On February 9, 2018, Uber Technologies Inc. (“Uber”) and Waymo LLC (“Waymo”) announced a deal in which Uber will pay Waymo 0.34 percent of its equity to settle Waymo’s claims that it stole trade secrets and infringed patents related to Waymo’s proprietary laser system used to help guide driverless vehicles. At a $72 billion valuation, 0.34 percent of Uber’s equity equates to approximately $245 million. As part of the deal, Uber also has agreed not to incorporate Waymo trade secrets into its autonomous vehicle hardware and software.
Waymo originally filed the lawsuit in February 2017, claiming its intellectual property was stolen by a former employee, Anthony Levandowski (“Levandowski”), who allegedly used the information to co-found OttoMotto LLC (“OttoMotto”), which was later acquired by Uber for $680 million. In December 2015, while employed at Waymo, Levandowski allegedly downloaded more than 14,000 files containing confidential trade secrets to a laptop computer. Before resigning without notice in January 2016, Levandowski formed 280 Systems, a venture which later became OttoMotto. In August 2016, Uber announced a deal to acquire OttoMotto. As part of the acquisition, Levandowski assumed leadership of Uber’s driverless car operation.
In December 2016, Waymo was inadvertently copied on an email between Uber and a vendor which included an attached picture of a LiDAR circuit board that Waymo claimed strongly resembled its design. Waymo then made a public records request to Nevada regulatory authorities in February 2017, from which it learned Uber was using an in-house, custom-built LiDAR system similar to Waymo’s proprietary technology. Waymo filed suit shortly thereafter.
LiDAR, which stands for Light Direction and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges from one object to another. A sensor measures the wavelengths and return times of the reflected pulses and uses that information to make a digital three-dimensional representation of the target. In autonomous vehicles, LiDAR systems are likened to the “eyes” of the vehicle and are used for obstacle avoidance.
Although Uber’s $245 million payment to Waymo will end the civil action, Uber, and its now-former-employee, Levandowski, are not yet in the clear. In May 2017, the judge presiding over the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, issued an order referring the case to the U.S. attorney’s office for a potential criminal investigation. It currently remains unclear whether federal prosecutors will seek to press criminal charges against Uber and/or Levandowski.
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