Anthony Levandowski, the former head of the self-driving car research program at Uber, has been indicted on 33 charges related to stealing secrets from his former employer Waymo, the autonomous driving arm of Google.
Federal prosecutors allege Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files, including circuit board layouts and LiDAR designs, from Google's self-driving vehicle division and stored them on a personal laptop.
Levandowski was arrested last week, is currently out on US$2 million ($3 million) bail, and has been forced to wear a tracking bracelet. Prosecutors argued his wealth and French citizenship made Levandowski a flight risk.
If found guilty Levandowski could face up to 10 years in prison, up to US$8.25 million ($12.2 million) in fines, and could be compelled to restitution.
In 2009 Levandowski and other members of a Stanford university autonomous car project were founding members of Google's self-driving car program, which is now known as Waymo.
Just before he left Google in 2016 Levandowski founded Otto, a new company dedicated to adding self-driving capabilities to semi-trailer trucks.
Later that year Otto was bought by Uber for about US$600 million ($886 million), and Levandowski was made the head of Uber's autonomous vehicle research division.
Google filed a civil claim in 2017 alleging Uber, Levandowski and others stole trade secrets relating to its self-driving vehicle efforts.
Waymo and Uber settled their civil litigation on the matter in 2018 with Google gaining US$245 million ($362 million) of stock in the ride hailing firm. Despite the two companies settling the judge overseeing affair referred the matter to US attorney's office.
The upcoming criminal prosecution could air a lot intriguing facts about the case.
An internal report commissioned by Uber said Otto "harboured trade secrets stolen from a competitor", something current Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has now practically conceded.
In an interview with Bloomberg Khosrowshahi said, "I wasn’t here when we brought Anthony on board but what I do know is that we went to incredible depths to makes sure that any information that Anthony might have acquired from Google - and it sure looked like he did - didn’t make it over to our company".
Many following the case have wondered how much Uber's founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick knew about the matter. Both Kalanick and Levandowski were forced out Uber in 2017 due, partially, to increasing pressure over the court case.
Due to these charges Levandowski has been suspended as the CEO of his latest project Pronto.AI, another firm specialising in autonomous vehicle technology.