Uber Pays Google $9.7 Million To Settle Legal Beef In Tangled Self-Driving Car Fight

Another piece of the tangled legal fight sparked by Uber’s attempt to catch up to Google’s self-driving car program has been resolved, with the ride-share giant paying Google nearly $10 million to settle accusations that Uber executive Lior Ron had improperly recruited Google engineers.

0
149
Uber
Uber

Another piece of the tangled legal fight sparked by Uber’s attempt to catch up to Google’s self-driving car program has been resolved, with the ride-share giant paying Google nearly $10 million to settle accusations that Uber executive Lior Ron had improperly recruited Google engineers.

Waymo, the commercial successor to Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, had claimed that Ron and Anthony Levandowski violated contract agreements for, among other things, convincing numerous Google employees to join them at Uber’s rival self-driving program after they left Google in January 2016. Waymo won a judgement from California arbitrators against both Ron and Levandowski in January, though financial terms weren’t revealed at that time. 

In total, Uber is paying $9.7 million on Ron’s behalf, based on a copy of settlement terms reviewed by Forbes. The amount includes more than $7.7 million of attorneys’ fees and court costs, and is well above last year’s initial determination by arbitrators that he should repay Google about $1 million. Arbitrators initially recommended that Levandowski, who is also contending with charges of stealing trade secrets from Waymo filed by U.S. prosecutors, should reimburse Google $127 million. Details of arbitrators’ judgement with regard to Levandowski haven’t been revealed.

The arbitration panel determined Ron, who leads the Uber Freight business, “breached his duty of loyalty to Google, his contractual obligations to Google, and his statutory duty not to engage in unfair competition against Google.” His settlement doesn’t deny those actions. Levandowski continues to fight contract violation charges, his attorney says. 

The settlement is a holdover from a drama-filled period in which Uber cofounder and former CEO Travis Kalanick and Levandowski joined forces to rapidly match Waymo’s self-driving car expertise. Kalanick saw robo-taxis that don’t need human drivers as the long-term guarantee of profitability for his ride-share business and bought Otto, the driverless truck startup Levandowski and Ron created after they left Google, for an estimated $680 million in August 2016. Months later Waymo sued Uber in federal court claiming Levandowski took vast amounts of stolen data with him. Uber eventually fired Levandowski and settled with Waymo in early 2018, giving it pre-IPO equity valued at $245 million and agreeing not to use any of its technology. 

Uber has said in securities filings that it will indemnify Ron and Levandowski, covering the cost of their arbitration settlements. “The ultimate resolution of the matter could result in a possible loss of up to $65 million or more (depending on the date of the final award) in excess of the amount accrued,” Uber said in its November 2019 10-Q filing.  

Uber declined to provide additional comment on the status of the arbitration issues. 

Neel Chatterjee, Levandowski’s attorney, told Forbes there’s no resolution on the contract matter for his client. “The parties continue to have significant disputes, and the arbitration decision is one step in a longer litigation process. We cannot comment on the matter further as many issues are under seal.”

Levandowski was indicted last August by federal prosecutors on 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. He downloaded files from the company’s internal drives related to its laser lidar sensor and self-driving car technology.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi shut down the remnants of Levandowski’s and Ron’s robo-truck operation in July 2018, deciding instead to focus on self-driving car R&D. That program had a massive setback in March 2018 when a self-driving Uber test vehicle, with an inattentive human “safety” driver at the wheel, struck and killed a pedestrian crossing a dark street in Tempe, Arizona. 

Uber Freight, the unit led by Ron, helps truck drivers and shippers book loads using a dedicated app. Business for the unit is growing, with Freight volume up 89% in the fourth quarter, Uber said this month. 

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, left, and Anthony Levandowski in 2016.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here