The already expensive battle to acquire engineers with knowledge and experience in the field of self-driving cars just cost Uber another estimated $245 million, not including the money they spent defending their legal battle against Waymo for a year before the parties agreed on a settlement.
As engineers get closer to developing the technology necessary to produce viable self-driving automobiles, it’s becoming increasingly clear that, not only is self-driving technology the future, it is going to be a very lucrative future. It has driven up the costs of engineers in the field to unprecedented heights, but Uber may have topped them all by spending $590 million to buy an entire self-driving truck company from Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer. The terms of the agreement were for Levandowski to receive an additional $250 million in Uber stock if Otto reached certain performance goals, but before that could happen, Levandowski was fired from Uber for refusing to cooperate in the investigation into the alleged stolen Google files.
Levandowski and Travis Kalanick, the founder and former CEO of Uber, had allegedly been hanging out and brainstorming ideas for self-driving technology even when Levandowski was still working for Google. Kalanick recently testified in court that he had wanted to hire Levandowski, but Levandowski wanted to break out on his own.
Levandowski left Google to form Otto, a self-driving truck company, but before he left, he allegedly stole files from Google about their developments in the field of self-driving technology. When Uber bought Otto just a few months later, Waymo (Google’s own ride-share company) alleged Uber’s new laser detection technology looked suspiciously like their own. The company ended up filing a lawsuit against Uber, alleging Levandowski going out on his own to form a company that was then bought by Uber was all part of an elaborate plot for Uber to steal trade secrets from Waymo.
Kalanick denies having done anything illegal and insists he did not know Levandowski had stolen files from Google when Uber bought Otto. Despite these claims, after a few days of court testimonies, Uber and Waymo agreed to settle the dispute outside of court. In addition to agreeing not to use any of the technology Levandowski stole from Google, the ride-share startup has also agreed to give Waymo 0.34% of Uber’s stock. Since the terms of the settlement put Uber’s current worth at $72 billion, that means the stock they’re paying out is worth approximately $245 million.
The settlement allows Uber to move past a very large, very public legal dispute that could distract it from achieving its goals, not to mention result in some very bad PR. The company has already had to contend with everything from wage-and-hour lawsuits from drivers, to sexual harassment allegations from female employees. Currently, the company is dealing with an investigation from the Department of Justice into its business practices, even as it prepares for an anticipated initial public offering. Dara Khosrowshahi has a lot on his plate as the new CEO, but he has vowed to acknowledge and address any mistakes the company may have made in the past.
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