Google have accused Uber of stealing trade secrets in the self-driving cars war. Their parent company Alphabet has filed papers against Uber Technologies over the secrets used to launch its own autonomous vehicle program.
Alphabet have 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 navigation which is now being used by Uber Technologies.
According to the lawsuit filed by Alphabet in the US District Court in San Francisco, Waymo also claims other former employees who are now working at Uber allegedly downloaded confidential information along with supplier lists and manufacturing details.
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.”
Uber have so far declined to comment on the situation but have said that they are investigating the claims. “We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully,” an Uber spokeswoman said.
Waymo states that it spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars to develop the laser-sensor system and “misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company.”
Waymo claim that not only were trade secrets stolen but also “circuit board designs for Waymo’s lidar, or light detection and ranging system used to guide a vehicle.”
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”.
“took extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo’s design server and then conceal his activities”
Reports say that Uber bought Otto for $680 million shortly after Levandowski received a multimillion dollar compensation check from Alphabet in August 2016.
The law suit 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 initially ploughed $258 million of investment into Uber and there was a strong partnership forging between executives of the two companies. However, as Uber started to expand and innovate the relationship soured.
Far beyond the self-driving cars 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 have 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 technology in the future.