Alphabet’s self-driving car unit sues Uber with trade theft charge

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By Alexandria Sage | SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO Alphabet Inc’s Waymo
self-driving car unit sued Uber Technologies and its
autonomous trucking subsidiary Otto on Thursday over allegations
of theft of its confidential and proprietary sensor technology.

Waymo accused Uber and Otto, acquired by the ride services
company in August, with stealing confidential information on
Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology to help speed its own efforts in
autonomous technology.

“Uber’s LiDAR technology is actually Waymo’s LiDAR
technology,” said Waymo’s complaint in the Northern District of

Uber said it took “the allegations made against Otto and
Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter

Lidar, which uses light pulses reflected off objects to
gauge their position on or near the road, is a crucial component
of autonomous driving systems. Previous systems have been
prohibitively expensive and Waymo sought to design one over 90
percent cheaper, making its Lidar technology among the company’s “most valuable assets,” Waymo said.

Waymo is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a
court order preventing Uber from using its proprietary

Otto launched with much fanfare in May, due in part to the
high profile of one of its co-founders, Anthony Levandowski, who
had been an executive on Google’s self-driving project. Uber
acquired the company in August for what Waymo said in the
lawsuit was $680 million.

Waymo said that before Levandowski’s resignation in January
2016 from Google, whose self-driving unit was renamed Waymo in
December, he downloaded over 14,000 confidential files,
including Lidar circuit board designs, thereby allowing Uber and
Otto to fast-track its self-driving technology.

Waymo accused Levandowski of attempting to “erase any
forensic fingerprints” via a reformat of his laptop.

“While Waymo developed its custom LiDAR systems with
sustained effort over many years, defendants leveraged stolen
information to shortcut the process and purportedly build a
comparable LiDAR system in only nine months,” the complaint

Last month, Tesla Inc electric car company sued the
former head of its Autopilot system. It said he tried to recruit
Tesla engineers for his new venture with the former head of
Google’s self-driving program while still working there, and
said he stole proprietary data belonging to Tesla.

Waymo’s lawsuit said it learned of this use of trade secrets
and patent infringement after it was inadvertently copied on an
email from a component vendor that included a design of Uber’s
Lidar circuit board, which bore a “striking resemblance” to
Waymo’s design.

Waymo noted that Google devoted over seven years to
self-driving cars and said Uber’s forays into the technology
through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University had
stalled by early 2016.

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