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Autonomous

Waymo Settles Patent Dispute for $245M Uber Stake

by Scott Ferguson
Following a week of courtroom testimony that laid bare the sometimes cutthroat process of bringing driverless vehicles to the world's roadways, Waymo and Uber announced a stunning settlement of their patent dispute on Friday.

As part of the deal, Waymo, which is the autonomous car division that Google spun out several years ago, agreed to settle its dispute against the ride-sharing giant in exchange for a $245 million stake in Uber, according to several media reports.

The deal, which both companies announced February 9 inside the courtroom of Judge William Alsup of the US District Court in San Francisco, means that Waymo now owns a 0.34% stake in Uber, which is valued at about $72 billion, according to Axios.

Uber also pledged not to incorporate any of Waymo's trade secrets into its own plans to build fleets of autonomous cars for its ride-sharing services.

At the heart of the dispute between the two companies was the fate of former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski, who was seen as instrumental in developing the Lidar systems that would help these autonomous vehicles maneuver through city streets.

After leaving Waymo, Levandowski founded the company Otto, which was then bought by Uber. Waymo, and its parent company Alphabet, charged that Uber only bought the company to gain access to Levandowski and his knowledge of Lidar.

At the same time, Waymo said the former employee downloaded thousands of files before he left, and that intellectual property belonged to the company, not him personally.

Waymo originally sought $1.8 billion in damages.

The first week of the trial saw testimony by several luminaries from Silicon Valley, including Uber founder Travis Kalanick, who was leading the company when the dispute began. The testimony also showed how brutal the behind-the-scenes race has become to move self-driving out of the test phase and into the commercial world.

That curtain closed on Friday, when Uber and Waymo announced their agreement.

In a statement, current Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi noted that the company could have handled the Otto acquisition better, but that the agreement would mean Waymo and Uber would be partners and competitors going forward.

"To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, 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," Khosrowshahi wrote.

The Waymo statement struck a similar tone, according to Axios.

"We have always believed competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads and we look forward to bringing fully self-driving cars to the world.

— Scott Ferguson is the managing editor for the Connected Car, as well as the editor of Enterprise Cloud News. Follow him on Twitter @sferguson_LR.

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