On February 9, 2018, Uber Technologies Inc. agreed to pay $245 million in shares to Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. The settlement announcement came just before the parties were to enter into the fifth day of a jury trial in San Francisco.

The dispute between the parties centred on former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski, who was hired by Uber to lead their self-driving car project in 2017. Waymo alleged that Levandowski took thousands of confidential documents with him upon his departure. Uber denied the allegations.

While the reasons for a mid-trial settlement remain undisclosed, trade secret expert James Pooley noted in an IP Watch Dog article that the reasoning may stem from developments at an injunction hearing held late last year. At the hearing, Uber submitted evidence demonstrating that no secret Waymo files had come over to Uber. However, the judge questioned whether Levandowski may have shared knowledge learned at Waymo in conversations with his team at Uber. If so, this could lead to an independent basis for trade secret misappropriation, even if no documents were brought to Uber from Waymo.

The settlement may be a cautionary tale for businesses seeking to hire competitor employees.

The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate, criminal investigation into the alleged theft of the trade secrets.

Summary by: Jennifer Davidson


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