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March 20, 2020 11:30 AM, EDT

Anthony Levandowski Pleads Guilty to Stealing Trade Secrets From Google

Anthony LevandowskiLevandowski at an industry show. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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Autonomous technology developer Anthony Levandowski has pleaded guilty to federal theft of trade secrets charges, according to documents filed in federal court March 19.

Levandowski, 39, of Marin County, Calif., who worked in Google’s self-driving car program for approximately seven years, was indicted by a federal grand jury in August on charges he stole trade secrets from Google that he later used on other projects.

Levandowski faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, according to the plea agreement.

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He was involved with two companies competing with Google in the self-driving space: Tyto LiDAR and 280 Systems Inc., the latter of which would become Ottomotto, or Otto, according to the indictment.

Although the indictment included charges on 33 counts, Levandowski is pleading guilty to one count, according to the proposed plea announcement filed by David Anderson, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.

According to the plea agreement, Levandowski acknowledged that during this time he was aware his employment agreement required that he keep Google’s valuable nonpublic information confidential. He also knew that the nonpublic information related to Project Chauffeur was sensitive and subject to the confidentiality requirement, according to Anderson’s statement.

Project Chauffeur was the name given to Google’s self-driving car program, the plea agreement said.

“Nevertheless, while Levandowski was considering leaving Google, and prior to his departure in 2016, he obtained and stored thousands of confidential files with the intent to use them for his personal benefit after his departure from the company,” the U.S. Attorney’s statement said. “Specifically, on Dec.11, 2015, Levandowski downloaded approximately 14,000 files from an internal, password-protected Google server known as ‘SVN,’ which was hosted on Google’s network,” the statement said.

The statement said that a few days later, Levandowski transferred those SVN files from his Google-issued laptop to his personal laptop. In addition, prior to his departure from Google, he downloaded a variety of files from a corporate Google drive repository to his personal laptop.

Within months after Levandowski’s departure from Google, the plea agreement said he created a new company that was then purchased by Uber.

Federal authorities said Levandowski admitted that while he was working for Google, he downloaded at least 20 files from Google Drive. Among the files downloaded between October 2015 and January 2016 was an internal tracking document titled “Chauffeur TL weekly updates — Q4 2015.”

The update contained a variety of details regarding the status of Google’s self-driving car program. 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. 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 $1.5 million.

“Mr. Levandowski accepts responsibility and is looking forward to resolving this matter,” Levandowski's attorney, Miles Ehrlich, of law firm Ramsey & Ehrlich LLP in Berkeley, Calif., said in a statement. “Mr. Levandowski is a young man with enormous talents and much to contribute to the fast-moving world of AI and AV, 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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