Former Google star charged with stealing secrets regarding self-driving cars

SAN JOSE (California) • Anthony Levandowski was once among the most sought-after technologists in Silicon Valley.

As a pioneer of self-driving car technology, he became a confidant of Mr Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, and helped develop the search giant's autonomous vehicles. Uber later wooed him to gain an edge in self-driving techniques.

But on Tuesday, Levandowski, 39, fell far from that favoured stature, when federal prosecutors charged him with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. At an arraignment in a federal courthouse in San Jose, California, Levandowski posted US$2 million (S$2.8 million) bail and was ordered to wear an ankle monitor after prosecutors argued he was a flight risk.

The criminal indictment against Levandowski opens a new chapter in a legal battle that has embroiled Google, its self-driving car spin-off Waymo and Uber in the high-stakes contest over autonomous vehicles.

Levandowski is said to have downloaded more than 14,000 files containing critical data about Google's autonomous-vehicle research before leaving the company in 2016. He then made an unauthorised transfer of the files to his personal laptop, the indictment says.

Levandowski joined Uber later that year when the ride-hailing company bought his new self-driving trucking start-up.

At his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to all charges. His next court date is Sept 4. If he is convicted, he could face a maximum of 10 years in prison, a US$250,000 fine for every count and additional restitution.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2019, with the headline 'Former Google star charged with stealing secrets regarding self-driving cars'. Print Edition | Subscribe