Google Takes the Driver’s Seat in Its Suit Against Uber

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The accidental push of a “send” button has Google zealously fighting to protect its exclusive driverless car technology.  On February 23, 2017, Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo LLC (“Waymo”), filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California against self-driving truck startup, OttoMotto LLC and Otto Trucking (collectively, “Otto”), and its parent company Uber Technologies Inc. (“Uber”).  Waymo is accusing Uber of taking trade secrets and infringing patents over its proprietary laser system used for driverless cars after mistakenly receiving an email that exposed Uber’s alleged stealing.  Experts predict that the driverless car industry could one day be worth trillions so it’s no wonder that Google will put up a tough fight to keep what it believes is rightfully theirs. The system at the heart of the lawsuit is called LiDAR, which helps guide driverless vehicles and is related to its light detection and ranging radar. LiDAR measures distance using laser light to generate highly precise 3-D maps of the world around the car.

Waymo alleges in its complaint that its IP in LiDAR was stolen by a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, who started his own driverless truck company, Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016 for $680 million. Allegedly, Levandowski covertly stole 14,000 files from Google before he quit to begin his startup.  The complaint states that Waymo learned of the purported stealing last December when it was accidentally copied on an email from one of its LiDAR component vendors which included an attachment of an Uber circuit board that “bears a striking resemblance to Waymo’s own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets.” The laser-radar system which Waymo claims was stolen makes up the crucial component of what makes a self-driving car drive itself.

On March 10, Waymo asked the Hon. Judge William Alsup to force Uber to stop its work on self-driving cars. According to Law360, Waymo filed a 25-page preliminary injunction bid which asked the court to “prohibit Uber from accessing or using any of Waymo’s trade secrets related to the LiDAR systems, and from selling any devices that infringe Waymo’s patent.”  Additionally, Waymo requested that Uber “return any and all confidential information in its possession,” including the 14,000 documents that Levandowski and his colleagues allegedly stole before leaving the company.

According to Law360, Waymo claims to have pioneered LiDAR systems that are now the most popular and affordable technology for self-driving car companies. The case is Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc. et al, 3:17-cv-00939.

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