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.
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.
The biggest Silicon Valley legal battle in years pits a highflying startup against a tech behemoth, in a case that has already yielded a year of drama and legal wrangling. Waymo's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges Uber ransacked the tech giant's driverless-car design secrets after paying about $680 million in 2016 to buy autonomous-truck company Otto, founded by a former star engineer at Google, Anthony Levandowski.