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Uber, Waymo settle trade secrets case mid-trial

 

Self-driving car rivals Waymo and Uber unexpectedly announced a settlement of Waymo's lawsuit alleging theft of trade secrets midway through a trial in federal court in San Francisco Friday.

The $245 million settlement brought an end to the civil jury trial in the court of U.S. Judge William Alsup, which began on Monday. At the request of both sides, Alsup dismissed the lawsuit Waymo LLC filed against Uber Technology Inc. one year ago.

The financial part of the settlement will give Waymo 0.34 percent of the equity of ride-hailing Uber, currently valued at $72 billion, thus giving Waymo $245 million.

Uber also agreed not to use confidential Waymo information in developing its hardware and software for driverless cars.

Waymo was founded by Google in 2009 to develop self-driving vehicles and is now a subsidiary of Mountain View-based Alphabet, Google's parent corporation. San Francisco-based Uber began developing a self-driving

car in 2015.

Waymo claimed that Uber gained stolen trade secrets through a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, who left Google in January 2016, founded a driverless truck company called Otto and then sold it to Uber for $680 million and joined Uber in August 2016.

Uber denied having trade secrets and said the alleged secrets, which concerned laser sensor technology for the cars, were not secrets to begin with.

In a statement today, Waymo said, "We have reached an agreement with Uber that we believe will protect Waymo's intellectual property now and into the future. We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each

company develops its own technology."

The company also said, "We look forward to bringing fully self-driving cars to the world."

Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi published an online letter expressing "regret for the actions that have caused me to write this letter" while maintaining that Uber believes it did not receive or use any trade secrets.

But Khosrowshahi acknowledged, "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."

Like Waymo, Uber said "self-driving technology is crucial to the future of transportation." Khosrowshahi said Uber "intends to play an important role" in that future.

During the four days of trial, witnesses called by Waymo attorneys told the civil jury about how the two tech giants began developing self-driving cars.

Former Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick testified he believed in 2015 that his company lagged behind Google in the race to develop such cars and that the competition was "existential" for Uber. But he insisted he hired Levandowski because he was "incredibly visionary, a very good technologist" and not to steal trade secrets.

Uber fired Levandowski in May after he refused to cooperate in the company's internal investigation of the lawsuit allegations.

Kalanick resigned as the ride-booking company's CEO in June under pressure from investors following a series of controversies over the company's business practices, and was replaced by Khosrowshahi.

On Thursday, the jury heard testimony from technical experts supporting Waymo's claim that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 Google files to an external device before leaving the company.

The eight allegedly stolen trade secrets concerned technology for bouncing laser beams off surrounding objects to enable self-driving cars to gain a three-dimensional picture of their environment.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury began hearing evidence about details of the trade secrets. The courtroom was closed to the public during trade-secret testimony to protect confidential information.

Levandowski was slated to be called to the stand in public session on Monday, but was expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

— Bay City News Service

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