Ex-Uber engineer Levandowski ordered to pay Google $179 million

The alleged architect behind the infamous Waymo v. Uber lawsuit continues to deal with the fallout of his reported actions. Now he's filed for bankruptcy.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski leaves federal court in San Jose, California, after a hearing in September 2019.

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Anthony Levandowski, former Google engineer and a pioneer of self-driving car tech, was ordered Wednesday to pay $179 million to Google . The multimillion-dollar fine is over Levandowski quitting his job and breaking his contract with the tech giant.

Levandowski left Google in 2016 to start his own self-driving truck company, which was quickly acquired by Uber for $680 million. These actions set off a chain of events that led to Google's autonomous vehicle unit, Waymo , suing Uber over alleged theft of self-driving car trade secrets. That lawsuit settled in February 2018 with Uber agreeing to pay Waymo $245 million.

Google, however, also sued Levandowski individually in arbitration. In December, a panel for the case agreed to fine Levandowski the $179 million. The award, which was first reported by Reuters, was approved by a San Francisco Superior Court judge and finalized on Wednesday. The details of the award were confidential.

"Today the court has posted to the docket its final decision, confirming the award in Google's favor and issuing a significant judgment against Levandowski," a Waymo spokeswoman said in an email. "We will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure our confidential information is protected."

When Uber hired Levandowski and acquired his company, Otto, the ride-hailing company agreed to pay for any of the star engineer's legal fees that came up in claims against him. Uber declined to comment Wednesday, but in an SEC filing on Monday the company indicated that its responsibility for the fine could change.

"While Uber and Levandowski are parties to an indemnification agreement, whether Uber is ultimately responsible for such indemnification is subject to a dispute between the company and Levandowski," Uber wrote in its filing.

Hours after the $179 million award to Google was finalized Wednesday, Levandowski filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Levandowski's lawyer, Neel Chatterjee of Goodwin Procter LLP, said the engineer's battles with Google and Uber left him with no other choices.

"Anthony had no choice but to file for bankruptcy to protect his rights as he pursues the relief he is legally entitled to," Chatterjee said. "This arbitration was not about trade secrets but about employees leaving Google for new opportunities and an engineer being used as a pawn by two tech giants. Google fought tooth and nail to take back every penny paid to Anthony for his multibillion-dollar contributions and now Uber is refusing to indemnify Anthony despite explicitly agreeing to do so."  

Levandowski's legal troubles don't end with this arbitration. He is also the subject of a criminal lawsuit brought by federal prosecutors in US District Court of the Northern District of California.

The prosecutors indicted Levandowski in August in a suit that involves 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. The activities allegedly took place as he prepared to leave the search giant to build out Uber's self-driving car operation. 

If found guilty, Levandowski could get up to 10 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.