Uber and Waymo Settle Trade Secrets Suit Over Driverless-Car Technology

SAN FRANCISCO — Waymo and Uber settled their legal fight on Friday, nearly a year after Waymo first accused the ride-hailing company of plotting to steal important self-driving car technology.

After four days of arguments and testimony in Federal District Court here, Uber agreed to provide Waymo, the self-driving car unit spun out of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, with 0.34 percent of its stock. According to Waymo, the settlement’s terms value Uber at $72 billion, meaning the Alphabet unit’s stake is about $240 million.

Waymo had argued that Uber colluded with a former Google engineer to steal technology related to laser-based sensors, a key component in self-driving cars. Uber said it had developed its technology on its own.

The dispute started in 2016 after Uber acquired Otto, a self-driving truck start-up founded by Anthony Levandowski, an early member of Google’s self-driving car project. The deal, worth a reported $590 million, came just six months after Mr. Levandowski left Google.

Mr. Levandowski had begun talking with Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former chief executive, about the possibility of working together on autonomous-vehicle technology while he was still employed at Google, according to evidence presented at the trial.

Mr. Levandowski was accused of downloading thousands of internal Google files related to self-driving car technology before he left the company. Uber learned of Mr. Levandowski’s actions, but still went ahead with the deal, Waymo claimed.

The trial had gripped Silicon Valley, with prominent technology industry executives and investors testifying in the packed courtroom. During two days of testimony, Mr. Kalanick explained how his relationship with Larry Page, Alphabet’s chief executive, had deteriorated amid growing paranoia at the two companies about their competing autonomous vehicle projects.

Mr. Levandowski, who was fired by Uber over his refusal to cooperate with the company’s legal defense against the Waymo lawsuit, was expected to to testify next week, although he was expected to refuse to answer questions and to exercise his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Mr. Kalanick stepped down as Uber’s chief executive in June as the company grappled with the fallout from several scandals. His successor, Dara Khosrowshahi, has made it clear that he hopes to change the perception that Uber has been too quick to break rules.

Reaching a settlement with Waymo clears away a significant legal risk for Uber as it prepares for an expected initial public offering. Although the company insists it did not take any Waymo trade secrets, Mr. Khosrowshahi said in a statement that he regretted the events that led to the litigation.

“My job as Uber’s C.E.O. is to set the course for the future of the company: innovating and growing responsibly, as well as acknowledging and correcting mistakes of the past,” Mr. Khosrowshahi said in the statement. “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.”

For his part, Mr. Kalanick released a statement in which he was not nearly as conciliatory as the man who succeeded him in Uber’s top job.

“No trade secrets ever came to Uber,” Mr. Kalanick in the statement. “The evidence at trial overwhelmingly proved that, and had the trial proceeded to its conclusion, it is clear Uber would have prevailed.”

Content originally published on https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/technology/uber-waymo-lawsuit-driverless.html by DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI