Uber fires back at Google spinoff in self-driving car case

Phillip Butler
April 8, 2017

Uber said in a federal court filing that 14,000 of Waymo's computer files on autonomous technology never ended up on its servers, despite Waymo's claim that its former executive, Anthony Levandowski, stole them before joining Uber.

The court filing on Friday comes in response to Waymo's request last month for a federal judge to halt Uber's self-driving auto efforts.

Levandowski is one of the most experienced self-driving auto engineers in Silicon Valley, and the loss of his expertise would be a major blow to Uber, which has said autonomous vehicles are crucial to future growth.

In any case, the documents filed on April 7 claim that there are significant differences in the light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology at issue.

"To hinder Uber's continued progress in its independent development of an in-house lidar that is fundamentally different than Waymo's, when Uber has not used any of Waymo's trade secrets, would impede Uber's efforts to remain a viable business, stifle the talent and ingenuity that are the primary drivers of this emerging industry, and risk delaying the implementation of technology that could prevent vehicle accidents", Uber said in Friday's filing.

Waymo countered that it has "clear evidence" that Uber is using, or plans to use, stolen trade secrets to develop in-house LiDAR tech.

"This circuit board bears a striking resemblance to Waymo's own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets", Waymo's complaint reads.

Waymo sought an injunction requiring the return of its documents and a halt to Uber's use of the allegedly stolen technology - a move that could fatally handicap Uber in the heated race to commercialize self-driving vehicles. In fact, Waymo is now in the middle of arbitration with Levandowski - which began in October - whom they accused of using confidential information to poach employees for competing companies. He declined to provide information to Uber, his employer.

Waymo's attorneys assert that not only do Uber's attorneys have sufficient access to Levandowski to retrieve these files, but that Uber is liable for his actions, since the company would have benefited from any trade secrets the executive allegedly brought to the competing ride-hail company from Alphabet.

Waymo has accused two other former Google employees of allegedly downloading proprietary files. In the case of another document, a checklist, Kshirsagar said he may have forwarded them to a personal device for review while working at Waymo, but has not accessed them since he left the company. Four months later, he co-founded Otto, which was then acquired by Uber in August for $680 million. "I have not used any confidential Google/Waymo documents or information in my work for Uber and/or Otto", Kshirsagar's statement says.

The ride-hail giant also filed three additional documents with its response. The third declaration was from the head of a New York-based digital forensics lab.

Uber's defense doesn't dispute that Levandowski stole the files; it just says that those files never made it to Uber's servers, and didn't influence the design of Uber's LIDAR. That means he isn't cooperating in the search.

U.S. District Judge William A. Alsup has repeatedly admonished Uber and Levandowski in court hearings for being unwilling or unable to flatly deny Waymo's allegations.

Angela Padilla, Uber's associate general counsel, called Waymo's request a "misfire".

Other reports by Ligue1talk

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