Reuters is reporting the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) filed criminal charges against Anthony Levandowski earlier this week. Levandowski is a pioneer in self-driving car technology. He is accused of stealing trade secrets from Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet before joining Uber Technologies. The indictment includes 33 counts. Industry experts view self driving cars as a $1 trillion market opportunity.
Prosecutors said there are legal limits to competition. John Bennett of the FBI said “Silicon Valley is not the Wild West… The fast pace and competitive environment does not mean federal laws don’t apply or they can be ignored.” U.S. Attorney David Anderson said at a news conference people are free to change jobs. “But what we cannot do is stuff our pockets on the way out the door.” Anderson declined to answer whether Uber could also face any criminal charges.
Prosecutors accused Levandowski of stealing materials in late 2015 and early 2016. The materials were related to Waymo’s self-driving car technology. Waymo said he did this after deciding to leave. They assert Levandowski intended to form his own self-driving car company. It was called Ottomotto, which Uber acquired. The allegedly stolen materials include details related to Lidar.
Lidar is a sensor technology, a surveying method, measuring distance to a target. It does so by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light. Then it measures the reflected pulses with a sensor. It uses differences in laser return times and wavelengths are in making digital 3-D representations of the target.
His lawyer Miles Ehrlich told reporters, “For more than a decade, Anthony Levandowski has been an industry-leading innovator in self-driving technologies,” The government’s case is a “rehash” of discredited claims. Lawyers for Levandowski said the downloads in question occurred while their client was still working at Alphabet. He had authorization to use the information and their client stole nothing.
Legal battles involving Levandowski have cost Uber precious time on its self-driving car project. The self-driving car is important to its long-term profitability. The lawsuit was another public controversy for Uber. The company is trying to emerge from scandals under former Chief Executive Travis Kalanick. Those scandals include how the company treated female employees. Kalanick had called self-driving cars an “existential” threat for the ride-hailing company.
(Reporting by Daniel Levine and Alexandria Sage; Additional reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Bill Rigby and Bill Berkrot)