Uber Is Paying About $245 Million to Settle a Major Lawsuit With Google

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Uber is settling a lawsuit filed by Google’s autonomous car unit alleging that the ride-hailing service ripped off self-driving car technology.

Both sides in the case issued statements confirming the settlement Friday morning in the midst of a federal court trial in the case.

Google’s Waymo unit says Uber agreed to take steps to make sure Waymo technology isn’t used in Uber’s autonomous vehicles. Waymo says Uber also agreed to pay about $245 million.

Uber’s CEO 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.

Crytek sues Star Citizen developers over game engine

Star Citizen‘s lengthy and heavily crowd-funded development has been marked by numerous changes to the project’s direction and scope, including a move from Crytek’s CryEngine to Amazon’s Lumberyard in late 2016. That change is now the focus of a lawsuit from Crytek, which accuses Star Citizen developers Roberts Space Industries (RSI) and Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) of copyright infringement and breach of contract.

The complaint, filed in the US District Court for Central California, lays out how RSI agreed to work exclusively with CryEngine in a 2012 agreement, an agreement it says was broken when RSI moved to Amazon’s Lumberyard engine in late 2016.

In a blog post following that transition, RSI’s Chris Roberts explained that Lumberyard was essentially a more promising fork of an earlier CryEngine build that fit better as a base for “StarEngine,” his name for the “heavily modified” version of CryEngine the developers were then using. “Crytek doesn’t have the resources to compete with this level of investment and have never been focused on the network or online aspects of the engine in the way we or Amazon are,” Roberts wrote.

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Uber Faces Federal Probe for Corporate Espionage

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Federal prosecutors are investigating allegations that Uber deployed an espionage team to plunder trade secrets from its rivals. The revelation triggered a delay in a high-profile trial over whether the beleaguered ride-hailing service stole self-driving car technology from a Google spinoff.

The probe under way at the U.S. Justice Department centers on a 37-page letter that described allegations made by Richard Jacobs, Uber’s former manager of global intelligence. Jacobs had the letter sent in May to an Uber lawyer. The letter contended that Jacobs had been wrongfully demoted and then fired for trying to stop the company’s alleged misconduct.

The investigation hadn’t been publicly known until Tuesday, when it surfaced in a court hearing that was supposed to set the stage for a trial pitting Uber against Waymo, a self-driving car pioneer that started within Google eight years ago.

The hearing instead quickly turned into a forum raising more questions about Uber’s ethics and corporate culture. Over the past year, Uber has been rocked by revelations of rampant sexual harassment inside the company, technological trickery designed to thwart regulators and a yearlong cover-up of a hacking attack that stole the personal information of 57 million passengers and 600,000 drivers.

Jacobs, whose lawyer wrote the letter at the center of the courtroom drama, testified Tuesday that Uber had set up a secret unit to steal trade secrets from its rivals overseas. He didn’t specify which competitors Uber had targeted, but said some of the stolen information involved drivers. His allegations had been kept under wraps until the Justice Department passed them along to U.S. District Judge William Alsup last week.

To protect itself against potential trouble, Uber frequently communicated on a service called Wickr that automatically erases messages, according to Jacobs. The company also relied on a surreptitious computer system to eliminate all digital trails, and dispatched its security team to train self-driving car engineers in Pittsburgh how to conceal their electronic tracks, Jacobs testified.

Uber’s espionage team also hired contractors who employed former CIA agents to help with its surveillance, according to Jacobs.

Pressed under questioning, Jacobs acknowledged that the letter also alleged that Uber had stolen trade secrets from Waymo, as well as other intellectual property in the U.S.

But Jacobs said that his lawyer was mistaken in making that allegation. He insisted he didn’t know anything about Uber’s espionage team trying to steal anything in the U.S., explaining he missed the purported mistake because he spent only about 20 minutes reviewing it while he was on vacation with his wife.

Uber paid Jacobs $4.5 million as part of a confidential settlement after his firing, Jacobs said while being grilled by Waymo lawyer Charles Verhoeven. Part of that settlement can be withheld if Jacobs violates a provision requiring him not to say anything that would harm Uber.

“It is possible that he has been bought off by Uber,” Alsup said of Jacobs at one point during Tuesday’s drama.

Alsup described the allegations in the letter as “scandalous” and lashed out at Uber’s legal team for not informing him about them before he was notified by the Justice Department. “I can’t trust anything you say because it has been proven wrong so many times,” Alsup told Uber attorney Arturo Gonzalez. The judge also called Uber’s espionage team “a plumber’s unit doing bad deeds.”

Gonzalez repeatedly tried to persuade Alsup that the allegations in Jacobs’ letter had nothing to do with Waymo’s case against Uber. The lawyer also argued that the company used secretive communications channels for employee safety reasons. But the judge wasn’t swayed.

“There is a 50-50 chance that this is going to turn out very bad for Uber,” Alsup said. “And there is a 50-50 chance that this will turn out to be a dry hole.”

