Engineer who took Google’s self-driving secrets to Uber sentenced to 18 months

Former Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski has been sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets from Waymo, Google’s self-driving car division. He’s also agreed to pay over $756,000 to the company, plus a fine of $95,000 — which will be a feat considering Levandowski’s already been bankrupted by a $179 million judgment against him for poaching Google employees.

“The last three and a half years have forced me to come to terms with what I did,” Levandowski said in a statement. “I want to take this time to apologize to my colleagues at Google for betraying their trust, and to my entire family for the price they have paid and will continue to pay for my actions.”

Levandowski faced a potential 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to one charge of trade secret theft back in March. Two and a half years isn’t nothing, but it’s a breeze compared to the sentence he could have faced if he’d refused the plea deal and been convicted of all 33 counts of trade secret theft: Technically, he could have been up for 10 years per count, or 330 all up at the maximum.

A cofounder of Google’s self-driving car division, Levandowski left the company in early 2016 to form self-driving truck company Otto, poaching a few employees along the way. Otto was quickly acquired by Uber that July, before Waymo filed a lawsuit alleging Uber now had confidential information that Levandowski had stolen. 

The dispute between Uber and Waymo was settled in 2017, and Uber fired Levandowski for not complying with their internal investigations. He subsequently faced the criminal charges which saw their conclusion today.

According to TechCrunch, Levandowski won’t actually have to serve time until the coronavirus pandemic subsides — and not even experts from the World Health Organization know when that might be. Even so, a Waymo spokesperson told Mashable the judgement “represents a win for trade secret laws that promote cutting-edge technology development.”

“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,” said the spokesperson in a statement to Mashable.

“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.” 

Pronto, a new startup Levandowski founded after being fired by Uber, expressed support for its former CEO. Levandowski stepped down from the position in August last year after criminal charges were brought against him.

“We remain supportive of Anthony and his family through this difficult period,” Pronto told Mashable. “He’s made enormous contributions to our company and our industry and we know that the positive impacts from that work will speak for themselves and be felt for generations to come.”

Mashable has also contacted Uber for comment.

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