Uber says engineer is on his own for RM792m to Google

SAN FRANCISCO • Uber Technologies Inc said a guilty plea by its former star engineer is proof that he’s a liar — and supports its decision to make Anthony Levandowski alone shoulder a US$180 million (RM792 million) legal award Google LLC won against him.

The ride-hailing firm, which recruited Levandowski in 2016 from Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car programme, ended up firing him after the companies became embroiled in one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile trade-secrets disputes.

While Levandowski’s woes deepened this year — he agreed to plead guilty to trade-secret theft and was driven into bankruptcy when Google won a contract-breach arbitration case against him — he was counting on Uber’s promise when it first hired him to provide legal cover, known as indemnification, from his former employer.

Uber now said it has no obligation to reimburse Levandowski for the US$180 million.

Levandowski “secretly commit- ted a crime by stealing trade secrets with the intent to use them at Uber”, the company said in a court filing. “If Uber had known that, it never would’ve entered into any agreements with Levandowski.”

Levandowski’s lawyer, Neel Chatterjee, said Uber can’t renege on the indemnification agreement because it vetted the engineer before hiring him and knew there was reason to be concerned he had taken proprietary information from Google. He said Uber is just trying to wiggle out of its agreement to protect Levandowski “because it did not like the outcome” of his legal fight with Google.

Uber’s filing fills in gaps of a dispute that largely played out behind the closed doors of private arbitration. The ride-hailing company said Levandowski forfeited his indemnification when he asserted his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused to testify in Google’s legal action against him. — Bloomberg