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Anthony Levandowski gets 18 months in prison for stealing Google self-driving car files

Former Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski leaves the federal court after his arraignment hearing in San Jose

Reuters/Stephen Lam

A U.S. judge on Tuesday sentenced former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski to 18 months in prison for stealing a trade secret from Google related to self-driving cars months before becoming the head of Uber‘s rival unit.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said Levandowski, who was convicted on Tuesday following a March plea deal agreement, said Levandowski could enter custody once the Covid-19 pandemic has subsided.

Alsup said a sentence short of imprisonment would have given “a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets,” comparing what Levandowski took to a “competitor’s game plan.”

The 75-year-old judge, who has been involved in Silicon Valley litigation for nearly five decades, described Levandowski’s conviction as the “biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen.”

“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,” Alsup said.

Prosecutors sought a 27-month prison sentence.

Levandowski requested one-year confinement at his Marin County home, contending that bouts with pneumonia in recent years would make him susceptible to death from the novel coronavirus while in prison. His attorneys asked the judge to consider that investigators found no evidence that “Levandowski used any of Google’s trade secrets after leaving Google’s employment.”

Levandowski transferred more than 14,000 Google files including development schedules and product designs to his personal laptop before leaving the company and while negotiating a deal with Uber, where he briefly led its self-driving car unit.

Uber fired Levandowski in 2017 and then settled a lawsuit from Alphabet over the misuse of trade secrets,

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