February 21st, 2018

Uber, Waymo settle trade secrets clash

By Michael Liedtke And Tom Krisher, The Associated Press on February 9, 2018.

SAN FRANCISCO – Uber has settled a lawsuit alleging that it ripped off self-driving car technology from Google’s autonomous vehicle division.

Under the deal, Uber will pay Waymo, which is part of Alphabet, Inc., a settlement valued at $245 million.

Both confirmed the settlement early Friday, four days into a federal court trial in the case.

Waymo says Uber agreed to take steps to make sure Waymo technology isn’t used in Uber’s autonomous vehicles.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says in a printed statement that the company doesn’t believe trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber. He also says Uber is taking steps to make sure its self-driving vehicle research represents only Uber’s work.

In the lawsuit, Waymo contended that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick teamed up with ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski to steal LIDAR laser sensor technology, which serves as the eyes of self-driving vehicles.

Waymo alleges that Levandowski heisted eight trade secrets from Google before leaving the company in January 2016. He founded his own startup, Otto, which Uber bought a few months later for $680 million. Kalanick has acknowledged discussing plans for Otto with Levandowski before he started it, though both he and Uber deny they ever used any Google technology to build a fleet of self-driving cars.

Kalanick was pressured by investors to step down as CEO a month after Levandowski’s firing, partly because of concerns about Waymo’s lawsuit.

Khosrowshahi said he doesn’t believe any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, and does not believe that its technolgy has used, but he said that the company is taking steps with Waymo to ensure the technology used by Uber is its own.

“But the prospect that a couple of Waymo employees may have inappropriately solicited others to join Otto, and that they may have potentially left with Google files in their possession, in retrospect, raised some hard questions,” Khosrowshahi wrote.

According to Waymo, the settlement will be paid in Uber stock and is equal to 0.34 per cent of the company’s value, which was $72 billion after its most recent fundraising effort involving Japanese tech conglomerate Softbank.

In pretrial evidence gathering, a Waymo expert witness valued the alleged theft at nearly $2 billion. The judge in the case didn’t allow that figure into the trial.

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