SAN FRANCISCO – In a sudden end to an increasingly bitter public skirmish over self-driving car trade secrets, Uber settled a lawsuit Friday brought by Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, giving up a stake to its rival.
As the fifth day of a trial was set to begin, Waymo announced the news in court. According to the terms of the settlement, it will receive 0.34% of Uber’s equity at an earlier valuation high of $72 billion, which comes to about $245 million.
Japanese investment firm SoftBank and other partners recently took a large stake in Uber but at a new valuation closer to $50 billion. Google had been an early investor in Uber with a seat on its board. It brought the lawsuit a year ago.
The deal follows a week of testimony that often shined a spotlight on the competitive tactics of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who led the company since its founding in 2009 until June.
In Uber’s Friday statement, new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi — hired in August after Kalanick was ousted by investors because of mounting scandals — apologized to its competitor Waymo, agreed to pay the fine and promised Uber would clean up its act. Neither he nor Uber admitted to obtaining trade secrets.
“While I cannot erase the past, I can commit, on behalf of every Uber employee, that we will learn from it, and it will inform our actions going forward,” Khosrowshahi wrote. “As we change the way we operate and put integrity at the core of every decision we make, we look forward to the great race to build the future.”
The sentiment contrasted with the one from Uber co-founder Kalanick, who had testified about his recruitment of an ex-Google engineer whose alleged actions were at the heart of the dispute.
“As Uber’s statement indicates, no trade secrets ever came to Uber,” Kalanick said. “The evidence at trial overwhelmingly proved that, and had the trial proceeded to its conclusion, it is clear Uber would have prevailed.”
“The settlement represents the desire of both companies to move past this issue and get on with the goal of developing self-driving tech,” said Karl Bauer, executive publisher of Cox Automotive. Taking a slice of a rival’s stock simply typifies the ” ‘frenemy’ relationship pervading the modern tech industry,” he said.
Making ride-hailing cars autonomous is critical to companies such as Uber and its rival Lyft, because paying the driver creates a business model with little room for profit.
Automotive manufacters have teamed up with tech start-ups over the past year, including Ford with Argo.ai, General Motors with Cruise and VW Group and Hyundai with Aurora, a new self-driving company started by former Google car tech lead Chris Urmson.
The turn of events followed four days during which Waymo, at least in open sessions, didn’t appear to make much progress proving its accusation that Uber had stolen trade secrets for its own self-driving car program.
Waymo lawyers painted former and current Uber employees as shady at best and conspiratorial at worst. But given the first days were dedicated largely to providing evidence of the theft of Google documents, they had not yet highlighted what unique LiDAR technology was developed by Waymo engineers or showed evidence that Uber used that information to create its LiDAR.
LiDAR uses lasers atop a self-driving car to help the vehicle “see” its environment. Though the technology is sophisticated, it is available for purchase from suppliers such as Velodyne.
Judge William Alsup made it clear the trial wasn’t about Uber’s business actions but whether Uber’s LiDAR was based on stolen information.
The price of the settlement may have been the clincher. Waymo had wanted at least $1 billion in damages and a public apology from Uber, Reuters reported in October. Uber had rejected those terms, it said.