Self-Driving Car Guru Ordered to Pay Google £137 Million Over Messy Contract Dispute

By Catie Keck on at

A former employee of Google and Uber credited as being one of the top engineers in the self-driving vehicle space, Anthony Levandowski, has reportedly filed for bankruptcy after he was ordered to cough up $179 million (£137 million) to settle with Google over an apparent contract breach.

Reuters reported Wednesday that a court confirmed the award to Google previously determined by an arbitration panel in December and stemming from a 2017 arbitration demand by the company for which a lengthy investigation followed. Levandowski was a founding member of Google’s self-driving car initiative now known as Waymo. Per a Wednesday court filing, the panel last year found that Levandowski “had violated his duty of loyalty and breached his employment contract with Google by misusing confidential information and other actions he took in connection with Google’s self-driving vehicle program.”

Levandowski declared bankruptcy soon after the court’s decision, according to Reuters.

Google argued that Levandowski and a fellow former Google employee who headed Google Maps, Lior Ron, violated contract agreements they had with the tech giant by leaving its self-driving car unit to found his own autonomous vehicle technology startup Otto, which specialised in lidar sensors. These included, per Reuters, luring former Google employees from his former unit over to his own company, which was acquired by Uber in 2016 for a reported $680 million (£521 million).

Ron, meanwhile, reached a settlement with his former employer for nearly $10 million (£7.7 million) in February, according to Reuters. According to Ron’s LinkedIn, he currently heads Uber Freight, and Reuters reported that Waymo confirmed to the outlet that it was paid the $9.7 million (£7.4 million) settlement by Uber.

“Yesterday the court posted to the docket its final decision, confirming the award in Google’s favour and issuing a significant judgement against Levandowski,” a spokesperson for Waymo told Gizmodo in a statement by email. “We will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure our confidential information is protected as we build the world’s most experienced driver.”

Uber did not immediately return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, in a case that is ongoing, Levandowski was federally indicted last August on 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets, specifically alleging that prior to leaving Google the engineer “downloaded from secure Google repositories numerous engineering, manufacturing, and business files related to Google’s custom LiDAR and self-driving car technology,” while at the same time being involved with two competing companies – one of which being Otto, the company later acquired by Uber.

“The downloads at issue occurred while Anthony was still working at Google – when he and his team were authorised to use the information. None of these supposedly secret files ever went to Uber or to any other company,” Levandowski’s lawyer said in a statement at the time. “Over these last couple years, Anthony has continued to lead the development of new and innovative safe-driving technologies to advance this ground-breaking industry. Anthony is innocent, and we look forward to proving it at trial.”

Featured image: Getty