Waymo sues Uber and Otto for theft of trade secrets

John Krafcik CEO of Waymo the autonomous vehicle company created by Google's parent company introduces a Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo's own suite of sensors and radar at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 8

Waymo, the self-driving vehicle unit inside Google's umbrella company Alphabet, today announced that it has filed a lawsuit against Uber, alleging that parts of Uber's autonomous driving technology, specifically LiDAR, infringe on patents held by Waymo.

The complaint cites evidence that Levandowski, a former manager in Google's self-driving auto project, loaded 14,000 confidential files on a laptop before leaving to start his own company in 2016.

The Alphabet subsidiary seeks an undefined amount of monetary damages and an injunction against Otto-which was co-founded by Anthony Levandowski, a former executive of Google's self-driving project-from using patented technology owned by Wayne.

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Also on Friday, Otto got a new competitor in the self-driving truck game.

Waymo contends other former Google employees also stole trade secrets before leaving to join Otto. Instead, Otto and Uber have taken Waymo's intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of independently developing their own technology, Waymo wrote in the complaint it filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

LiDAR - or Light Detection and Ranging - works by bouncing millions of laser beams off nearby objects and measuring how long it takes the light to reflect.




"Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company", Alphabet said in a statement.

Waymo said it made a decision to take action after it was "inadvertently" copied in on an email from a supplier which included drawings of an Otto circuit board which bore a "striking resemblance" to Waymo's own.

If Waymo's suit has merit, it could significantly hamper Uber's self-driving plans, given that Levandowski oversees all of Uber's autonomous efforts and Otto's tech is at its core. "However, given the overwhelming facts that our technology has been stolen, we have no choice but to defend our investment and development of this unique technology".

After the acquisition, Uber put Levandowski at the head of its self-driving efforts.

Allegedly, Levandowski acted at the direction of Uber when, in late 2015, he accessed Waymo's design server and downloaded 9.7GB worth of documents and data related to the LiDAR system.

The complaint cites evidence Levandowski loaded 14,000 confidential files on a laptop before leaving to Otto. Waymo describes the LiDAR as "one of the most powerful parts" of its self-driving technology and added that "hundreds of Waymo engineers have spent thousands of hours, and the company has invested millions of dollars to design a highly specialised and unique LiDAR system". An unfavorable outcome for Uber or Otto in the court proceedings could cripple the company and its trucking subsidiary. "Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints", the post on Medium alleges.

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