Uber and Waymo Reach $245M Settlement in Driverless Tech Lawsuit

After months of breathless anticipation and a week of bro-tastic testimony, the Waymo v. Uber lawsuit, in which Google’s driverless tech arm sued the ride-hailing pioneer over allegedly stolen autonomous vehicle technology, is over.

In a surprise move, Uber announced today that it has settled with Waymo, offering the company 0.34 percent of Uber’s equity at its current $72 billion valuation, which works out to roughly $245 million. After gasps from the assembled crowd of tech journalists, The Verge reports, the judge dismissed the suit, calling it ancient history.

The judge has a point. The development of self-driving cars is advancing so quickly, and by such large leaps and bounds, that the fundamental question at the heart of the trial seemed to be: Is this stuff even a secret anymore?

Waymo had originally sought damages in the amount of $1 billion last year, before the trial started, but Uber rejected it. Ironically, since Waymo has settled for a piece of Uber’s equity, the company is now significantly invested in its bitter rival. Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, released a statement saying that he wanted to express regret for the past actions of the company and, by default, its former CEO, Travis Kalanick. “To our friends at Alphabet,” he went on to write, “we are partners, you are an important investor in Uber, and we share a deep belief in the power of technology to change people’s lives for the better.”

Khosrowshahi also acknowledged that the business deal fueling the lawsuit—Uber’s acquisition of Otto, a self-driving truck startup led by Andrew Levandowski, who was accused of stealing intellectual property from Waymo, his former employer—“should have been handled differently.” Khosrowshahi apologized to Uber’s employees and said the company was committed to learning from its past mistakes. He also doubled down on Uber’s desire to be an instrumental player in the development of autonomous vehicles: “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.”

Waymo also released a statement saying that the settlement will protect both companies’ IP. “We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each company develops its own technology,” Waymo said. “This includes an agreement to ensure that any Waymo confidential information is not being incorporated in Uber Advanced Technologies Group hardware and software. We have always believed competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads and we look forward to bringing fully self-driving cars to the world.”

Kalanick, who was driven out of the company last year after numerous reports of bad behavior and a series of disastrous public relations blunders (which critics said represented the worst of Silicon Valley’s bro culture), also released a statement. He dismissed the idea that Uber had stolen any trade secrets and characterized the settlement as a big win for the company he founded in 2009.

It’s certainly a win in terms of preventing Uber’s dirty laundry from being further trotted out in the courtroom, but the fallout from the alleged theft and accompanying bad press might have put a ding in Uber’s reputation that is impossible to buff out. Waymo, though it has settled, has made a savvy move by acquiring more equity—Google was an early Uber investor—in a key competitor.

Waymo v. Uber further illustrates that self-driving cars are coming, probably sooner than the public thinks, and there is an enormous amount of profits at stake. But that money likely won’t be made by just a handful of giant tech companies, like Google or Uber, but rather by a consortium of partnerships between the automotive and tech industries. The tech industry excels at making cool things quickly; the auto industry has more than 100 years of experience in making safe, reliable products, an area where Silicon Valley doesn’t have much depth because it hasn’t needed it. But each side needs the other’s strengths to make self-driving cars a reality.

One thing this trial illustrates for sure? That the path to our autonomous future is going to be a wild ride.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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