Former Waymo founder charged with theft of trade secrets

28 August 2019

Former Waymo founder charged with theft of trade secrets

28 August 2019

Prosecutors in the US have charged a former founder of Waymo with stealing secrets from the company.

Anthony Levandowski has been charged with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google when he left the business to set up his own company, which was later purchased by Waymo's rival Uber.

Future jobs

Levandowski led the engineering team for lidar, a light-detection system similar to radar used for detecting objects, in his time at Waymo. The federal indictment alleges that Mr Levandowski downloaded from Google ′numerous engineering, manufacturing, and business files' related to lidar and self-driving car technology, and then used them in his future ventures.

Following the end of his time with Google in 2016, Levandowski co-founded Otto, an autonomous trucking company later acquired by Uber. Uber appointed him head of autonomy but later fired him in May 2017 after allegations emerged that he had absconded Waymo with proprietary information.

The uncovering on Levandowski's actions led to a bitter battle between Waymo and Uber, who settled their trade secrets case last year, with Uber agreeing to pay Waymo $245 million (€221 million). Waymo originally demanded $1.85 (€1.7 billion) in damages.

′All of us have the right to change jobs,' The Financial Times reports US attorney David L. Anderson as saying. ′None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.'

A spokesperson for Uber said: ′We've co-operated with the government throughout their investigation and will continue to do so.'

New venture

Last December Mr Levandowski unveiled a new venture, Pronto. AI, another self-driving truck start-up launched because of the industry's ′inability to deliver on its promises', he said at the time.

Pronto released a statement saying chief safety officer Robbie Miller will ′take the reins' as chief executive. ′The criminal charges filed against Anthony relate exclusively to Lidar and do not in any way involve Pronto's groundbreaking technology. Of course, we are fully supportive of Anthony and his family during this period,' it added.

Counsel for Levandowski, Miles Ehrlich and Ismail Ramsey, dismissed the allegations as a ′rehash' of claims ′already discredited'. They acknowledged he downloaded Google files, believed to total around 14,000 in number, but said he did so as an authorised employee. ′He didn't steal anything, from anyone,' they wrote. ′None of these supposedly secret files ever went to Uber or any other company.'

Levandowski faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 (€226,000) fine for each count if found guilty.