Enlarge /. Anthony Levandowski, then Vice President of Engineering at Uber, in 2016. Levandowski was a co-founder of the self-driving truck startup Otto, and then led Uber's efforts for self-driving technology before he was released in 2017.
The big litigation between Alphabet and Uber over self-driving technology ended two years ago. But the engineer at the center of this struggle, Anthony Levandowski, still has legal and financial problems. On Monday, he told a California bankruptcy court that Uber was contractually required to cover a $ 179 million court judgment that Levandowski owes Google. Levandowski asked the court to instruct Uber to initiate arbitration on this matter.
Levandowski claims that Uber was fully aware of the circumstances surrounding Levandowski's departure from Google in 2016 when Uber acquired Levandowski's self-driving startup Otto later that year. Before the takeover, Uber hired a company to investigate the background of Otto and his founders. Levandwoski says he has fully cooperated and given investigators access to his email accounts and personal files.
According to Levandowski, the investigators found – and informed Uber – that Levandowski had files from Google on his devices and had tried to recruit a number of Google employees for his new company while he was still working for Google. Levandowski claims that he repeatedly warned Uber management, including CEO Travis Kalanick, that Google would likely sue if Uber bought Otto. But according to Levandowski, Kalanick was not worried. "Uber eats injunctions for breakfast," he said to Levandowski.
According to Levandowski, Uber's takeover conditions included an extensive compensation obligation for Otto employees, including Levandowski. Uber reportedly promised to defend him against a possible Google lawsuit, even if he was accused of serious misconduct. According to Levandowski, Uber explicitly promised to protect Levandowski if he was accused of embezzling business secrets or violating loyalty to a former employer – two of the most important allegations Google later made against Levandowski. The compensation clause stated that Uber would pay all costs resulting from a lawsuit filed by a previous employer, including damages.
When Google initiated legal proceedings against Levandowski in October 2016, he appealed to this compensation clause. As a result, Uber's lawyers took care of his defense. But the relationship began to deteriorate the next year when Levandowski called Uber the fifth change during Alphabet's litigation. Levandowski was right to be concerned that he could be prosecuted.
Uber fired Levandowski shortly afterwards, but Levandowski said Uber continued to cover his legal expenses in a separate, personal litigation with Google for two years. In late 2019, Uber Levandowski finally announced that he was retiring from his defense and would not pay a recent $ 179 million verdict against him. Levandowski says Uber told him the compensation contract was void because Levandowski hadn't told Uber about his role in founding a lidar startup called Tyto. Google argued that Levandowski violated his obligations to Google by secretly founding Tyto while working on similar technologies on Google's payroll.
Levandowski denies this. He says details of his role in Tyto were in the files he had given to Uber investigators before Otto was taken over. And he notes that Uber certainly knew about the tyto situation that started in October 2016 when Uber's lawyers started defending him. However, they represented Levandowski for three years under a compensation clause that the company is now voiding.
Uber declined to comment on this story. A spokesman referred to an official filing, which merely stated that Uber's liability in this case is controversial.
If Levandowski ultimately wins his case against Uber, it could save him from bankruptcy. Levandowski earned $ 127 million on Google in the decade before his departure in 2016. Google has managed to recover this money, and some have forced it to file for bankruptcy in its case against Levandowski.
But if Levandowski could force Uber to pay Google that $ 179 million judgment plus its legal bills, Levandowski would leave a double-digit million dollar fortune. His bankruptcy filing last month showed him assets of at least $ 50 million. His only significant liabilities were the $ 179 million he owed Google and the $ 3 million he owed his law firm.
Levandowski recently pleaded guilty to a separate criminal case regarding the theft of Google's confidential information. According to federal sentencing guidelines, he could be sentenced to more than two years in prison.