friday, 20 march of 2020


Former Uber engineer pleads guilty to stealing Google secrets: US

Anthony Levandowski, the former head of Uber’s self-driving project, pleaded guilty to one count of stealing trade secrets from Google, his former employer.

Thirty-two other charges will be dropped as part of a plea deal reached with federal prosecutors.

"Mr Levandowski accepts responsibility and is looking forward to resolving this matter," said Miles Ehrlich, his lawyer.

"Mr Levandowski is a young man with enormous talents and much to contribute to the fast-moving world of artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, and we hope that this plea will allow him to move on with his life and focus his energies where they matter most."

The government had agreed to recommend to William Alsup, US district judge, a sentence of 24-30 months, Mr Ehrlich said. The US attorney’s office in San Francisco has yet to comment on the plea deal. The maximum possible sentence is 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution, according to the Department of Justice.

In 2009, Mr Levandowski was one of the founders of the Google self-driving project, now known as Waymo. He left in 2016 to found a rival self-driving company called Otto, which Uber swiftly acquired for nearly $700m.

Within months, however, Google sued Uber, alleging Mr Levandowski had illegally downloaded thousands of files relating to autonomous technologies. Google said he used the information to advance technology at Otto and subsequently Uber.

The case was settled in 2018 after a brief trial which saw Travis Kalanick, a co-founder and former chief executive of Uber, take the stand. Uber agreed to hand over a 0.34 per cent stake in itself to Waymo, a deal worth approximately $245m.

But last summer federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Mr Levandowski, raising the prospect of a potential prison sentence.

As part of his guilty plea, Mr Levandowski admitted for the first time to stealing 20 documents from Google for personal gain, at least one of which contained confidential information about the status of Google’s self-driving car project.

"Levandowski admitted he downloaded the file with the intent to use it for the benefit of himself and Uber and that he accessed the document after his resignation from Google," the DoJ said. "Levandowski acknowledged that the document qualified as a trade secret. In sum, Levandowski admitted a reasonable estimate of the loss attributed to his conduct is up to $1,500,000."

Last month, Mr Levandowski filed for bankruptcy protection after a court ordered him to pay Google $179m. While Mr Levandowski has an indemnification agreement with Uber, the company is currently “in dispute” with him over whether it should be held responsible for the fee.

(Published by Financial Times, March 20, 2020)

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