Trade theft. A billion-dollar lawsuit. A reportedly pugnacious CEO. Stolen documents. What could be a juicier Silicon Valley controversy than Google and Waymo’s legal spar over self-driving technology? Alas, it has now come to an end.
The basics: Anthony Levandowski, who was previously part of Waymo, which Google owns, left the company to kickstart Otto, an autonomous trucking venture that Uber later acquired in 2016. Google later alleges that Levandowski stole thousands of documents about Waymo’s self-driving technology and that Uber is taking advantage of it for its own self-driving development. A nasty, chaotic legal battle ensued.
Waymo asked for $1 billion in settlement talks last year, but Uber’s board members rejected that. Now, Waymo has entered a settlement with Uber. Under the agreement, Waymo is shutting down the case and will receive 0.34 percent of Uber stock, which tallies to around $245 million.
How? Well, specific details are thin, but as The New York Times reports, citing sources who didn’t want to be named, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi worked to coax Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, letting them know Uber had turned over a new leaf.
The trial began earlier this week, and Waymo initially offered to settle things with the ridesharing company for $500 million. As with the $1 billion settlement last year, Uber didn’t budge, with former CEO Travis Kalanick vehemently objecting to such a deal.
Then Uber’s top new lawyer Tony West was given a directive to smooth things out with Waymo once again and try to lower the settlement. He worked with Waymo’s general counsel and crafted a counter offer the board would be able to swallow. The offer was reduced to $245 million, plus an assurance that Waymo’s technology won’t be used by Uber in any way.
As Business Insider reports, citing a source, Waymo cared less about the price of the settlement than the fact that there was assurance Uber wouldn’t incorporate Waymo technology into its own self-driving projects.
According to a source, Khosrowshahi and Uber’s board members view the settlement as a win. For starters, it completely erases the lawsuit as Uber prepares for an IPO next year. Plus, it makes Waymo an ally rather than an enemy.
“To our friends at Alphabet: we are partners, you are an important investor in Uber, and we share a deep belief in the power of technology to change people’s lives for the better,” wrote Khosrowshahi in a letter announcing the settlement.
He said he still doesn’t believe Uber ever got to see the stolen files in question, let alone it ever incorporated that technology into its self-driving font.
“While I cannot erase the past, I can commit, on behalf of every Uber employee, that we will learn from it, and it will inform our actions going forward.”
With that, Waymo and Uber’s nasty fight has come to a close.