After a series of pretrial victories for Waymo and several setbacks for Uber, Waymo recently made an interesting settlement offer in its trade secret case. The Alphabet, Inc., subsidiary offered to drop the lawsuit if Uber agreed to an independent monitor to ensure it doesn’t use any Waymo technology, pays at least $1 billion in damages and offers a public apology.
Uber rejected the offer as a non-starter.
According to an authority on trade secrets litigation from the University of Florida Levin School of Law, that may be just what Waymo was hoping for. The lawsuit has unquestionably been disruptive for Uber, and Waymo may see value in continuing the litigation for just that reason.
Waymo alleges that Uber hired a former Waymo engineer who had taken over 14,000 confidential files from his former employer. That engineer may have used the confidential Waymo files to help Uber develop a key piece of its self-driving car technology. Earlier this year, the federal judge hearing the case agreed to issue an injunction prohibiting the engineer from working on that technology.
According to Reuters, Uber has had to hire three law firms to represent it during the litigation and has devoted untold thousands of hours attempting to identify and root out any potentially pilfered trade secrets from its computer servers.
“I’m counting all those as good reasons to keep the lawsuit going,” said the professor.
Meanwhile, the engineer was fired after refusing to return the files to Waymo. He also asserted his right against self-incrimination in order to avoid answering questions during the lawsuit.
In June, presumably unrelated allegations of widespread misconduct at Uber resulted in a shareholder revolt and pushed Uber CEO Travis Kalanick out of his job. A separate lawsuit meant to remove Kalanick from the board is also moving forward.
In fact, Kalanick attempted to postpone his deposition in the trade secrets case because he was busy handling the board fight. His request was denied.
Before you conclude that Waymo has the stronger position in the case, keep in mind that much of the actual evidence has been filed under seal, which is common in trade secret cases. Moreover, the judge in the case has already indicated Waymo doesn’t have a home run.
“I think when Waymo got into this, they thought they would open (Uber’s) files and find exact duplicates of Waymo,” said the judge. “As it turns out, the product is dissimilar.