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Did Uber Steal Self-Driving Trade Secrets From Waymo?

April 7, 2017 0 Comments

In response to allegations that it stole trade secrets from Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, Uber says it is in fact using off-the-shelf technology in its self-driving cars.

Six weeks after Waymo launched a lawsuit against the ride-hailing company, Uber claims that it has been wrongly accused. According to a copy of a planned court filing obtained by Bloomberg News, Uber says it doesn’t actually have the 14,000 files of proprietary information that Waymo says it stole. Additionally, Uber claims that it doesn’t need that information to further its self-driving vehicle program, as it is instead utilizing a commercially available navigational sensor system as it develops its own system.

“Waymo’s injunction motion is a misfire: there is no evidence that any of the 14,000 files in question ever touched Uber’s servers and Waymo’s assertion that our multi-lens lidar is the same as their single-lens lidar is clearly false,” said Uber’s associate general counsel, Angela Padilla, in a statement.

Waymo alleges that the head of Uber’s autonomous driving project, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded thousands of confidential files while he was working at the Google unit, and subsequently used that information to launch his own self-driving startup, Otto, which was eventually purchased by Uber for $680 million. Waymo says that Uber’s claim that it never used the 14,000 files is “disingenuous at best, given their refusal to look in the most obvious place: the computers and devices owned by the head of their self-driving program.”

“We’re asking the court to step in based on clear evidence that Uber is using, or plans to use, our trade secrets to develop their lidar technology, as seen in both circuit board blueprints and filings in the state of Nevada,” Waymo said in a statement.

In court hearings, U.S. District Judge William A. Alsup said he has never seen a stronger record in a trade secrets case, and warned Uber’s lawyers that he’s leaning toward issuing a court order that would prohibit the company’s use of the disputed technology. Alsup even said that he is considering barring Levandowski from working on Uber’s self-driving program until the court battle has been resolved.

However, Uber claims that it has never installed a lidar of its own design on a vehicle, stating that its main supplier for lidar for its autonomous vehicles is California-based Velodyne Lidar Inc.

“To hinder Uber’s continued progress in its independent development of an in-house LiDAR that is fundamentally different than Waymo’s, when Uber has not used any of Waymo’s trade secrets, would impede Uber’s efforts to remain a viable business, stifle the talent and ingenuity that are the primary drivers of this emerging industry, and risk delaying the implementation of technology that could prevent car accidents,” Uber said. “Ultimately, that would be harmful to the public.”

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