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The Uber-Waymo Case: Exploring why Mediation Works for Silicon Valley’s Interconnected World

The Uber-Waymo case was a big deal in Silicon Valley. With a huge build-up, and articles in all the major National newspapers, you would expect the parties to battle it out to the bitter end. Instead the case settled after 5 days and we were left with many questions about how this dispute blew up.

To a Business Mediator the outcome might be less of a mystery. Disputes often break out between businesses that are closely entwined or in the same industry, and no industry is more interconnected than Silicon Valley. The big debate the Uber-Waymo case foregrounded was the issue of “cross-pollination”. To what extent does building on ideas developed in a previous job constitute intellectual property theft? In the Uber-Waymo case, a lead engineer was accused of bringing Waymo’s self-driving secrets to Uber’s self-driving unit. But, we might ask, if the technology wasn’t so competitive, isn’t hiring an engineer with nearly ideal experience just a good business decision? The Washington Post suggests that because of the high turnover rates, pace of innovation and demand for workers versed in niche skills and technology, we can see these disputes as a “distinct cultural feature” of Silicon Valley.

If these disputes are a “distinct cultural feature” of Silicon Valley, how can we resolve them without a huge fall-out? Uber and Waymo’s “happy ending” was described by the Verge as follows:

“In the end, the two companies end up closer together, like a married couple who almost got divorced. Google was an early investor in Uber, and now the equity settlement ensures that Waymo is invested in the ride-hail company’s future.”

With the Waymo engineer about to take the stand and plead the fifth, the two companies seemed to realize that their similarities and common interests mattered more than an expensive fight. After all, if the hire of the engineer was to benefit Uber, then why not acknowledge their debt to Waymo and its parent company Google, and work together?

At Boileau Conflict Solutions, we use game theory and other scientific tools to calculate common interests from the very beginning of the dispute. It’s critical to see where your interests meet as well as diverge, because conflict can damage the very thing you are both fighting over (for example, business secrets that could emerge in a trial). In our practice we also work with divorcing couples: mediation is an ideal tool to disentangle the interests and assets of any close partnership. Mediation can also involve a highly technical analysis of complex financial interests and intellectual property. Mediators can be specifically chosen with technical knowhow. In a highly interconnected world like Silicon Valley you can’t afford not to consider a dispute resolution process that limits damage of conflict. Unlike mediation, litigation is:

– Cheaper
– Resolves more quickly
– More flexible and can be arranged around business hours
– Completely confidential so proprietary technology can be protected
– Offers alternative solutions in settlement, like companies merging
– Employs expert mediators with industry experience, and also those with psychological knowhow to more meaningfully resolve conflict

We are a group of well-educated mediators and negotiators with financial, legal and psychological backgrounds who can mediate all business disputes and business relationships. We use unique approaches informed by game theory, psychoanalysis and communication theory and rely on best practices and negotiation theory to optimize the results you want and need. We mediate in a variety of business environments and at every stage of the dispute, from preventative mediation to establish good policy in beginning start-ups, to ongoing conflict management (whether unions are present or not). Business mediation is faster, cheaper and more efficient than letting conflict fester or resorting to litigation. We can help resolve your dispute at urgent notice and in a fast and efficient manner if necessary. The business mediation settlement rate is high. Please contact us at our offices in Boulder CO, Campbell, CA, Irvine CA and Beverly Hills, CA to see how we can help. We are also available via Zoom, Facetime and telephone and can mobilize a dispute resolution team from any part of the country.
Further Reading on this story:

https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/9/16995254/waymo-uber-lawsuit-trial-settlement

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2018/02/04/tech-titans-trade-secrets-and-alleged-conspiracy-inside-the-waymo-uber-battle-captivating-silicon-valley/?utm_term=.8934dbae750c

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