Ex-Google engineer gets jail time for trade secrets theft

Bankrupt self-driving car engineer also files counter lawsuit against Waymo and Uber

A former Google engineer who used to work for its Waymo self-driving car unit has been sentenced to 18-months in prison for trade secret theft.

US District Judge William Alsup said that Anthony Levandowski had carried out the "biggest trade secret crime" he had ever seen during a hearing in San Francisco, according to Reuters.

Levandowski pleaded guilty to stealing sensitive documents related to Google's self-driving car technology in March. He left the tech giant in January 2016, loading more than 14,000 Google files onto his laptop before joining Uber's robocar project. He was fired from Uber a year later, as a result of the case.

Levandowski was a founding member of Google's self-driving car project, Waymo, but the case has soiled his reputation and left him in financial difficulty. He filed for bankruptcy in March this year, owing £136 million to Google's parent company, Alphabet, for his actions.

It's reported that Levandowski had hoped the sentence would be a 12 months confinement at home. The engineer is reportedly worried about dying of coronavirus in prison due to having pneumonia.

"Billions [of dollars] in the future were at play, and when those kind of financial incentives are there good people will do terrible things, and that's what happened here", Judge Alsup said.

The Judge added that a non-custodial sentence would amount to "a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets", but he did rule that Levandowski could begin his custodial sentence after the pandemic had peaked.

Despite the ruling, Levandowski has filed a lawsuit against Waymo and Uber, according to TechCrunch. This separate lawsuit was filed as part of his bankruptcy proceedings and focuses on an agreement with Uber to secure Levandowski against legal action when it bought his self-trucking startup.

It also includes allegations concerning the settlement that Waymo and Uber reached over the trade secret theft.

"Today marks the end of three-and-a-half long years and the beginning of another long road ahead," Levandowski said in a statement. 

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