Former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, convicted on one count of stealing trade secrets and sentenced to 18 months in prison. The judge postponed his incarceration until the Coronavirus pandemic is under control. He also will have to pay $756,499 in restitution to Google and a fine of $95,000 for his theft of trade secret information from Google regarding self-driving cars.
Trade secrets generally consist of information used in business to give an opportunity to gain an economic advantage over competitors who are not privy to the trade secret. Examples of trade secrets can include information related to formulas, patterns, compilations, programs, devices, software, methods, techniques, or processes. Trade secret protection complements patent protection for a company. Trade secret protection does not expire as long as the secret is not discovered. However, trade secret protection does not apply if the information was independently discovered. In cases of misappropriation of trade secrets, courts have various remedies available. Examples of such remedies include issuing monetary awards including damages and royalties as well as attorneys’ fees and costs, injunctions enjoining the misappropriation, and/or ordering a party found to have misappropriated a trade secret to take steps to maintain its secrecy.
Levandowski was an engineer on Google’s self-driving technology project, internally termed Chauffeur, starting back in 2009. In early 2016, Levandowski left Google and started his own self-driving trucking company, named Otto, with other Google engineers. Uber purchased Otto in late 2016 and hired Levandowski to oversee their self-driving department. Waymo, LLC, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, Inc., now owns the autonomous vehicle unit.
Waymo sues Uber
In February 2017, Waymo sued Uber and Otto alleging Levandowski stole confidential files related to proprietary technology used in its self-driving vehicles. Uber fired Levandowski in May 2017 for failing to comply with a court order to produce documents. The lawsuit alleges that Levandowski downloaded thousands of proprietary documents from Waymo prior to leaving. In February 2018, Uber settles the lawsuit with Waymo. In the settlement, Uber agreed not to incorporate Waymo’s confidential information into their hardware and software for their autonomous vehicles. Uber also agreed to pay about $245 million to Waymo as 0.34% in Uber equity.
State sues Levandowski
At the judge’s recommendation, in August 2019, Levandowski was charged with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets while working at Google. In March 2020 Levandowski pled guilty to count 33 of the indictment. He pled guilty to downloading a spreadsheet containing goals, metrics, objectives, key results, and summaries of technical challenges and accessing the document after resigning from Google. The judge in this case stated that he gave Levandowski prison time, as opposed to the home confinement he was hoping for, to discourage others from stealing trade secrets.
Google sues Levandowski
The plot thickens as Levandowski was previously ordered by another court to pay Google $179 million for engaging in unfair and deceptive practices by secretly poaching other Google employees to join his startup Otto. He filed for bankruptcy soon after the order.
Levandowski sues Uber
Levandowski also filed a new lawsuit in July against Uber. He alleges that when Uber purchased Otto, Uber forced him to sell his financial interest in Otto. He also alleges that Uber should indemnify him against legal proceedings when he was still an employee. It seems that Levandowski will be going out swinging.