back to article Ex-Waymo engineer pleads the 5th in ongoing Uber law fight

The one-time Google engineer who is said to have handed a pile of the Chocolate Factory’s trade secrets to taxi app Uber is pleading the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution because he is worried about criminal prosecution, according to reports. Anthony Levandowski’s latest court filing sets out in full why he is claiming his …

  1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    How fucked is this guy?

    1. conel

      Surely he's just going to bugger off to Brazil or somewhere similar.

    2. Flakk Silver badge

      Pretty well, I'd say. The government seems fairly convinced that they have a case.

      The evidence so far doesn't exactly implicate Uber in wrongdoing. I have to confess a bit of disappointment over that. Conspiring to engage in industrial espionage seems like something that a scofflaw, out-of-control company like Uber might do.

    3. ratfox Silver badge

      He probably owns over 100 million pounds. He'll be fine.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        That's most likely in stock options which have yet to vest.

      2. bjr

        His stock will all go back to Uber

        IP indemnification is standard in any contract there are surely clauses in the purchase contract for his company that not only stated that his company had full rights to everything that they sold to Uber but also requires the officers of the company to support Uber in any litigation that might arise. Even if he's innocent of stealing Waymo's code there is no dispute that he refused an order from a judge in the Waymo-Uber lawsuit. Uber will demand all of the stock and other payments that he received from the purchase of his company, he'll undoubtedly fight that but he'll lose because his violation of the contract is absolutely clear.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: His stock will all go back to Uber

          Fairly sure that the constitution will trump contract clauses.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "He probably owns over 100 million pounds."

        We'll see how much he has left after this process is over.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I would say he is totally fucked. It's very likely that he did leave Google with a big pile of their IP that he thought could help with his startup firm. By buying his startup Uber will have acquired a lot of backups with the files of IP festering within them so the only sensible thing for them to do is to distance themselves, fire him then sue him to recover the legal losses and costs which will probably amount to every thing he got from selling his startup to them. That is the least of his problems.

      Google will place a very high monetary value on their IP making the theft a major felony with criminal charges ensuing. They might be able to reasonably evidence that he accessed all the files found at Uber before leaving and Uber may be able to evidence that he imported it into his startup firm (particularly if someone at his startup feels that they didn't get a deserved cut when it was sold to Uber and wants payback).

      With both Uber and Google out to get him and the fifth amendment being his main defence standing between him and jail time he is very very fucked indeed.

      1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

        "With both Uber and Google out to get him"

        You got that part wrong. Google is out to get Uber, and Uber threw Levandowski at them to try and distract them. The guy may have to face the music at some point, but the present case is how Uber had him steal documents from Waymo, set up a proxy company for him (Otto) and bought it when they thought noone was looking. Levandowski is not even a codefendant in this case, contrarily to what Uber wants the world to believe.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "You got that part wrong. Google is out to get Uber, and Uber threw Levandowski at them to try and distract them."

          Agree. It seems the most likely scenario is that Uber knew full well where this IP was coming from... which is why they paid $680m for a few month old company. It is possible that they even put him up to stealing Google IP as he seems to have met with Uber while a Google employee, prior to starting his own company. A few months later, Uber acquires the small start up for north of half a billion. In the words of Brad Pitt from IB, "we have a word for that kind of odd in English, we call it suspicious".

  2. Arctic fox

    Let me see.

    Uber is involved and somebody had just "pleaded the 5th". Why am I totally unsurprised? See icon.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Re: Let me see.

      Well, as I see it the judge ordered Uber (not the ingeneer) to give a detailed account of its interaction with Levandowski. Uber immediately shifted all the pressure to Levandowski by ordering him, among other things, to waive his constitutional protection of face the axe. So he got fired, and now seeks to not serve as Uber's scapegoat, which I can understand (I mean, he may or may not be a weasel of little morals, but ultimately the criminal blame for IP theft should lay on Uber. The case that Waymo may have against Levandowski would certainly be a civil matter.)

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Let me see.

        Unfortunately, Uber has every opportunity and likelihood that it can put enough distance between itself and this guy that he's the one who takes the fall, and they get to walk away with only superficial damage.

        The American business system is pretty much designed to allow this - companies throwing lone employees to the wolves and walking away. It's a kinda mirror image of the British system, which is designed above all to protect the people at the top, even if the company goes down the khazi.

        (Because one doesn't want one's old pals from Eton and Oxbridge trying to mooch off one when their careers go titsup, that's why.)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Does the legal system having nothing better to do than wade into a bun fight over what is so far effectively vapourware?

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: FFS...

      I suppose you could have said the same thing about the technology for light bulbs or internal combustion engines at one point too. Self driving cars will be a huge market worth trillions, the fact it doesn't exist today and won't for some years doesn't change that changing market shares even a single percent adds up to real money. Now maybe Waymo's technology turns out to not be a big player, and they are fighting over nothing - but the reverse could be true, too.

  4. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    Pleading the 5th does seem odd nowadays

    Basically seems to translate as "Yes I'm a criminal but you need me to confirm it to prove it, and I won't."

    As I understand it the original idea was to prevent torture, but that hasn't panned out so well.

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Pleading the 5th does seem odd nowadays

      No, it is not to prevent torture, it is to prevent you being charged with a crime for refusing to assist with your own prosecution. One of the foundations of our justice system is that everyone must be presumed innocent unless *proven* to be guilty. The burden of such proof lies with the state, and (with recent exceptions) there is no obligation to assist the prosecution.

      One of the first things anyone who is arrested on suspicion of a crime is told is, "You do not have to say anything ..." A person who is being questioned as a witness OTOH does not usually have that right, because it is assumed that they are not at risk of prosecution. If however they realise that answering the question may place them at such a risk, they can gain that right. Otherwise the police could easily get around the "right to silence" by simply not arresting the suspect but instead forcing them to answer questions as a witness.

      Consider the case where you are stopped while driving at 50MPH in a 40MPH zone. The nice police officer asks, "How fast were you driving, sir?" If you reply, "No comment," then absent any concrete evidence of wrongdoing you will be allowed on your way. Without having the right to not to say anything that might incriminate you, you could be prosecuted for refusing to answer.

      In the UK, that right has already been removed in a number of situations. You can, for example, be prosecuted as the registered keeper of a vehicle if you refuse to name the driver of that vehicle if it was caught committing certain offences - even if the driver was yourself. You can also be prosecuted for refusing to tell the police how they can decrypt any encrypted data you have.

  5. EveryTime Silver badge

    Pleading the 5th is entirely supportable. Go for it.

    In a criminal case pleading the 5th is saying "prove it (and you can't torture me)".

    In a civil case it's basically doing a mime gun-to-the-head. "I'm not saying that I didn't. Have my lawyer negotiate the bill."

    Like with Prenda, the claim is a barely-masked "you accused me of a crime, so I both get to take the 5th and deny you adverse inference". Pleading the 5th might help you in the criminal trial, but everywhere else we can say "yeah, you did it".

    1. Justin S.

      Re: deny you adverse inference


      Adverse inference is not allowed in criminal trials, but it is allowed in civil trials, which Waymo vs. Uber is.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: deny you adverse inference

        Right, which is one reason why Uber told him not to do it, and cut him off when he did.

        The other reason being, their best hope is to throw this one guy to the prosecutors and just pray that no-one has enough evidence to pin anything on the rest of the company. If they try to stand by him at this point, they would put themselves at risk.

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