The trial between Uber and Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving-car arm, was poised to become an epic clash between the two tech titans. After a year of explosive headlines about the biggest Silicon Valley dust-up for years, the case finally went to court last week. But anyone hoping to see these giants finally duke it out were left sorely disappointed when Uber and Waymo suddenly announced that they’d settled.
The dispute stems from Uber’s 2016 acquisition of Otto, an autonomous-truck startup. The small firm had been co-founded by Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who’d been working at Alphabet’s driverless-car arm and was now going to lead Uber’s self-driving vehicle project. However, things turned sour when Waymo reached the conclusion that some of Otto’s designs bore an uncanny resemblance to its own LiDAR technology, a radar system used in self-driving cars. Subsequently, it accused Levandowski of having stolen over 14,000 documents filled with trade secrets when he left the company and using them in his new role. Uber has vehemently denied the accusations, claiming all of its technology to be original.
Since the case became public in February 2017, it’s been packed with dramatic twists and turns. Not only has Levandowski exercised his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination but he’s also been sacked from Uber for failing to cooperate with an internal investigation. Moreover, the last few months have also seen the judge presiding over the case deny Uber’s request for private arbitration, meaning the case would go to court.
And it’s safe to say the case lived up to the hype when the highly anticipated trial kicked off last week. The first few days saw ousted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick take the stand, with Waymo describing him as a Gordon Gekko-like businessman and even showing the court a clip of Michael Douglas’ portrayal of financier saying, “Greed is good”. And this week Alphabet’s CEO Larry Page was scheduled to testify. However, the proceedings came to a sudden halt on Friday when Waymo and Uber announced that they’d settled. The settlement will see Waymo get 0.34% of Uber’s equity, which works out of a value of $245m. While certainly an impressive number, it’s a far cry from the $1bn settlement Waymo once sought.
Commenting on the case, Dara Khosrowshahi, current CEO of Uber, said that the acquisition of Otto could’ve been handled differently. “To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our LiDAR and software represent just our good work,” he continued. “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.”
And thus endeth the rumble in the tech jungle, not with a bang but with an amicable handshake and a multi-million dollar deal.