Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project, is suing Otto and its parent company Uber, charging that the two mis-appropriated Waymo trade secrets and infringed Waymo patents. The complaint was filed on Thursday in US District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco Division.
Waymo said that a key element of its self-driving technology is is custom-built LiDAR.
Hundreds of Waymo engineers have spent thousands of hours, and our company has invested millions of dollars to design a highly specialized and unique LiDAR system. Waymo engineers have driven down the cost of LiDAR dramatically even as we’ve improved the quality and reliability of its performance. The configuration and specifications of our LiDAR sensors are unique to Waymo. Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company.
In 2016, Uber acquired Otto, a new startup focused on autonomous driving for trucks, and appointed its founder Anthony Levandowski—a former employee of the Google self-driving car project—as Uber’s head of self-driving technology.
Waymo asserted that an email attachment inadvertently sent by a LiDAR component supplier contained machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s LiDAR circuit board — except its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design.
Waymo asserted that it then discovered that six weeks before his resignation Levandowski, downloaded more than 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. Waymo further charged that other former Waymo employees, now at Uber and Otto, downloaded additional confidential information.
We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property. Months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to “replicate” Waymo’s technology at a competitor.
There are many more details in our complaint, which outlines unlawful misappropriation of our trade secrets, patent infringement and unfair competition. We’re seeking an injunction to stop the misappropriation of our designs, return all trade secret information and cease infringing our patents.
Our parent company Alphabet has long worked with Uber in many areas, and we didn’t make this decision lightly. However, 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.