Uber to Levandowski: We won’t pay your $179 million debt to Google


Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski leaves a San Francisco courthouse after being indicted on 33 criminal counts related to alleged theft of trade secrets related to self-driving cars.

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Uber said it won’t be throwing a lifeline to the former head of its self-driving car program. When the company hired Anthony Levandowski in 2016, it agreed to pay for the star engineer’s legal fees in claims that came up against him. But, in a court filing last week, Uber said it refused to pay his $179 million debt to Google.

Levandowski “fraudulently” concealed “the fact that he secretly committed a crime by stealing trade secrets with the intent to use them at Uber,” Uber wrote in the filing. “If Uber had known that, it never would have entered into any agreements with Levandowski.” 

Levandowski first worked at Google, but left in 2016 to start his own self-driving truck company, which was quickly acquired by Uber for $680 million. 

Those actions set off a chain of events that led to Google’s autonomous vehicle unit, Waymo, suing Uber over alleged theft of trade secrets related to self-driving cars. That lawsuit settled in February 2018 with Uber agreeing to pay Waymo $245 million. Uber fired Levandowski the year before.

In the aftermath of the lawsuit, federal prosecutors brought a criminal lawsuit against Levandowski on 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google — to which the engineer pleaded guilty last month. The plea carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Simultaneously, Google sued Levandowski individually in arbitration over quitting his job and breaking his contract with the tech giant. That case concluded in December with a panel agreeing to charge Levandowski with the massive $179 million fine. Hours after the multimillion-dollar award to Google was finalized last month, Levandowski filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In the meantime, Uber has worked to distance itself from the engineer. In its latest court filing, the company said it shouldn’t be obligated to pay Levandowski’s legal fees as per the agreement, which is known as an indemnification agreement. Uber said that’s because Levandowski allegedly lied to it about stealing trade secrets from Google.

“When Google separately sued both Levandowski and Uber, Uber initially trusted Levandowski’s explanations of what happened,” the ride-hailing company wrote in the filing. “Levandowski was then indicted by federal prosecutors for trade secret theft, providing strong evidence that he had been lying all along.”

Levandowski disputes Uber’s claims. In a March court filing, he said Uber was aware he’d obtained files belonging to Google before hiring him. Levandowski’s lawyer, Neel Chatterjee of Goodwin Procter, added in an email on Monday that Uber is just trying to get out of paying the $179 million fine.

“Uber’s assertion that Anthony did not disclose material information to Uber is false,” Chatterjee said. “This is the latest in a string of meritless theories Uber has set forth to try to get out of the deal it struck because it did not like the outcome.”

Uber declined to comment.

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