Google files lawsuit against Uber over self-driving car designs

The tech company’s self-driving car firm Waymo is suing Uber after one of its former employees allegedly stole 14,000 confidential, registered design files.

Waymo self-driving car

Update 12 February 2018: Uber and Waymo have now reached a settlement over claims that autonomous car startup Otto, which is owned by Uber, stole trade secrets and intellectual property from Waymo. As part of the agreement Uber is giving a 0.34% stake of the company to Waymo, which is worth approximately $245m (£177m). In a statement about the settlement, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says: “We agree that Uber’s acquisition of Otto could and should have been handled differently.”

Google’s self-driving car brand, Waymo, is taking legal action against Otto, the autonomous car startup acquired by Uber in 2016.

Waymo claims that one of its former managers, Anthony Levandowski, stole “trade secrets and intellectual property” when he left the company to co-found Otto in 2016. The startup was then bought by Uber later that year, with Levandowski being appointed as head of self-driving technology.

“Given the overwhelming facts that our technology has been stolen, we have no choice but to defend our investment and development of this unique technology,” says Waymo in a blog post on its website.

14,000 confidential files

The lawsuit alleges that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files six weeks before his resignation.

The alleged files relate to Waymo’s custom-built Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, which uses light reflection to help self-driving cars detect nearby obstacles such as other cars, pedestrians or cyclists.

Waymo also claims that other former employees, who now work at Otto and Uber, downloaded additional confidential information including its LiDAR supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work featuring highly technical information.

“Akin to stealing a secret recipe”

Waymo says: “Hundreds of Waymo engineers have spent thousands of hours, and our company has invested millions of dollars, to design a highly specialised and unique LiDAR system… Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company.”

In response to Waymo filing the lawsuit, Uber says: “We are incredibly proud of the progress that our team has made. We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court. In the meantime, we will continue our hard work to bring self-driving benefits to the world.”

It is not yet confirmed if the case will go to court.

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