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Anthony Levandowski didn’t make a deal with Uber until he was protected against possible lawsuits

Levandowski and his co-founder Lior Ron said they were afraid Google would sue them out of anger, according to an Uber executive’s deposition.

Anthony Levandowski

The self-driving engineer at the center of Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber insisted — before Uber acquired it — that the ride-hail company agree to defend him and his company, Otto Trucking, against any future lawsuits. That’s according to a deposition given by Uber’s Vice President of Corporate Development Cameron Poetzscher.

Anthony Levandowski — who has since been fired from Uber — and his co-founder Lior Ron told Uber that protection against potential lawsuits was a “critical part” of the deal, Poetzscher said. In his words, Levandowski and Ron were afraid that Alphabet would sue them “out of anger.”

“Because they felt that Google viewed Uber as a key competitor in the race for autonomous vehicles,” Poetzscher said. “And it would be one thing if they did autonomous trucking independently. They would be so much less of a threat to Google.”

Alphabet is suing Uber and Otto for allegedly misappropriating self-driving trade secrets. The company claims that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files to bring to Uber before he left Alphabet.

Since Levandowski is both no longer at Uber and was not named as a party to the suit, Alphabet’s case rests heavily on whether any of the files he downloaded made it to the ride-hail player and whether former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and other executives knew about them.

An email between Poetzscher and Kalanick included in today’s filing shows the executive asking whether the now former CEO promised indemnity to Levandowski and Ron. The email was dated in the days between when Levandowski resigned from Alphabet and officially formed Otto.

Uber was initially resistant to the condition because the company didn’t want to take on the liability of indemnifying Levandowski and Otto, Poetzscher said.

“They told us it was a critical part of the deal,” he said. “They wouldn’t do a deal without indemnity. So we negotiated an indemnity we were comfortable with.”

But Poetzscher, echoing arguments Uber has made before, said they told Ron and Levandowski on several occasions that they did not want them to bring anything from Alphabet.

“And they assured us they had no interest in doing so because they had new approaches,” he said. “So neither of us had any worry that it would be a substantive concern.”

Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber goes to trial in October and has become a point of concern for some of the candidates to replace Kalanick as CEO, as Recode reported. Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman is no longer in the running to be CEO, partly because of questions she had about how involved Kalanick was in Alphabet’s allegations of trade secret misappropriation.

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