It does not matter who you are or your status within a company. If you steal trade secrets you will suffer the consequences, some of which can be severe. Look no further than the recent 18-month prison sentence given to the co-founder of Google’s self-driving vehicle division.
Anthony Levandowski is a 40-year-old innovative engineer who launched Google’s Waymo subsidiary. In 2016, he left Google to start a self-driving truck company eventually purchased by Uber. What Levandowski did is unforgiveable in the eyes of people within the patent and trade secret world. Before leaving Google, he absconded with more than 14,000 thousand top-secret documents to benefit his new company.
Federal offense, prison, fines and restitution
The Levandowski criminal case is one of the highest profile trade-secret legal cases in Silicon Valley in decades. Considered a pioneer in robotic vehicle research, Levandowski stole the Waymo documents to gain advantage for his company known as Otto. Just seven months after launching Otto, Levandowski sold the start-up company to Uber in August 2016. Uber has denied any knowledge of the document theft or benefiting from the information. Uber later fired Levandowski.
Along with the prison sentence, Levandowski received a $95,000 fine and was ordered to pay $757,000 in restitution to Google. In March, a judge ordered him to pay $179 million to Google related to a contract dispute.
The theft of trade secrets is a federal offense. Trade secrets are essential for any company to build, grow, stand out and provide unique services and products in the marketplace. The Levandowski case is rare. Out-of-court settlements are the norm in trade-secret matters. However, Levandowski stole valuable information that could likely affect Google’s standing within the industry.