Uber is paying $245 million to Google’s self-driving car spin-off to end a legal brawl that aired out allegations of a sinister scheme that tore apart the once-friendly companies. The surprise settlement announced Friday came as lawyers for Uber and Waymo, a company hatched from Google, prepared to wrap up the first week of a trial that had attracted international attention.
Waymo filed its lawsuit nearly a year ago, adding to Uber’s woes with allegations of a bold hi-tech heist orchestrated by its former CEO, Travis Kalanick, and a former Google engineer. That engineer, Anthony Levandowski, subsequently went to work for Uber, and was later fired when he declined to answer questions about the theft charges, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Uber and its ride-hailing service had already been tarnished by the company’s acknowledgment of rampant sexual harassment within its ranks, a year-long cover-up of a major computer break-in, and the use of duplicitous software to thwart government regulators.
As with most settlements, the truce required some compromise by both sides. Uber had initially offered to settle the case for $490 million just before the start of the trial Monday, but that agreement didn’t provide Waymo with enough assurances that its technology wouldn’t be improperly used, according to two people familiar with the thinking of both parties in the lawsuit. The people asked not to be identified because the settlement talks were confidential.
Not long after Thursday’s trial proceedings ended, the top lawyers from both companies, Uber’s Tony West and Waymo’s Kevin Vosen, met to hammer out an agreement. The resulting compromise cut Uber’s payment in half, but provided Waymo with the guarantees that it wanted to prevent its technology from being used in Uber’s autonomous cars.
The payment, to be made in Uber’s stock, is a fraction of the nearly $2 billion in damages that a Waymo expert had estimated Uber’s alleged theft had caused. But US District Judge William Alsup had refused to allow Waymo to use that figure in the trial.