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Uber Settles Waymo Litigation in Saga That Drew in Thiel, Trump

Feb. 15, 2022, 12:29 AM

Uber Technologies Inc. is close to paying a final price for its troubled recruitment of a star driverless car engineer away from Google.

The ride-hailing firm, which recruited Anthony Levandowski in 2016 from Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car program, has entered into a global settlement requiring it to pay a “substantial portion” of the $120 million Google clawed back from the engineer, court records show.

The precise sum Uber will pay Google isn’t disclosed in a court filing detailing the deal. But the payment is a central feature of the agreement, which if approved by a judge, would finally resolve a saga of avarice and betrayal that left all involved looking bad.

Anthony Levandowski exits federal court in San Jose, California in August 2019.
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The fight over Levandowski’s talents started with then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Google co-founder Larry Page, moving to a high-stakes trade secrets trial between Uber and Waymo, followed by a successful criminal prosecution of the engineer. By the end, venture capitalist Peter Thiel and even then-President Donald Trump were drawn in.

Read More: Ex-Google Engineer Levandowski’s Jump to Uber Ends in Prison

“There is very significant business justification for the payment to Google,” the parties said in the filing. Uber’s payment of “a substantial portion” of Google’s claim against Levandowski “is the key to the resolution of the case.”

José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, said “we can confirm that this matter has been resolved.”

Uber declined to comment, as did Levandowski’s lawyer.

The settlement ends a three-way fight between Google, Uber and Levandowski. In 2020, the engineer was ordered to spend 18 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to a single count of trade secret theft from Google as he defected to Uber. It was one of the highest-profile criminal cases to hit Silicon Valley, preceded by the high-stakes civil case resolved mid-trial in 2018 by Uber agreeing to pay Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving company, Waymo, about $245 million in closely held stock.

Last year, just minutes before Levandowski was due to appear before the judge who had sentenced him, his lawyers filed with the court a pardon from Trump. The pardon was supported by Thiel, among others.

Read More: Pardon Aside, Judge Says Silicon Valley Prosecution Was ‘Strong’

While Levandowski had been spared incarceration, Google had separately won a judgment reclaiming a $120 million bonus it paid him. With interest and attorneys’ fees added, the sum totaled $180 million and forced Levandowski to file for bankruptcy.

The global settlement also requires Levandowski to pay Google $25 million. In a letter to the judge who handled his criminal case, Levandowski said his legal battles had been a “grueling lesson in humility.”

To contact the reporters on this story:
Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net;
Mark Bergen in San Francisco at mbergen10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Peter Blumberg

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.