[By Reuters and Isobel Asher Hamilton]
The former head of Uber’s self-driving technology unit, Anthony Levandowski, filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, shortly after a court confirmed that he must pay $179 million to Google to end a legal battle over his split from the Alphabet unit.
Levandowski’s legal dispute with Google started after he left Google’s self-driving project, Waymo, to start his own self-driving company, Otto. That was later bought by Uber, and Levandowski was appointed as head of its own self-driving division.
The case sparked a long-running fight between Google and Uber over self-driving technology. Google’s Waymo sued Uber in 2017, accusing Levandowski of stealing roughly 14,000 confidential files when he left in 2016. The Department of Justice also indicted Levandowski in August 2019 on charges of stealing the files.
An arbitration panel ruled in December that Levandowski, who had been a key engineer at Waymo, and his colleague Lior Ron engaged in unfair competition and breached their legal obligations by starting a rival company called Otto and bringing over Google employees.
Uber indemnifies workers under its employment agreements. But Uber has said in financial filings that it expects to challenge paying the big judgment against Levandowski, who was fired from the company in 2017.
Uber declined to comment. In a statement to Business Insider, Levandowski’s attorney Neel 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. Anthony had no choice but to file for bankruptcy to protect his rights as he pursues the relief he is legally entitled to.”
Levandowski filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, enabling him to negotiate debts. He has $50 million to $100 million in estimated assets, compared with $100 million to $500 million in liabilities, according to his filing.
He had disputed the arbitration ruling, but a San Francisco County court on Wednesday confirmed the arbitration panel’s decision and award.
Ron, who remains at Uber, settled with Google for $9.7 million last month, and Waymo confirmed on Wednesday that Uber had paid the full amount that Ron owed.
Waymo said it would “continue to take the necessary steps to ensure our confidential information is protected.”