Google’s parent company Alphabet is suing Uber Technologies, alleging Uber stole trade secrets to jump-start its own autonomous vehicle program. ((Tim Higgins & Jack Nicas, Alphabet’s Waymo Sues Uber Over Self-Driving Car Secrets, Wall Street Journal (Feb. 23, 2017), https://www.wsj.com/articles/alphabets-waymo-sues-uber-over-self-driving-car-secrets-1487894378.)) Waymo, the Alphabet-owned self-driving truck company, has filed against Otto, a self-driving truck company, and its parent company, Uber. ((Darrell Etherington, Waymo Sues Uber and Otto for Theft of Trade Secrets, TechCrunch (Feb. 23, 2017), https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/23/waymo-sues-uber-and-otto-for-theft-of-trade-secrets/.)) The suit revolves around former Google employee Anthony Levandowski. Levandowski left Google in 2016 to form his own self-driving truck company, Otto. ((Mike Isaac & Daisuke Wakabayshi, A Lawsuit Against Uber Highlights the Rush to Conquer Driverless Cars, New York Times (Feb. 24, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/technology/anthony-levandowski-waymo-uber-google-lawsuit.html?_r=2.)) About six-months later, Uber purchased Otto from Levandowski, with Levandowski becoming Uber’s vice president heading self-driving car project. ((Id.)) Waymo filed suit on February 23 in federal court, accusing Levandowski and Uber of planning to steal trade secrets. ((Id.))
The suit alleges that Levandowski “secretly downloaded 14,000 proprietary technical files before leaving to found self-driving truck startup Otto.” ((Aarian Marshall, Google’s Robocar Lawsuit Could Kill Uber’s Future and Send Execs to Prison, Wired (Feb. 28, 2017), https://www.wired.com/2017/02/googles-robocar-lawsuit-kill-ubers-future-send-execs-prison/.)) Google and Uber are in fierce competition in the self-driving car arena and engineers with Levandowski’s experience in the area are hard to find and highly desired by car companies. ((Isaac & Wakabayshi, supra note 3.)) If either company pulls ahead of the other on the innovation front for self-driving cars, that company could obtain a monopoly over the rest of the field.
Waymo says that it has found evidence that Uber has been using part of its custom, in-house LIDAR sensor design. ((Etherington, supra note 2.)) The LIDAR sensors are a combination of unique laser systems that provide information for the operation of self-driving vehicles. ((Id.)) The company claims that Levandowski obtained its proprietary LIDAR circuit board design from the 14,000 files he stole. ((Id.)) Waymo only discovered that Uber had very similar LIDAR circuit board technology in its self-driving cars when a supplier accidentally copied the two on emails containing a circuit board design that looked like its own. ((Id.))
Uber said in a statement that the lawsuit is an attempt to slow down the competition in the self-driving car industry and that the claim is baseless. ((Isaac & Wakabayshi, supra note 3.)) Levandowski sent an internal email to Uber employees after the suit was filed stating that he did not steal any of Google’s intellectual property relating to its self-driving cars and that self-driving technology has been his passion since he was in college. ((Id.)) However, there is evidence that supports the current suit as stated above. ((Marshall, supra note 6.)) There are also details about how many gigs of data Levandowski allegedly downloaded from Google’s server. ((Id.)) It seems like a hard suit for Uber to dispute because there is forensic evidence backing the claim.
If Google does win the suit, the company could receive the approximately half-billion dollars that it is seeking for its stolen ideas. The figure is based on how much Uber paid to acquire Otto and the self-driving technology. ((Id.)) There is discretion for the court to figure out the final amount if Google wins the suit because this is the first of its kind. ((Id.)) If Uber loses the suit, its future in the self-driving car arena may come to a halt. The future of Uber in the self-driving car arena is unknown and the future of the company could be damaged if the outcome is not positive. Stay tuned in the coming months as the suit unfolds.
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