In context: Back in 2017, Google-owned Waymo accused Uber of stealing many of its technological secrets used in its self-driving cars. The two companies eventually settled the dispute and ironically enough Waymo ended up owning a stake in Uber's future. The latter promised not to incorporate the former's trade secrets into its car technology, but now the person that illegally downloaded thousands of confidential documents faces dire consequences for his actions.
The US Attorney for the Northern District of California recently charged former high-ranking Google engineer Anthony Levandowski on 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets before joining rival Uber.
The indictment closely resembles the allegations made by Waymo in its civil lawsuit against Uber in 2017, where prosecutors accused Levandowski of downloading 14,000 documents to his personal laptop between 2015 and 2016 that covered vital details of LIDAR sensor tech and other circuitry implemented in Waymo's self-driving cars.
The controversial senior executive left Google in 2016 to build his own company that focused on self-driving trucks, only to get acquired shortly after by Uber for an estimated $680 million. As a result, Levandowski took over Uber's self-driving car division, and Waymo accused the company of using this as a cover for copying designs that were very similar to its own work.
In a news conference, U.S. Attorney David Anderson said "All people are free to change jobs. [...] But what we cannot do is stuff our pockets on the way out the door." Levandowski - who is 39 - faces up to 10 years of prison and a fine of $250,00 for every violation, but his lawyers say they're going to prove him innocent and that the downloads in question never ended up in the hands of Uber or his personal ventures.
As a result of the indictment, Levandowski was relieved of his role of CEO at his latest startup called Pronto.ai by Robbie Miller, former chief safety officer. In an official statement, Miller says the charges levied at Levandowski have nothing to do with Pronto's technology called Copilot, which is a "new safety layer for today's trucks" that is on track to roll out to customers later this year. The new CEO is known for having warned Uber executives about critical safety issues in its self driving program prior to the fatal collision with a pedestrian that happened last year.
Waymo said it appreciated the "work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI on this case," and Uber promised to continue to cooperate with the authorities throughout the whole process. FBI special agent in charge John Bennett noted that "Silicon Valley is not the Wild West. The fast pace and competitive environment does not mean federal laws don’t apply or they can be ignored.”