By Quandary Peak Research
In February 2017, Waymo filed a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court against Uber, alleging theft of trade-secrets related to Waymo’s self-driving car technology. The lawsuit, full of twists and turns, was settled earlier this month, with Uber agreeing to pay $245 million in shares to Alphabet (Google), Waymo’s parent company.
Below we’ll take look back on the facts of the case and examine the implications of the settlement, particularly given both companies’ desire to dominate the self-driving market.
Waymo, Google’s spun-off self-driving car project, and Uber, the ride-sharing giant with autonomous car ambitions of its own, were the main parties in the lawsuit. Waymo alleged that Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer and expert in the field, downloaded 14,000 files from Google’s system a month before leaving the company in January 2016. Waymo argued that Levandowski used the content from those files to launch Otto, his self-driving truck startup. Uber entered the picture seven months later, when they purchased Otto for a reported $680 million.
Waymo claimed that the files allegedly downloaded by Levandowski contained highly-secretive, proprietary design information. The company became aware of the suspected misconduct when it was copied on an email chain from a supplier that contained design information about Uber’s lidar (short for ‘light detection and ranging’) technology – designs that bore “a striking resemblance” to Waymo’s designs, to the point of patent infringement.
Waymo accused Otto and Uber of stealing their intellectual property in order to “avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of independently developing their own technology…[netting] Otto employees over half a billion dollars and [allowing] Uber to revive a stalled program” at Waymo’s expense. They also accused other former Google employees of downloading supplier lists, manufacturing details, and technical information before defecting to Otto at Levandowski’s […]