Waymo & Uber Settle Self-Driving Lawsuit After Only 5 Days

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Waymo and Uber settled their high-profile legal clash over alleged trade secret theft on Friday, moments after their legal representatives appeared in court for what was meant to be the fifth day of the trial which started Monday, following nearly a year of preparations and numerous delays. In a lengthy statement published on Uber’s website immediately after the two parties informed U.S. District Judge William Haskell Alsup of the development, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi reiterated the company’s stance that it doesn’t believe any self-driving secrets from Waymo ever made their way to the San Francisco-based startup but vowed to work together with Alphabet’s unit to ensure its contended LiDAR design and autonomous driving software aren’t based on any protected technology from Waymo.

While Uber and Waymo presumably agreed to damages, no such details of the settlement have been disclosed, and the unit founded in late 2016 as a Google spin-off has yet to comment on the matter in an official capacity. Mr. Khosrowshahi admitted “Uber’s acquisition of Otto could and should have been handled differently” and said he “cannot change the past” while promising to infuse every future decision made by the company with “integrity.” The development is largely interpreted as a win for both parties, with Uber being able to avoid a scenario in which it has to publicly admit to any trade secret theft should Waymo have managed to prove it, whereas Alphabet’s unit presumably received some damages and assurances its technology isn’t being used by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group going forward.

The controversial acquisition referenced by Mr. Khosrowshahi was concluded in the summer of 2016, with Otto being founded by former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski who was alleged to have stolen over 14,000 sensitive documents from his former employer, then colluded with Uber’s leadership to use that technology to advance its own autonomous driving solutions. Mr. Levandowski wasn’t named as a defendant in the lawsuit but pleaded the Fifth when called to testify in preparations for the trial, having subsequently been fired by Uber for not cooperating with its internal investigation into the matter. If the case was to end with a guilty verdict for Uber, Mr. Levandowski would have likely been left open to criminal charges. Such a scenario still isn’t unfeasible if any wrongdoing took place as the Department of Justice is presently leading its own investigation into Waymo’s former allegations, as requested by Judge Alsup last year, though the current status of that probe remains unclear. Mr. Khosrowshahi said the ride-hailing startup is now looking to participate in the self-driving race on a level playing field and said the ultimate winners of it won’t be Uber or Waymo but “people, cities, and our environment.”

The resolution of the dispute with Waymo is yet another major win for Mr. Khosrowshahi who has been trying to stabilize the company ever since taking over it in August. The first four days of the trial revealed some new details about the startup’s previous dealings with Alphabet, Google, and Waymo, in addition to leading to the first public appearance of Uber’s co-founder Travis Kalanick since he was ousted as CEO last June. With the most high-profile legal clash in its history now behind it, Uber is in a better position to continue pursuing its initial public offering that Mr. Khosrowshahi is targeting for 2019.