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Waymo offers to settle disruptive Uber lawsuit -- for a price

Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo recently made a settlement offer to Uber Technologies Inc. in its lawsuit over autonomous car technology. The lawsuit, which alleges Uber hired a former Waymo engineer who used Waymo trade secrets to Uber's benefit, has been in pretrial stages for months. No settlement talks are scheduled, according to Reuters sources, but Waymo still offered a way out for Uber.

Waymo wants at least $1 billion in damages, an independent monitor appointed to prevent further appropriation of Waymo technology, and a public apology. Uber rejected the terms as non-starters, according to Reuters.

The offer marks a new confidence by Waymo, which has scored a number of important pretrial victories. A federal judge just delayed the trial until December to allow Waymo to investigate additional evidence that Uber allegedly failed to disclose in a timely manner.

Moreover, Uber has already fired the former Waymo engineer who allegedly appropriated Waymo technology. He has asserted his right against self-incrimination in order to avoid Waymo's questions. Meanwhile, Uber's co-founder and CEO stepped down in June due to allegations of wider misconduct at the company, and an investor is working to force him off the board.

The events appear to have been highly disruptive to Uber, which itself may be an incentive to Waymo to keep the lawsuit going. It's confident settlement offer aside, it's difficult for observers to assess the strengths of each side's case because much of the technical evidence has been filed under seal.

One professor of intellectual property law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law pointed out the value to Waymo of keeping Uber distracted from its core business. Reuters notes that Uber has engaged three law firms for the case and has dedicated thousands of hours to rooting out any confidential Uber data that may be on its servers.

"I'm counting all those as good reasons to keep the lawsuit going," said the professor.

"Waymo had one goal: to stop Uber from using its trade secrets," countered a Waymo attorney. "That remains its goal."

Commercial litigation can easily become costly and disruptive. Sometimes, the client's goals become indistinct, or lawyers may rely on a strategy or tactics learned in previous cases which don't move the ball forward in this one. Whenever an organization becomes involved in a dispute, the attorneys should advise clients on the costs and benefits of every tactic considered and work to keep the litigation laser-focused on the client's goals.

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