This case rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year and a half ago,” Levandowski’s attorney tells PEOPLE. “The downloads at issue occurred while Anthony was still working at Google—when he and his team were authorized to use the information.”
“None of these supposedly secret files ever went to Uber or to any other company,” he adds. “Over these last couple years, Anthony has continued to lead the development of new and innovative safe-driving technologies to advance this ground-breaking industry.”