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Self-Driving Cars: Legal War Heats Up Between Waymo And Uber

a photo of a lawyer holding a book on self-driving car technology amid the war between Google and Waymo

Google has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets in the current war of the self-driving car technology. Alphabet, their parent company, has filed papers against Uber Technologies over the secrets used to launch its own autonomous vehicle program.

Alphabet has pinpointed Anthony Levandowski, a key player in the Google self-driving car project, and accused him of secretly downloading 14,000 files before running off to startup self-driving truck firm Otto, which was acquired by Uber last year. The Google self-driving car project—now titled Waymo—states that they developed a laser sensor for self-driving car technology navigation which is now being used by Uber Technologies. Based on the content of the lawsuit filed by Alphabet in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Waymo also claims that other former employees—who are now evidently working at Uber—allegedly downloaded supplier lists, manufacturing details and other confidential information.

Waymo Amid the Current Self-Driving Car Technology Issue

The Wall Street Journal states that Waymo’s complaint said the “defendants leveraged stolen information to shortcut the process and purportedly build a comparable (laser sensor) system in only nine months.” So far, Uber has declined to comment on the situation. Nevertheless, they’ve disclosed that they are investigating the claims. One of their spokeswomen said, “We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”

Waymo declares that it spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours to develop the laser-sensor system. The company states that “misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company”. Waymo also claims that trade secrets were not the only things that they were robbed of. They say that the “circuit board designs for Waymo’s lidar, or light detection and ranging system used to guide a vehicle” were also stolen.

Also, Waymo claims that a month before Levandowski left the company in January 2016, he “took extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo’s design server and then conceal his activities”. Nevertheless, reports say that Uber bought Otto for $680 million shortly after Levandowski received a multimillion-dollar compensation check from Alphabet in August 2016.

The lawsuit is the latest in a long line of problems to affect the once strong relationship between two of the leading technology companies in the world.

Google, Uber, and the Future Self-Driving Car Technology

Google initially sowed $258 million of investment into Uber. And there was a strong partnership forged between executives of the two companies. However, the relationship soured as Uber started to expand and innovate.

Far beyond the self-driving car technology issue, Uber has started to develop its own mapping software, rather than using Google Maps, and launched a delivery service that competes with its rival. Meanwhile, Google has jumped on the ride-sharing service sector and has taken Uber head on.

It remains to be seen what the outcome of this legal battle is, but what’s certain is it will become a benchmark for how technology companies hire, fire and use their staff force—and protect their design for self-driving car technology in the future.

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