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Waymo sends Uber a startling settlement bid in trade secrets case

If you've been following the case of Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo vs. Uber Technologies, Inc., you may know that it's a bit of a horse race. Observers say it's hard to gauge which company has the stronger claim because much of the evidence has been filed under seal. However, the judge hearing the case said last week that Uber's "product is dissimilar" from Waymo's.

After a series of pre-trial victories, however, Waymo just made a settlement offer that appears to indicate a growing confidence in its situation. It demanded over $1 billion in damages, an independent monitor to ensure Uber doesn't use Waymo technology going forward, and a public apology.

Uber rejected the settlement offer as a non-starter, according to Reuters.

Uber is accused of hiring a former Waymo engineer who had pilfered trade secrets from his former employer. Those secrets allegedly relate to the development of Waymo's self-driving car technology. That engineer has asserted his right against self-incrimination in the suit and refused to hand over the alleged Waymo documents at the center of the case. He has since been fired by Uber.

The case has apparently been quite disruptive to Uber -- although outside issues have also proved to be a distraction. Uber has retained three law firms for the litigation and has been forced to dedicate thousands of hours to probing its servers for any confidential Waymo information.

Meanwhile, Uber's co-founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick stepped down from the CEO position in June. He faced a shareholder revolt after allegations of widespread misconduct were made public.

Moreover, Kalanick is fighting to avoid being kicked off Uber's board. On Oct. 1, the day before he was scheduled for a deposition, Kalanick tried to reschedule. He cited the board fight and said he was too busy. His request for a postponement was denied.

Uber claims that its engineers have worked around any technology that might be held to be Waymo's. If true, a negative outcome in the trade secrets case might result in only limited disruption. Waymo, however, said in a recent filing that more than one former employee took Waymo source code to Uber, including core code. It asked the judge to order Uber to disclose its own source code in defense.

That issue remains open, but the judge did agree to delay the start of trial until December to allow Waymo to investigate evidence Uber had previously failed to disclose.

Considering the disruption to Uber, Waymo may not be in any hurry to see the wrangling end.

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