The courtroom has been cleared, the lights are off in the spillover room on the 19th floor and the initial takes are in on the Uber vs. Waymo trial.
Uber will give Alphabet, the parent company of both Waymo and the search giant Google, some $244 million worth of stock, and agree to ensure that no Waymo intellectual property will make its way into Uber autonomous vehicles.
While Uber has settled, this is hardly a Waymo victory. Indeed, the only person who comes out of this looking like a winner is Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi.
For some reporters, Khosrowshahi’s decision to settle was a foregone conclusion, but that was before the trial began and the strategies (such as they were) of the opposing sides became clear.
Once the trial was underway, Waymo’s victory began to look less and less like a foregone conclusion.
Uber’s former chief executive Travis Kalanick and Anthony Levandowski, the incredibly talented and incredibly ambitious technologist whose decision to leave Google’s self-driving car program for Uber set off the lawsuit in the first place, both came out of the proceedings looking appropriately terrible (they acted terribly).
But Waymo did not appear to be making headway with its actual charge that any of the
(very likely) allegedly misappropriated technology wound up in Uber’s autonomous vehicle systems.
Beyond the facts of the case, there was the potential for Alphabet’s own executive team to come off looking less-than-stellar when Uber presented its defense.
By settling the case now, Khosrowshahi looks nothing short of magnanimous. His predecessor has been publicly humiliated, along with the former employee whose hiring triggered the case, executives at Alphabet are spared from having to take the stand and answer for whatever mistakes they may have made in handling Levandowski (and his departure) and Uber is only paying $244 million to get out from under the lawsuit. (I know $244 million isn’t chump change, but compared to how bad things were potentially looking at the outset of the trial, the payout is a bargain.)
With the settlement, Khosrowshahi takes another long stride in moving past the mistakes that have bedeviled Uber almost since its inception — and certainly since it became the ridesharing juggernaut that wanted to be uber alles under Kalanick’s increasingly tone-deaf leadership.
Read the last lines of Khosrowshahi’s statement and you’ll see what I mean:
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. I’ve told Alphabet that the incredible people at Uber ATG are focused on ensuring that our development represents the very best of Uber’s innovation and experience in self-driving technology.
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. We believe that race should be fair—and one whose ultimate winners are people, cities and our environment.
And the rapprochement between the two firms makes good business sense, as well. Uber had a longer way to go with its autonomous vehicle program than it wanted to admit (something that trial documents make very clear) if it was going to catch up with Waymo. Now, there’s at least the potential partnership down the road. And as both companies see Amazon in their rearview mirror, a decision to be best frenemies makes even more sense.