Uber and Waymo settle self-driving vehicles dispute

12 Feb 2018

Waymo self-driving car in traffic. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Under a new settlement, Uber will give Waymo $245m in equity.

Uber Technologies has agreed to settle a lawsuit with Alphabet’s Waymo over allegations that the former stole and used intellectual property for self-driving vehicles.

Under the settlement, Uber has agreed not to use Waymo technology in its self-driving cars.

‘We do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber’

It has also agreed to give Waymo 0.34pc of Uber equity, which is worth around $245m.

In a case that has riveted Silicon Valley, the saga began when Otto, a self-driving truck company co-founded by former Google employee Anthony Levandowski, was acquired by Uber for $650m in 2016.

Levandowski was the engineer who built Google’s first self-driving car.

The IP battle that began the self-driving car wars

It was alleged that a plan was orchestrated with former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s knowledge to acquire confidential files from Google during Levandowski’s final days at the company.

The IP in question is the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensor technology used in Waymo vehicles. LiDAR bounces millions of laser beams off surrounding objects to get a 3D picture of the world. It is critical to vehicles detecting other cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

It was alleged that 14,000 confidential files may have found their way to Uber via a digital trail of breadcrumbs that Levandowski left in his wake, including web searches, downloads and an external drive.

Uber defended its position by stating there was no proof that any of the disputed files were used by the company.

“We do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber,” said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, “nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology. We are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our LiDAR and software represents just our good work.”

Waymo sought damages that could have totalled $1bn and an injunction that would have halted Uber’s work on autonomous vehicles.

Khosrowshahi expressed his regret over how the issue had been handled by Uber when it first emerged and admitted that the acquisition of Otto could also have been handled differently.

Waymo has stated that an agreement is in place to make sure any of its confidential information is not incorporated into Uber hardware and software.

“We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each company develops its own technology,” Waymo said in a statement.

Waymo self-driving car in traffic. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years