Several years ago, Anthony Levandowski was a well-known engineer in the up and coming industry of self-driving cars – he helped create a division within Google dedicated to it. Levandowski went on to part with Google in order to found Otto, a self-driving truck company, that he then sold to Uber in 2016. The sale enabled Levandowski to join the ridesharing company as a high-ranking executive, but shortly afterwards he was accused of stealing trade secrets from his former employer, Google.

Trade secret thief charged

A lawsuit filed for trade secret theft against Uber by Google’s self-driving division (called Waymo at the time), alleged that the acquisition of Otto gave Uber access to sensitive and confidential Waymo technology that Levandowski took illegally.

After 5 days at trial Uber and Waymo settled the lawsuit. Uber agreed to give Waymo $245 million of the company’s stock, which was 0.34% of Uber’s equity at the company’s $72 billion valuation at the time (2018). However, Levandowski was still liable for criminal charges of trade secret theft and eventually reached a plea deal in August of last year.

Earlier this month, Levandowski was sentenced to 18 months in prison (a sentence of 27 months was recommended by the US District Attorney’s office), a fine of $95,000 and ordered to pay $757,000 in restitution to Google. A separate court ruling found Levandowski also guilty of illegally poaching Waymo engineers and he was ordered to pay $179 million to Waymo. Not being able to afford the $179 million, Levandowski declared bankruptcy.

In a statement to The Verge, a Waymo spokesperson said “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. We echo Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Wawrzyniak’s sentiment that this theft ‘erases the contributions of many, many other people that have also put their blood, sweat and tears into this project that makes a safer self-driving car. Judge Alsup’s decision today to sentence Levandowski to 18 months in prison for stealing trade secrets from us represents a win for trade secret laws that promote cutting-edge technology development.”