It's the fight for dominance in the burgeoning market for driverless cars -- and the service they'll provide. The gloves are coming off. There are accusations of subterfuge. On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup slapped restrictions on ride-hailing giant Uber's driverless car research in a trade secrets civil lawsuit filed by archfoe Waymo, Google's autonomous car project. There are hints of criminality.
One: Did former Google engineer and self–driving car whiz Anthony Levandowski swipe documents containing valuable Google intellectual property and bring them to his own startup, which would be acquired by Uber just months later for a reported $680 million? And two: Did Uber executives, including now-ousted CEO Travis Kalanick, conspire with Levandowski to do it, then use that intellectual property to advance their own technology? Now a hotly contested due diligence report, commissioned by Uber, makes it clear that the ride-hailing company knew Levandowski had ill-gotten Google files before it bought his startup and put him in charge of its own self-driving efforts. Question one seems to have its answer, and question two just got a lot more interesting. The firm Stroz Friedberg prepared the report, which Uber used to prep for its 2016 acquisition of Otto, Levandowski's company focused on self–driving truck technology.
A federal judge has ordered Uber to stop using technology that a key executive downloaded before he left Waymo, the Alphabet Inc. autonomous car arm that was spun off from Google. The order filed Monday in a trade secrets theft lawsuit also requires Uber to return all downloaded materials. The high-stakes corporate espionage case revolves around Waymo's allegations that Uber's work on self-driving cars has been riding on trade secrets stolen by a former Waymo engineer, Anthony Levandowski. Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said in Monday's ruling that Waymo has shown compelling evidence that Levandowski downloaded confidential files before leaving Waymo. The judge also said evidence shows that before he left Waymo, Levandowski and Uber planned for Uber to acquire a company formed by Levandowski.
On the surface, a Google subsidiary's blistering accusation last week that Uber has stolen its driverless car technology looks like any of the thousands of patent lawsuits piling up in Silicon Valley court dockets. This one is different, however. And it's different in ways that could spell bad news for Uber. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in San Francisco federal court by Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. devoted to developing self-driving technology. Waymo is responsible for those bug-shaped cars and other vehicles testing the technology around Northern California.