Jeff Chiu / AP
It may have seemed that Anthony Levandowski was out of the legal seat after Google's parent company, Alphabet, agreed to settle a lawsuit for corporate espionage against Uber last year. But the controversial pursuit of Silicon Valley is at the center of another case stemming from the same accusations – only this time, federal prosecutors claim that after years of leading Google's autonomous vehicle department, he plundered a trove of top secret files before joining job with Google's primary rival, Uber.
On Tuesday, Levandowski was charged with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of business secrets for allegedly doing something with 14,000 files related to Google's self-driving car project Waymo.
The criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Northern California alleges that in the months before he abruptly resigned from Google in January 2016, Levandowski downloaded and copied key files to his laptop. He then used these trade secrets to create his own self-driving truck company called Otto, according to the documents. Months later, the startup was bought by Uber for about $ 680 million. In addition, Uber Levandowski was appointed head of ride-hailing the company's autonomous vehicles department, which was then on the rise.
"All of us have the right to change jobs, none of us have the right to fill our pockets on our way out the door," said U.S. Attorney David Anderson in a statement. "Theft is not innovation."
Court documents say Levandowski created with circuit board drawings and forms as well as detailed designs for light sensor technology k took "many years of research and testing and millions of dollars in investment" for Google to produce.
"The FBI will not tolerate theft of trade secrets," FBI Special Agent in Charge John Bennett told NPR in an email statement. "These are the company's crown jewels, and this illegal behavior has a real impact on our economy, local jobs and consumers around the country and even around the world. Silicon Valley is not the wild west."
Levandowski's lawyers, Ismail Ramsey and Miles Ehrlich, say he is an innovator in the self-driving technology field and "did not steal anything from anyone."
"The downloads involved while Anthony was still working on Google – when he and his team were authorized to use the information. None of these supposedly secret files have ever gone to Uber or to any other company," they said in a statement, adding that the latest charges restore "allegations already discredited in a civil case."
The lawsuit between the two tech giants over the same case was settled last year after a four-day trial in which Levandowski refused to cooperate with Uber's defender, and cited Fifth Amendment privileges. He was then fired from Uber.
Finally, Uber, which at the time planned to go public, agreed to pay Alphabet & # 39; s Waymo subsidiary $ 245 million to close the lawsuit and not to use the technology.
The judge overseeing the lawsuit also recommended the criminal investigation case, and this is what led to the charge against Levandowski.
"We have always believed that competition should be driven by innovation, and we appreciate the work of the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI in this matter," a Waymo spokesman told NPR in an email statement. Meanwhile, Uber said it has "cooperated with the government throughout their investigation and will continue to do so."
If convicted, Levandowski faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $ 250,000 for each of the 33 counts of trafficking-theft.