In a statement defending itself, Uber pointed to Jacobs’ testimony the he wasn’t aware of the company stealing any of Waymo’s trade secrets. “None of the testimony (Tuesday) changes the merits of the case,” Uber said.

Alsup postponed the scheduled Dec. 4 start of the Waymo-Uber trial to give Waymo more time to gather evidence. He didn’t immediately set a new trial date.

Waymo is alleging that Uber has been building its own fleet of self-driving cars by using trade secrets taken by former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski. Uber paid $680 million last year for a self-driving vehicle startup founded by Levandowski after he left Waymo in January 2016.

The latest bombshell to drop on Uber came as the company tried to complete a $10 billion sale of its privately held stock.

Softbank, the Japanese firm leading the proposed investment, is proposing to buy the shares at a 30 percent discount from Uber’s previous valuation of roughly $68 billion, according to multiple media reports citing unnamed people familiar with the terms. The markdown stems, in part, from the turmoil that has stained Uber’s reputation and opened opportunities for rivals such as Lyft to lure away alienated passengers looking for alternative rides.

Microsoft drops lawsuit after DOJ limits use of gag orders when accessing customer data

 Microsoft said it will drop its lawsuit against the Department of Justice over gag orders placed on companies that prevent them from telling customers when their personal data has been accessed by investigators. Its decision comes after the DOJ issued a new binding policy that requires prosecutors to give more detailed reasons when applying for a gag order and makes it much harder to seek one… Read More

DMCA takedown removes River City Random Underground from Steam

River City Ransom Underground was removed from Steam late last week, part of an unfolding legal drama surrounding a composer who has been directing DMCA copyright-infringement takedowns at games she says don’t have the rights to her music.

Conatus’ Andrew Russell, one of the developers of River City Ransom Underground, said in a short statement that “we are aware that RCRU is down on Steam. We have contacted Valve’s copyright department, and will let you know when access is restored.” But composer Alex Mauer confirmed to Destructoid that the removal was the result of a Digital Millenium Copyright Act request she made against the title.

“Conatus never got my written permission to use my music in the game,” Mauer told the site. “As far as I know, they have Disasterpeace’s [one of the game’s composers] signature and are trying to act like that alone is enough to have secured rights.”

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Halo-inspired fan-game gets conditional thumbs up from Microsoft

When you write about the game industry for a while, you end up writing about fan game projects that have been shut down by the original publishers with depressing frequency. Everyone from Square Enix to Blizzard to Nintendo (especially Nintendo) has sent cease-and-desist letters to passionate fans over games based on the companies’ popular properties. The companies often cite the need to protect their legal copyrights to characters and related works.

So it’s nice when we’re occasionally able to write about a fan game that actually gets some level of tacit approval from the developer of the original title. That’s what is happening with Installation 01, a Halo fan-game project being built in Unity in order to recapture the classic feel of Halo 2 and Halo 3 for Windows, Mac, and Linux players. Apparently, the team behind that game has worked out an arrangement to continue development without any legal trouble from the Halo-makers at 343 Industries or its corporate parent Microsoft.

The Installation 01 team wrote in a community update this week that they have been “maintaining a level of contact with 343 Industries over the past several months,” eventually culminating in a meet-and-greet to talk about details of the project and its legal status. After what the team calls an “incredibly informational and very positive” phone call, they say, “We have been ensured that Installation 01 is not under imminent legal threat, provided we remain non-commercial in nature and scope and continue to follow Microsoft’s Game Content Usage Rules to the letter.”

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ZeniMax to judge: Block Oculus sales or give us 20%

Earlier this year, ZeniMax won a $500 million judgment against Facebook-owned Oculus and many of its executives for illegal use of ZeniMax’s VR technology and copyrights. That wasn’t the end of Oculus’ legal trouble, though. The company is now fighting off a proposed injunction that is seeking to bar the sale of any hardware or software “derived” from ZeniMax’s technology or to enforce a 10-year, 20-percent royalty to ZeniMax on that hardware.

US District Judge Ed Kinkeade of the Southern District of Texas heard arguments in that injunction case Tuesday, and he also addressed a ZeniMax request for an additional $500 million in false designation damages and lawyer’s fees. In court filings, ZeniMax argues that “the jury verdict clearly establishes that Oculus wrongly obtained ZeniMax VR technology under the NDA and used it… to establish a business that would not have existed without ZeniMax.”

While Oculus’ sale to Facebook “[made] tycoons out of the individual Defendants,” ZeniMax writes, the company “never received a penny for its investment in this revolutionary technology—even though it was ZeniMax that had proven its value to the world long before Defendants ever came along.” The company also points to specific language in the Oculus/ZeniMax NDA that establishes an injunction would be called for if that agreement was broken.

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Federal court decides that Adobe can’t stay under a gag order over search warrant forever

Adobe Systems world headquarters in downtown San Jose, California According to newly unsealed documents, a federal court in California ruled that it is unlawful for Adobe to remain under an indefinite gag order regarding a search warrant for one of its users. In the ruling, the Los Angeles court concluded that the government had not made a sufficient argument to support the ongoing nature of a gag order it issued to Adobe in 2016. Read More