Google's Waymo sues Uber for stealing trade secrets and patent infringement

Alphabet's Waymo files suit against Uber for self-driving car patent infringement

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Waymo, the company formerly known as Google's self-driving auto project, alleges that a former employee who now heads Uber's autonomous driving unit downloaded more than 14,000 "highly confidential and proprietary" files before leaving to start his own company in 2015.

The complaint said that Uber and Otto, acquired by the ride services company in August, stole confidential information on Waymo's lidar sensor technology.

"Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company", Alphabet said in a statement. Uber bought Otto for $680 million a year ago, and Levandowski is now overseeing Uber's effort to develop and dispatch cars driven by robots.

Waymo, the self-driving auto division of Alphabet, has filed a lawsuit against Uber and its self-driving truck division, Otto, over allegations of intellectual property misappropriation.

One of the linchpins of the lawsuit involves allegations that Levandowski took proprietary knowledge of systems involving lidar, the laser-based scanning sensor that most auto companies consider an essential component for helping self-driving vehicles understand their surroundings and navigate their travels.

Google's program started almost eight years ago, back when self-driving cars were more a sci-fi project than realistic transportation alternative. Uber acquired Otto, and put Levandowski in charge of the rideshare company's autonomous-vehicle research division. Last September, Uber enacted a pilot program using self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.


More specifically, the blog post claims that six weeks before his resignation Levandowski gained access to Waymo's design server, searched for and installed specialised software onto his company-issued laptop, downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo's files, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation and then connected an external drive to the laptop.

In its lawsuit, Waymo also says its former employees who left to join Levandowski's new venture brought proprietary information with them.

The suit alleges that a week after downloading the files and after removing a data storage card, Levandowski reformatted the company laptop to erase any trace of what happened to the downloaded data. Without the alleged skullduggery, Waymo alleges that Levandowski and the other former Google employees wouldn't have been able to build the Otto technology that generated the windfall from the Uber sale.

"Instead of developing their own technology in this new space, Defendants stole Waymo's long-term investments and property", the suit claims.

"This circuit board bears a striking resemblance to Waymo's own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets", the court filing says. Most recently, a former employee claimed to have faced sexual harassment and discrimination while employed there.

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