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Google’s self-driving car division sues Uber for stealing top-secret technical information

Published Feb 23rd, 2017 7:21PM EST
Self Driving Cars Waymo

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As the battle to bring self-driving car technology into the mainstream intensifies, it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see a discernible increase in the number of intra-industry lawsuits. Not too long after Tesla sued its former director of Autopilot software for stealing “‘hundreds of gigabytes” of proprietary information comes a similar lawsuit, this one involving Alphabet’s Waymo division, Uber and Otto.

In a blog post published on Medium this afternoon, Alphabet’s Waymo team explains why they’re suing both Uber and Otto, the latter being a self-driving truck company started by ex-Googlers that Uber acquired last year.

The thrust of the suit is that Otto founder Anthony Levandowski, a former member of the Waymo team, downloaded huge volumes of proprietary technical data pertaining to Waymo’s self-driving technology.

Waymo became aware of the alleged theft after noticing via happenstance that Uber’s LiDAR circuit board “bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design.”

The post reads in part:

[Levandowski] downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.

Interestingly, this type of theft is exactly what Tesla accused its former Autopilot director of doing.

In any event, Waymo writes that a number of other former team members, who now currently work at Otto and Uber, engaged in similar behavior. Hardly isolated incidents, Waymo argues that it was all part of a well-coordinated plan to steal Waymo’s intellectual property for monetary gain.

“Our parent company Alphabet has long worked with Uber in many areas, and we didn’t make this decision lightly,” the post reads. “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.”

The full complaint can be read here.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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