Business & Tech

Uber and Waymo settle trade secrets suit over driverless-car technology

SAN FRANCISCO — Waymo and Uber settled their legal fight Friday, nearly a year after Waymo first accused the ride-hailing company of plotting to steal important self-driving-car technology.

After four days of arguments and testimony in US District Court, Uber agreed to provide Waymo, the self-driving-car unit spun out of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, with 0.34 percent of its stock. According to Waymo, the settlement’s terms value Uber at $72 billion, meaning the Alphabet unit’s stake is about $240 million.

Waymo had argued that Uber colluded with a former Google engineer to steal technology related to laser-based sensors, a key component in self-driving cars. Uber said it had developed its technology on its own.

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The dispute started in 2016 after Uber acquired Otto, a self-driving-truck startup founded by Anthony Levandowski, an early member of Google’s self-driving-car project. The deal, worth a reported $590 million, came just six months after Levandowski left Google.

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Levandowski had begun talking with Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former chief executive, about the possibility of working together on autonomous-vehicle technology while he was still employed at Google, according to evidence presented at the trial.

Levandowski was accused of downloading thousands of internal Google files related to self-driving-car technology before he left the company. Uber learned of Levandowski’s actions, but still went ahead with the deal, Waymo claimed.

The trial had gripped Silicon Valley, with prominent technology industry executives and investors testifying in the packed courtroom. During two days of testimony, Kalanick explained how his relationship with Larry Page, Alphabet’s chief executive, had deteriorated amid growing paranoia at the two companies about their competing autonomous vehicle projects.

Levandowski, who was fired by Uber over his refusal to cooperate with the company’s legal defense against the Waymo lawsuit, was expected to testify next week, although he was expected to refuse to answer questions and to exercise his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

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Kalanick stepped down as Uber’s chief executive in June as the company grappled with the fallout from several scandals. His successor, Dara Khosrowshahi, has made it clear that he hopes to change the perception that Uber has been too quick to break rules.