Waymo is Suing Uber For Theft of Intellectual Property

Google's autonomous Alphabet project claims one of Uber's head executives stole secrets regarding self-driving tech developments.

A showtime story has broken out of Waymo's legal department. On Thursday, Google's self-driving project filed a lawsuit against the ride-hailing service, Uber, for theft of "highly confidential and proprietary" documents regarding the company's autonomous technology discoveries. 

According to Waymo, Anthony Levandowski downloaded in excess of 14,000 secret forms. He then reportedly left Waymo staff in 2015 to start his own business, but not before he purportedly took “extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo’s design server and then conceal his activities,” according to the lawsuit. Waymo claims that the supposedly stolen information amounts to a federal crime as they are trade secrets specific to the company.

Waymo wrote in a statement posted to Medium "We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property. Months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to 'replicate' Waymo’s technology at a competitor," later saying "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."

Levandowski is the founder of self-driving-truck startup, Otto, a company that was purchased by Uber in August 2016 for $680 million. Upon purchase, he then became head of both companies' autonomous car projects, putting him in an especially powerful position. 

Waymo reportedly caught wind of the situation by accident. The company is quoted saying "Recently, we received an unexpected email. One of our suppliers specializing in LiDAR components sent us an attachment (apparently inadvertently) of machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s LiDAR circuit board — except its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design."

LiDAR is an essential component to nearly every self-driving system so far. It allows the car to "see" its surroundings and measure ranges between it and obstacles on the road. Such technology is especially important to two companies looking to get first blood in the autonomous driving fleet. 

Don't expect the drama to end here. An Uber spokesperson said, “We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.” 

This will surely carry on throughout the coming weeks. Check back with us as we receive updates from both Uber and Waymo.