Last Wednesday it was announced that Mozilla and Oath would be fighting it out in court, following Mozilla’s decision to switch from Yahoo! to Google for searches. What seems like small fry could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, as a judge decides whether Mozilla’s U-turn was a breach of contract or not.
It has been a huge year for tech court battles, many of which could change the entire industry forever. From competition laws to long-awaited gender imbalance challenges, the industry has had no shortage of legal drama in 2017. Here are some of the biggest to have made headlines worldwide. Sit back and consider yourself a jury member.
Google’s Antitrust Iliad
Few tax cases can claim to have created political stars. But that is arguably what happened in Brussels this summer, when Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission competition chief, scored a record 2.42 billion euro fine in the EC’s antitrust case against Google.
The first of three cases brought against the Internet giant, June’s verdict was a shattering portent of Vestager’s growing crusade against tech companies, and their tax and data affairs. In August she compared Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley behemoths to the nurse in 2016 drama Godless, “whose only interest in her patients is selling their identity cards on the black market.”
On top of the fine, which represents 3% of parent company Alphabet’s turnover, the EC ordered Google to stop favoring its own shopping service or suffer a daily penalty of 5% of Alphabet’s average daily turnover. The company’s response, to allow its Google Shopping arm to bid for ad space as if it were an outsider, has been met with mixed responses in Belgium. Experts believe the case will drag on for some time.
Apple and Samsung At It Again
Seconds out: round 59 (or something like that) of Apple and Samsung’s patent case, or “that f-king trial” as it’s known in many quarters of California and Korea. In 2012 Apple successfully sued Samsung for having ripped off its iPhone design, and a court ordered Samsung to cough up $1bn for its troubles.
Five years later, and with Samsung’s legal team having shaved the fine down to $400m, the case is back in the news again following an appeal for retrial that is sure to have corporate lawyers’ ears pricked up from Cupertino to Gangnam.
The trial will focus not on whether Samsung crossed a line in the creation of its own smartphone range–that much has been settled already–but whether damages should be based on its total profits, or a percentage of those profits. It’s a case that could have huge repercussions across the tech world, and one which has several dozen journalists based in California’s northern district face-palming already.
Waymo and Uber Dook it Out Over Secret Sauce
This case began in February, when Alphabet subsidiary Waymo accused Uber of benefitting from trade secrets preferred by their former engineer Anthony Levandowski, when he left to found a self-driving lorry firm, which was later acquired by Uber. Waymo contends that Levandowski stole 14,000 classified documents during his stay: Uber denies the whole thing.
Since then broadsides have been traded by both firms, the date for trial has been put back again and again, and so many documents have been handed in late that the federal judge trying the case has accused both legal teams of telling “half-truths”.
Waymo has been told to cut the 120-plus trade secrets cited in its original claim down to just nine. Its damages expert has also been ordered from the courtroom, in what Uber is claiming as a small win. Many experts believe Waymo to be overstepping its mark and bullying a smaller competitor out of one of tech’s biggest potential marketplaces. Whatever happens when the judge’s gavel falls, it will have a huge impact on the self-drive landscape.
Tesla’s Gender Discrimination Reckoning
Tech has a shameful reputation when it comes to gender equality. This year, amid the #MeToo movement, Tesla is battling its own shortcomings in court thanks to an engineer who was pushed out, she says, for standing up to sexist policy.
AJ Vandermeyden worked at the automaker’s Fremont factory, which included a section women referred to as the “predator zone”, when she noticed men being appointed above her despite lacking her ability, and management imposing impossible-to-meet targets.
Vandermeyden opened a discrimination case against Tesla in September 2016. She went public this February, after which she was fired, which her lawyer calls an act of retribution. Attempts by chief Elon Musk to downplay Vandermeyden’s case have been described as “tone-deaf”, while the wider world has, it seems, woken up to rampant sexism in the tech industry (yes Uber, we’re looking at you).