Waymo, Uber battle over self-driving car technology theft


07 Feb 2018

Waymo-Uber case: Travis Kalanick doesn't deny "wooing" ex-Waymo engineer

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has testified on the second day in the trial of the high-profile intellectual property lawsuit between Alphabet's Waymo and Uber over the theft of the former's self-driving car technology.

Waymo lawyers pressed on, alleging that Kalanick, using ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, "orchestrated" theft of Waymo's trade secrets.

Uber, however, hasn't reportedly denied acquiring Waymo's documents.

Here's all about it.

Information theft

Google hurls accusations at ex-employees

Waymo alleged that former employee and ace self-driving expert Anthony Levandowski stole trade secrets from Google before abruptly quitting his job and joining Uber.

Levandowski allegedly illegally downloaded over 14,000 "highly confidential and proprietary files" including Waymo's patented LiDAR sensors.

Two other engineers, Sameet Kshirsagar and Radu Raduta, were also charged with appropriating Google's trade secrets before joining Uber.


Laser is the sauce: Kalanick discussed laser-sensor technology with Levandowski

Waymo's lawyers said Kalanick and Levandowski met while the latter was still working for Waymo.

Presenting an Uber visitor-pass (Levandowski's) and notes containing "laser is the sauce", the lawyers said Uber wanted to steal Waymo's laser technology critical to autonomous cars.

Kalanick agreed he met Levandowski, one Waymo's first self-driving car project employees, as he was a "big fan" and wanted to hire him.

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Uber transferred $250mn-worth shares to Lewandowski for Waymo's secrets

Uber transferred $250mn-worth shares to Lewandowski for Waymo's secrets

In May'17, Waymo alleged that Uber transferred five million shares worth over $250mn to Levandowski, on the day he resigned from Waymo, for sensitive technology and patents he stole and gave to Uber.

However, Uber denied patent-infringement charges and asked Waymo to settle matters with Levandowski.

Later, in the same month, Uber fired Levandowski; he failed to assist with the investigation in the lawsuit.


Levandowski founded Otto which was acquired by Uber

Waymo argues that Uber hired Levandowski, who earlier worked in its autonomous car division, to steal its self-driving technology.

It alleged the ex-Waymo employee downloaded files, including blueprints and those containing technical information regarding "LiDAR" that enables cars to see and understand the surroundings and traffic.

After leaving Waymo, Levandowski founded the driverless-truck company "Otto" that was later acquired by Uber within a year.


Waymo's allegations against Levandowski

Waymo's allegations against Levandowski

Waymo alleged that the information theft took place from a secure repository in December 2015, a month before Levandowski left Waymo to form his own company, Otto, in January 2016. In August 2016, Uber acquired Otto for $680 million.

Levandowski, who is in the middle of the lawsuit, has, however, refused to testify, pleading the Fifth Amendment, invoking his right to avoid self-incrimination.

Uber doesn't deny receiving Waymo documents

Uber didn't dispute that it acquired Waymo's documents, but it argued that it did not "gain anything" from them. Uber may have to pay $2 billion in damages to Waymo if found guilty. The ride-hailing company could also be forced to scrap its self-driving program.


Alphabet trying to prove Kalanick's win-at-all-costs attitude

During the trial, Alphabet's lawyer Charles Veerhoven said, "Kalanick (the then CEO of Uber) made a decision that winning was more important than obeying the law."

The Google-parent is trying to prove his "win-at-all-costs attitude" blamed for other Uber issues, including sexual harassment allegations, worker rights lawsuits, and misuse of user data.

Kalanick stepped down in Jun'17; he remains on the company's board.

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