The big picture: A month after filing for bankruptcy due to being ordered to pay Google $179 million in a legal battle over his departure from subsidiary Waymo, Levandowski has chosen to plead guilty to one of several charges of stealing sensitive information from the company before leaving. The agreement may help him get a softer penalty, but he still owes up to $250,000 and will definitely serve at least two years of prison time.
Back in August 2019, the US Attorney for the Northern District of California charged one of Silicon Valley's high profile self-driving car engineers with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets that happened before he joined Uber as part of the acquisition of Otto, his autonomous truck company.
According to a new report from Reuters, Anthony Levandowski has agreed to plead guilty to stealing trade secrets from Google-owned Waymo where he was lead engineer until he left to go on his own venture. The 40-year-old engineer has been embroiled in the legal battle for three years, and would have normally faced up to 10 years of prison for each of the 33 charges.
The agreement will see Levandowski being absolved of all other charges in exchange for admitting that he took 14,000 files from Google including a sensitive document that outlined Waymo's plans, metrics, and technological solutions for its autonomous car project. The engineer declared bankruptcy earlier this month after a court ordered him to pay $179 million to end a legal dispute over his departure from the Alphabet subsidiary.
He's still facing a potential 24 to 30 months in prison for the remaining charge and a fine of up to $250,000, not to mention $750,000 to cover Waymo's costs in assisting the investigation. His attorney, Miles Ehrlich, explained that "Mr. Levandowski is a young man with enormous talents and much to contribute to the fast-moving world of AI and AV and we hope that this plea will allow him to move on with his life and focus his energies where they matter most."
A Waymo spokesperson said that "Mr. Levandowski’s guilty plea in a criminal hearing today brings to an end a seminal case for our company and the self-driving industry, and underscores the value of Waymo’s intellectual property."
As for Uber, the company agreed to pay a financial settlement of over $245 million in Uber equity to Waymo, effectively giving the latter a 0.34 percent stake. Furthermore, Uber will have to either license Waymo's tech or develop its own, but the company is doing well overall, with a continued expansion in the Middle East and supposedly plenty of cash on hand to ride out the coronavirus crisis.