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Waymo And Uber Settle In Court Over Trade Secrets Lawsuit

One of Silicon Valley’s biggest legal dramas in years ended last week when the two companies announced a surprise settlement. Google spinoff venture Waymo had filed a lawsuit against Uber in February 2017 for allegedly getting insight into trade secrets through former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski. After a year of mud-slinging and four days of jury trial, the parties called it off. “This case is ancient history,” said Judge William Alsup.

The “tied” result both in a court of law and the court of public opinion – this settlement actually makes the most sense for both parties. As Uber’s ex-CEO, Travis Kalanick said, this will “minimize risk, minimize pain.”

Had Waymo been able to prove its case that Uber stole and misused its trade secrets, that likely would have been a heavy blow to the San Francisco-based rival. Uber, after all, already pioneered the ridesharing platform. The company has “cheat codes,” as Kalanick further described, in the way of its app on the smartphones of drivers all over the world, an “elegant solution” to grappling with the state of traffic in major cities worldwide at any given time.

But rule-breaking is nothing new in the auto industry. Waymo’s case looked infallible at the start, with Judge Alsup calling it, “one of the strong records” he had ever seen.” By the time Waymo reached trial, however, it appeared that the Google spinoff had lost some of its legal footings. Of the 120-plus trade secrets Waymo claimed stolen, only 8 were going to be argued at trial and all of the patent claims had been tossed out. Once the trial began, Waymo no longer looked like an undefeatable pack leader. Internal emails from Waymo employees revealed concern about the program’s future, with program leaders noting that momentum was not necessarily in their favor.

The internal dialogue of fear and paranoia left Waymo looking less like the pacesetter and more a stalwart afraid of losing market position. Yet the damage to Waymo’s reputation was negligible compared to Uber’s experience over the course of the trial.

Uber also faced plenty of other issues: there were ongoing lawsuits over the employment status of its drivers, allegedly leaks of medical information, millions in fines from state and federal agencies, a poor hiring record of women and minorities, and aggressive efforts to evade regulators. The result? Travis Kalanick was booted from the company’s top job. (He retains a seat on the 17-person board of directors.)

Uber’s new leaders are aware of massive trust issues and are actively seeking to regain their grace in the userbase. But that doesn’t stop them from having ambitious plans for the future: “We will have autonomous cars on the road, I believe within the next 18 months,” new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said at a recent event in Davos. “And not as a test case, as a real [use] case out there.”

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