Uber has announced that it’s reached a settlement with Alphabet’s autonomous car division Waymo.
The news comes four days into a trial brought about by Waymo, after it alleged that former employees, including Anthony Levandowski, had stolen confidential information to use in a new self-driving vehicle venture called Otto, which was subsequently acquired by Uber. It had previously been alleged that Otto had really been an elaborate ruse for Uber to steal Waymo’s lidar technology.
Terms of the settlement have not been disclosed; however, reports emerged back in October that Waymo was demanding $1 billion and a public apology. According to a Bloomberg report today, however, Uber has agreed to pay around 0.34 percent of its equity, equating roughly to $245 million. It’s unlikely that either company will confirm the settlement figure.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who was announced as the new Uber CEO back in August, penned a public letter to “express his regret for the actions” that forced him to have to pen the letter in the first place. “We agree that Uber’s acquisition of Otto could and should have been handled differently,” he said.
However, while he acknowledged that some Waymo employees may have “inappropriately solicited others” to join Otto, and that they “may have” left with confidential files in their possession, he stressed that he didn’t believe any of the information actually made its way to Uber.
“To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our Lidar and software represents just our good work,” he said.
In many ways, it was unusual for the Waymo and Uber spat to make it to trial in the first place, given that the duo would not want their dirty laundry put out for the world to see. Less than a week into the trial, however, the two companies have clearly agreed that things have gone far enough — they both want to be spared the embarrassment of any more secrets coming out in what was shaping up to be one of the highest profile trials involving technology companies in a long time.
Uber and Alphabet emerged as unlikely competitors given the respective products they rose to prominence for originally, and it’s worth remembering here that Alphabet subsidiary Google actually invested in Uber via its GV venture capital arm back in 2013. A lot was at stake here for all parties, so it’s not entirely surprising that the tech trial of the decade won’t go the full distance.
You can read Khosrowshahi’s full letter below:
To our friends at Alphabet: we are partners, you are an important investor in Uber, and we share a deep belief in the power of technology to change people’s lives for the better. Of course, we are also competitors. And while we won’t agree on everything going forward, we agree that Uber’s acquisition of Otto could and should have been handled differently.
To our employees, in particular the great and talented people of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group: I am inspired by your passion and commitment to bringing self-driving vehicles to life. Over the last year, you’ve been distracted from your mission. For that I am sorry.
There is no question that self-driving technology is crucial to the future of transportation — a future in which Uber intends to play an important role. Through that lens, the acquisition of Otto made good business sense.
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.
To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our Lidar and software represents just our good work.
While I cannot erase the past, I can commit, on behalf of every Uber employee, that we will learn from it, and it will inform our actions going forward. I’ve told Alphabet that the incredible people at Uber ATG are focused on ensuring that our development represents the very best of Uber’s innovation and experience in self-driving technology.
As we change the way we operate and put integrity at the core of every decision we make, we look forward to the great race to build the future. We believe that race should be fair — and one whose ultimate winners are people, cities and our environment.