The latest salvo in what could be a very long and drawn out battle between Alphabet-owned self-driving car startup Waymo and Uber comes in a court filing formally asking a federal judge to block Uber from using its self-driving car technology until this suit is resolved. The filing comes just after we learned that Uber had finally received permits from the California DMV to operate two of its autonomous Volvos on public streets something the company did for several days in December without DMV approval.
The lawsuit was filed by Waymo last month, and it alleges that ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, who left the company to launch autonomous trucking outfit Otto with Uber early last year, stole proprietary technology in the process of his departure, and that Uber's entire autonomous car operation is based on that stolen intellectual property.
The emergency injunction filed by Alphabet signals how important the technology is to Waymo's business, as Recode notes, because the company is working to develop its own sensor hardware for vehicles that could then be sold to automakers and others unlike Uber, which tasked a team at Carnegie Mellon to do this for them.
As The Verge reports, Alphabet forensic security engineer Gary Brown testified in federal court Friday that Levandowski "downloaded 14,000 files from a Google repository that contain[ed] design files, schematics, and other confidential information pertaining to its self-driving car project." Brown further testified that Levandowski used his personal laptop to download the files, and it was relatively easy to track.
At issue was Alphabet's effort to develop the proprietary LiDAR technology (laser radar) that is essential to autonomous navigation, and also testifying today was principal hardware engineer Pierre-Yves Droz, who explained to the court how that technology was developed. According to The Verge, Droz says Levandowski told him in a conversation on January 5, 2016 that "he planned to ‘replicate’ this Waymo technology at his new company.”
Within weeks he would be an employee of Uber, and Uber would have agreed to acquire Otto for $680 million.
One expert tells The Verge that if, after inevitable appeals, Waymo/Alphabet prevails in this case, the fines levied upon Levandowski and Uber could "staggering."