Google sued Uber in February 2017 over the acquisition, hinging much of its case on allegations that Levandowski conspired with Uber to steal 14,000 sensitive self-driving-car files that served as the foundation of Otto and later Uber’s robot car unit.
Levandowski was alleged to have taken from Google schematics and designs for light sensing technology known as Lidar that is essential to autonomous vehicle operation. Uber said during the civil case that it never implemented any of Google’s proprietary technology into its own designs.
“All of us have the right to change jobs," said U.S. Attorney David Anderson in a statement. “None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”
Attorneys for Levandowski in a statement denied any wrongdoing. “He didn’t steal anything, from anyone,” said the statement by Ramsey & Ehrlich LLP. “The downloads at issue occurred while Anthony was still working at Google—when he and his team were authorized to use the information. None of these supposedly secret files ever went to Uber or to any other company."
"Anthony is innocent, and we look forward to proving it at trial.” Levandowski himself couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Waymo spokeswoman Suzanne Philion on Tuesday said the company has "always believed competition should be fueled by innovation.” Uber said it cooperated with the government throughout the investigation into Levandowski and “will continue to do so,” said spokesman Matt Kallman.
Google’s lawsuit against Uber, pitting an upstart against one of the world’s most valuable companies, riveted Silicon Valley for nearly a year, culminating in the testimony of Uber’s bad-boy co-founder and former CEO, Travis Kalanick. With its tale of corporate espionage, treachery and boundless ambition, Google had sought to derail Uber’s self-driving-car unit, which is central to its plan to one day turn a profit by, in part, eliminating payments to human drivers.
Uber and Levandowski denied wrongdoing throughout the civil proceeding.
Ultimately the two sides settled after just four days of testimony, netting Google a less than 1 percent stake in Uber, valued in February 2018 at around $250 million. But the legal battle cost Levandowski his job at Uber and cast a shadow over the ride-hailing firm’s autonomous-car division, well before one of the robot cars struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Ariz.
Levandowski became known for a hard-charging style and knack for quickly spinning up start-ups that attracted interest from tech firms and netting him millions from their sale.
He sold two self-driving cars to Google, while an employee there, that helped form the foundation of Waymo. As the head of Uber’s autonomous-car unit, he started testing the vehicles on San Francisco streets without proper permitting from the state, forcing officials to revoke the cars’ registrations. He pushed engineers toward a goal of a fully autonomous vehicle in San Francisco in 2016, years before most technologists believed it could be ready, according to people familiar with the matter.
Undeterred, Levandowski has since founded a new self-driving-truck company, Pronto, and claimed late last year to have traversed the country using technology that required almost no human intervention.
Levandowski has relinquished his role as Pronto CEO and will be replaced by the company’s chief safety officer. The criminal charges “do not in any way” relate to Pronto’s technology, said a spokesman, Alan Dunton. “We are fully supportive of Anthony and his family during this period.”