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Thursday, December 7, 2023
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Waymo-Uber Showdown Ends in Surprise Midtrial Settlement

In a surprise move on what was supposed to be the fifth day of a month-long trial over trade secrets and autonomous vehicles, Waymo announced Friday it had reached a settlement with Uber.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – In a surprise move on what was supposed to be the fifth day of a month-long trial over trade secrets and autonomous vehicles, Waymo announced Friday it had reached a settlement with Uber.

Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven, of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, moved to dismiss the case with prejudice. U.S. District Judge William Alsup granted the request.

"This case is ancient history. It's over," Alsup said.

Verhoeven declined further comment.

Under the settlement, Uber and Ottomotto have agreed to pay Waymo a financial settlement that includes 0.34 percent of Uber's $72 billion equity, a deal valued at $245 million. The ride-hail has also agreed not to use any of Waymo's hardware and software trade secrets in its self-driving cars.

No other dollar figure was disclosed. Waymo, a Google spinoff, had asked for $1.8 billion in damages and an injunction barring Uber from using its technology.

Waymo accepted Uber's deal, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Waymo said in a statement Friday that the settlement would protect its intellectual property "now and into the future."

The company added: "We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each company develops its own technology."

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi issued a lengthy statement Friday.

"There is no question that self-driving technology is crucial to the future of transportation—a future in which Uber intends to play an important role. Through that lens, the acquisition of Otto made good business sense.

"But the prospect that a couple of Waymo employees may have inappropriately solicited others to join Otto, and that they may have potentially left with Google files in their possession, in retrospect, raised some hard questions.

"To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our LiDAR and software represents just our good work."

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement he believes Uber would have won had the trial moved forward.

“As Uber’s statement indicates, no trade secrets ever came to Uber. Our sole objective was to hire the most talented scientists and engineers to help lead the company and our cities to a driverless future. The evidence at trial overwhelmingly proved that, and had the trial proceeded to its conclusion, it is clear Uber would have prevailed. I remain proud of the critically important contributions Uber ATG has made to the company’s future, and I look forward to their inspired efforts becoming a reality on the roads in cities around the world," Kalanick said.

A year ago, Waymo sued Uber and Ottomotto, an autonomous trucking company started by former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski. It claimed Levandowski downloaded hundreds of thousands of proprietary files to his personal laptop in January 2016, and used them to start Ottomotto days later. The files include ones related to LiDAR, a laser-based scanning and mapping technology that driverless cars use to see their surroundings.

Uber acquired Ottomotto for $680 million in August 2016, three months after the startup launched publicly. Waymo claimed Levandowski and Uber’s senior executives conspired to form and acquire Ottomotto to get Waymo’s trade secrets after Uber’s driverless car project stalled.

Uber countered that Waymo had sued to put it out of business, as the two vied to be the first to launch self-driving cars for the ride-hail market. According to internal Waymo documents shown in court, Google and Waymo executives became concerned when Levandowski and more than a dozen other engineers left Waymo for Uber, afraid they would use their technical know-how to help Uber beat it to the finish line.

Uber claimed Waymo’s plan started with investigating Levandowski’s departure – presumably for dirt – and learned of the downloads in the process. Waymo then used the dowloads to sue on bogus trade-secret claims, Uber said, revealing in court Thursday that the day before the lawsuit was filed a Waymo lawyer told a company engineer tasked with evaluating the value of the files downloaded by Levandowski that Google wanted him to say it was classified as confidential.

That engineer had told them the information was "low-value."

Uber had argued that the files Levandowski took did not contain trade secrets, but instead information generally known to the public. It pointed out that Waymo hadn't taken reasonable care to protect the files, indicating that it knew they didn't contain trade secrets. Throughout the year-long case, Uber insisted no Google files had made it to its servers or cars.

Uber attorney Arturo Gonzalez of Morrison Foerster commented after the hearing: "I'm going to go walk my dog," a cocker spaniel named Goya.

"She'll be very happy about this," he said, referring to the extra free time he'll have without a case to try.

Uber attorneys Bill Carmody with Susman Godfrey and Karen Dunn with Boies Schiller Flexner declined to comment.

Categories / Business, Technology, Trials

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