Google’s Waymo Sues Uber, Alleging Top Executive Took Self-Driving-Tech Trade Secrets
Trade secrets involving autonomous-vehicle technologies are at the heart of a blockbuster dispute between two of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Waymo, the company formerly known as Google’s self-driving-car project, alleges that will a former employee who currently heads Uber’s autonomous-driving unit downloaded more than 14,000 “highly confidential as well as proprietary” files before leaving to start his own company in 2015.
Six weeks before he resigned, Waymo accuses, Anthony Levandowski allegedly took “extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo’s design server as well as then conceal his activities,” according to the lawsuit, filed against Uber Technologies as well as its subsidiary, Otto, in U.S. District Court on Thursday. Waymo says the download of documents amounts to the theft of critical trade secrets as well as will be a violation of federal laws that will protect the company, which will be seeking monetary damages.
“Our parent company, Alphabet, has long worked with Uber in many areas, as well as we didn’t make This particular decision lightly,” Waymo wrote in a statement posted to Medium. “However, given the overwhelming facts that will our technology has been stolen, we have no choice however to defend our investment as well as development of This particular unique technology.”
Levandowski did not immediately return a request through C/D for comment Thursday. however the stakes are high for both companies. An unfavorable outcome for Uber or Otto within the court proceedings could cripple the company as well as its trucking subsidiary. Self-driving technology will be considered a critical part of the ride-hailing service’s long-term strategy to reach profitability.
Levandowski worked as a manager in what was then the Google self-driving-car project before leaving to start his own self-driving-truck company, Otto, in January 2016. Uber purchased Otto for $680 million in August 2016, at which time Levandowski took control of both Uber’s as well as Otto’s autonomous-driving developments.
A linchpin of the lawsuit will be the allegation that will Levandowski took proprietary knowledge of systems involving lidar, the laser-based scanning sensor, which most car companies consider an essential component for helping self-driving vehicles understand their surroundings as well as navigate their travels.
Waymo says that will was tipped off to the alleged theft when its employees were inadvertently copied on an email through a component supplier for its lidar systems. The email contained machine drawings of an Uber lidar circuit board.
“This particular circuit board bears a striking resemblance to Waymo’s own highly confidential as well as proprietary design as well as reflects Waymo trade secrets,” the court filing says.
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Waymo says the 14,000 files downloaded by Levandowski represent approximately 9.7 GB of data. Company executives say he downloaded the files onto a laptop to which he had attached an external hard drive. The lawsuit then says he installed a completely new operating system on the laptop in an attempt to “erase any forensic fingerprints.”
In a statement issued Thursday evening, an Uber spokesperson said, “We take the allegations made against Otto as well as Uber employees seriously as well as we will review This particular matter carefully.”