Wunderkind engineer Anthony Levandowski pled guilty this week to stealing Google’s trade secrets on his way out the door, but it’s hard to think justice has been done when he got let off on 32 of 33 counts.
All’s fair in love and business when you “trade up,” or take a better opportunity than what you have right now. But it’s not fair when you steal 9.7 gigabytes of your ex’s confidential files and trade secrets. That’s the allegation against one-time self-driving car whiz kid and future penitentiary resident Anthony Levandowski, and KPIX reports that Levandowski pled guilty Thursday. The seven-year Google engineer from their self-driving car unit Waymo jumped over to Uber when that company bought up his self-driving truck startup Otto, but he allegedly stole a giant trove of internal documents on the way out, and Uber may have known that the goods were stolen. (Those two parties reached a $245 million settlement in 2018, with Uber on the paying end.)
It’s hard to say that justice was done when the deal allows Levandowki to plead guilty on only one count of theft, because as the New York Times reports, he was charged with 33 counts of theft. And while he’ll never serve the possible ten-year sentence that the charges carry, Wired notes that he “will likely go to prison” with prosecutors recommending a 24 to 30-month sentence that’s still more than most white collar criminals get.
Back in 2015 when Google encouraged its employees to found their own startups (and they never thought this might happen?) Levandowski founded his self-driving truck startup Otto on the side. Later that year, he apparently downloaded 14,000 files from an internal Google server, and switched them from his Google-issued laptop to his own personal laptop. He then promptly left the company, bolting for Uber once they acquired Otto, hoping they could use Google’s trade secrets to leapfrog Google’s own self-driving car unit Waymo.
Waymo is still humming along, though TechCrunch tells us that they’ve suspended their self-driving car pilot program for the curation of the coronavirus menace.
But rather hilariously, the ultimate victim here was Uber. After all of the trouble of the $600 million Otto acquisition, the $245 legal settlement, and reputational damage they endured over receiving the stolen goods, VentureBeat reminds us that Uber gave up on the autonomous truck project in August 2018.
Image: Kaxelrod via Wikimedia Commons