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Uber throws former self-driving car guru Andrew Levandowski to the wolves

Uber Waymo trial: Levandowski

The courtroom trial between Uber and Waymo over stolen self-driving car secrets starts today, and no-one is more important than Andrew Levandowski. Once an engineer at Google’s self-driving car endavour, Levandowski left Waymo to pursue his own self-driving truck startup, Otto. That company was acquired just months after Levandowski left Google by Uber, and Waymo alleges that Levandowski stole trade secrets and took them to Uber.

Once upon a time, Levandowski was Uber’s saviour to catch Google in the self-driving car wars. Uber founder Travis Kalanick once referred to Levandowski as his “brother from another mother,” but those feelings haven’t translated to Uber’s legal strategy. According to reporters at the first day of the trial, Uber is downplaying Levandowski’s role within the company, and Uber lawyer Bill Carmody said that the company “regrets ever bringing Levandowski on board.”

Levandowski’s hiring was always a contentious issue within Uber, so it’s not that surprising to see the company completely throw him under the bus as soon as the trial began. A profile in Bloomberg last month stressed that Levandowski’s hiring was something driven by Kalanick, against the advice of the rest of the firm:

Salle Yoo, Uber’s general counsel and typically not someone inclined to challenge her boss, expressed serious reservations about the deal, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Kalanick’s top deputy, business chief Emil Michael, stayed away from the transaction—he didn’t think it made much financial sense and risked a backlash from Google.

After the lawsuit from Waymo landed last February, Uber initially stood by Levandowski, again at Kalanick’s insistence. It took the rest of Uber’s board three months to fire Levandowski, against Kalanick’s wishes. The founder himself was eventually forced to resign as CEO in June, and his defense of Levandowski was cited as one of the reasons the board lost faith in Kalanick.