Alphabet subsidiary Waymo has filed a lawsuit against ride-hailing company Uber and its self-driving technology unit Otto for infringement and theft of trade secrets.
Otto, a self-driving start-up founded by two former Google employees, Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron, was acquired by Uber in 2016 for $680m.
Waymo in a statement alleged that Anthony Levandowski had illegally downloaded over 14,000 confidential design files pertaining to self-driving vehicle and LiDAR technology, which is roughly 9.7GB of data. Otto’s LiDAR system was a key driver in Uber’s acquisition of the company.
The Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system plays a crucial role in its self-driving vehicle, which helps in visualising the surrounding world by using lasers that bounce off surrounding objects. It helps in detecting and measuring the shape, distance, speed and movement of objects on roads such as other vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, and street signs.
Recently, Waymo stated that it received an email from one of its LiDAR suppliers and in the email, by coincidence, included Uber’s design of a LiDAR circuit board.
This circuit design, according to Waymo, bears a close resemblance to its own designs, which are highly confidential and patent protected.
Levandowki allegedly downloaded these files six months before quitting from the company. Months before he resigned from the company he allegedly claimed to have revealed to his colleagues at Waymo his intention to ‘replicate’ the technology at another competing company.
Waymo claims that it has invested millions of dollars in the design of unique LiDAR systems suited specifically for its needs. Waymo also added that over the years, its engineers worked on improving the reliability and performance of the LiDAR system while driving the costs down.
In its allegations, the company also noted that Uber began a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University in February, 2015 to develop a LiDAR system of its own but the partnership came to a halt.
In statement, Waymo said: “We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property.
“We’re seeking an injunction to stop the misappropriation of our designs, return all trade secret information and cease infringing our patents.
“Our parent company Alphabet has long worked with Uber in many areas, and we didn’t make this decision lightly. However, given the overwhelming facts that our technology has been stolen, we have no choice but to defend our investment and development of this unique technology.”