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Heisenberg Media/Creative Commons

Uber's dysfunctional and toxic work culture is the headline reason for its current chaos. It threatened Uber's reputation and ability to attract and keep top talent.

But, as CEO Travis Kalanick goes on leave and loses some of his power when he comes back, a risk remains to Uber's out-of-this-world, $68 billion valuation. Dogged by a lawsuit that it stole its self-driving technology from Waymo, Uber has lost the undisputed perception of a company as likely as any to be central to the future of transportation. The Waymo case threatens to leave Uber armed with one of the world's best-known brand names, but still a taxi service, and less prepared than competitors for the widely forecast shift to self-driving cars, a transformation that Kalanick himself has called "basically existential" for Uber.

Kalanick's strategy: He has argued that Uber's enormous valuation — it is the most valuable startup in the world — is justified by his plan to create a self-driving fleet, and eliminate many of the company's costly drivers. Analysts largely agree with the strategy. But the proprietary technology on which he has been relying is now the subject of the Waymo lawsuit, putting the company as conceived at grave risk. The trial begins in October.

Kalanick successfully muscled his way into markets around the world, said Kevin Rivette, of Sherpa Technology Group, a Silicon Valley consultant firm. But — while stirring up a hornet's nest of trouble — he also failed to build a rich foundation of intellectual property under Uber's feet. This has left it "a company based on plans and an idea," rather than one armed with its own valuable, protective inventions, Rivette told Axios.

Last year, Aswath Damodaran, a valuation expert at New York University, said that Uber's biggest problem was parlaying its outsized market size into outsized profits. That's why he estimated Uber's valuation at about $23 billion, much less than the $68 billion at which its latest investors bought shares. Uber's challenge now is to justify the greater number.

  • Intellectual property isn't the sole basis for a company's valuation or predictor of its ultimate success, and Uber is improving its AI algorithms. But, aiming to come out on top in a brutally competitive space in which IP is a central factor while also validating its sky-high valuation, Uber has said it's crucial to develop its own autonomous driving technology.
  • Uber's technology relies on Lidar, a sensing system. "If I was sitting on Uber's board, I would say, 'Let's pick up every patent related to that," Rivette told Axios.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
10 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump works refs ahead of book barrage

Graphic: Axios Visuals

Former President Trump has given at least 22 interviews for 17 different books since leaving office, with authors lining up at Mar-a-Lago as he labors to shape a coming tsunami of Trump tomes, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Trump advisers see the coming book glut as proof that interest in "POTUS 45," as they call him, has never been higher. These advisers know that most of the books will paint a mixed picture, at best. But Trump is working the refs with charm, spin and dish.

Tech's war for your wrist

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech's biggest companies are ramping up competition for the real estate between your hand and your elbow.

The big picture: The next big hardware platform after the smartphone will likely involve devices for your eyes, your ears and your wrists.

2 hours ago - World

Tokyo Olympics to allow up to 10,000 fans at each event

Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto (L) and IOC President Thomas Bach on Monday. Photo: Rodrigo Reyes Marin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics said Monday that venues can be filled up to 50% capacity when the Games kick off on July 23, with a maximum of 10,000 Japanese spectators at each event, AP reports.

Why it matters: Medical experts advising the Japanese government had recommended against allowing fans, citing the low vaccination rates in Japan and the potential for new variants to drive up infections.