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Waymo– the self-driving company spun out of Google’s parent Alphabet– has filed a lawsuit accusing Uber and its subsidiary Otto of using stolen intellectual property, including key patents covering its proprietary LiDAR system.
In a Medium post explaining the lawsuit, Waymo wrote: “Today, we’re taking legal action against Otto and its parent company Uber for misappropriating Waymo trade secrets and infringing our patents.”
In its filing with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the Google self-driving unit accused a former employee, Anthony Levadowski, of downloading 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary files from Google a month prior to leaving to establish the self-driving truck company Otto in 2016. Otto was acquired by Uber just seven months later for $680 million.
In a twist, Waymo alleges that it was inadvertently copied on an email from a LiDAR supplier to Otto that contained drawings of Uber’s design for a LiDAR circuit board, which bore a striking resemblance to its own secret patents.
In addition, Waymo says that a number of Google employees who subsequently defected to Otto stole additional files containing trade secrets, supplier lists, and manufacturing details before leaving.
LiDAR– short for light detection and ranging– is a self-driving car component that allows vehicles to detect or “see” their surroundings by shooting millions of laser beams off of surrounding objects. Waymo argues that its development was the result of thousands of hours and millions of dollars invested, and likened misappropriating its unique design to “stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company.”
“Otto and Uber have taken Waymo’s intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of independently developing their own technology,” the suit reads. “Ultimately, this calculated theft reportedly netted Otto employees over half a billion dollars and allowed Uber to revive a stalled program, all at Waymo’s expense.”
Interestingly enough, Google is a major investor in Uber. It invested $250 million in Uber in 2013, before it was apparent that the two companies were becoming competitors.
News of the legal action against Uber– a company that is no stranger to lawsuits– caps off a difficult week for the ride-hailing giant. Earlier this week, former Uber employee Susan Fowler claimed she was sexually harassed by a manager and that her subsequent complaints were ignored by HR. Uber has responded by launching an investigation into allegations of workplace sexism, which will be led by former Attorney General Eric Holder.