A former Google engineer has admitted stealing trade secrets relating to the company’s self-driving car work.
Anthony Levandowski was accused of downloading thousands of proprietary files from Google in 2015 prior to leaving the company.
One of the files downloaded by Levandowski to his personal laptop was called ‘Chauffeur TL weekly updates – Q4 2015,’ and featured details about Google’s self-driving program.
“I downloaded this file with the intent to use it for the benefit of someone other than Google,” Levandowski wrote in court filings on Thursday. “The Chauffeur Weekly Update contained a variety of details regarding the status of Google’s self-driving car program.”
Levandowski went on to start an ambitious self-driving truck startup called Otto which was subsequently acquired by Uber. Google took Uber to court over the theft and it was eventually settled for $245 million.
Levandowski repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment to protect himself from self-incrimination during hearings in the run-up to the civil trial. After threats to do so if he did not comply with the court, Uber fired Levandowski.
The charge against Levandowski was 33 counts of trade secrets theft or attempted trade secrets theft. As part of a plea deal, Levandowski agreed to one of the 33 charges in exchange for dropping the other 32.
“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,” said a Waymo spokesperson.
“Through today’s developments and related cases, we are successfully protecting our intellectual property as we build the world’s most experienced driver.”
Levandowski’s plea agreement means he will face between 24 and 30 months in prison, far less than the up to 10 years he could have faced.
Miles Ehrlich, attorney for Levandowski, told The Washington Post in a statement: “Mr Levandowski is a young man with enormous talents and much to contribute to the fast-moving world of [artificial intelligence] and [automated vehicles] and we hope that this plea will allow him to move on with his life and focus his energies where they matter most.”
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