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Things between Uber and Alphabet’s Waymo, have only begun to get heated. Just this Friday, Uber made a long-awaited response about the lawsuit that Waymo filed against it. Waymo sued Uber for stealing its self-driving technology. Uber, on the other hand, says that’s just not true.
This Friday, Uber announced in a statement that there’s no way it could have pilfered Waymo’s technology. Uber’s reason for not needing Waymo tech? It says that it’s still using off-the-shelf technology for its own autonomous vehicle testing. Uber calls the lawsuit an utter “misfire.” Yet in doing so, it was forced to swallow its pride and admit that Google self-driving tech is a bit superior to its own.
The lawsuit began in late February when Waymo made accusations that Anthony Levandowski stole over 14,000 confidential documents. Levandowski is a former Google engineer and current executive at Uber. Waymo says that Levandowski used the pilfered documents to entice Uber into buying his autonomous start-up vehicle, Otto. Uber bought the self-driving truck for $680 million only six months after it was launched in 2016.
Since then, Uber simply called the allegations “baseless”, and hasn’t made any statement on the matter until now. Angella Padilla, who is general counsel to Uber, said that, “If Waymo genuinely thought that Uber was using its secrets, it would not have waited more than five months to seek an injunction.”
Uber has since searched Levandowski’s computer, computers of “randomly selected” employees, and the computers of two former Alphabet employees. In its search, Uber says that only one of the 14,000 documents were found. Wyamo wasn’t too convinced and even called the search inadequate. The judge overseeing the case agreed with Waymo and ordered that Uber search harder.
Waymo then attempted to file an injunction against Uber’s use of the cars that contain allegedly stolen technology. This would significantly impact Uber’s autonomous testing. Uber’s driverless cars are everywhere. The company has vehicles like the Volvo XC90 SUVs, which are equipped with LIDAR cameras, sensors, and other self-driving tech, in Pittsburgh and Arizona.
Uber also responded to Waymo’s request for an injunction. It claimed that Waymo hasn’t yet to arrive at the threshold needed for the courts to approve the injunction. It’s also sticking to the belief that Waymo’s accusations are just plain untrue. Padilla said, “Waymo doesn’t meet the high bar for an injunction, which would stifle our independent innovation — probably Waymo’s goal in the first place.”
Uber says that the LIDAR technology it uses for its autonomous vehicles was developed over a year before the company hired Levandowski. Uber also says that the LIDAR sensors they use are muli-lens and not single-lens like Waymo’s. Uber sensors, the company insisted, are purchased off-the-shelf from Velodyne.
These accusations of Uber using stolen technology could hit the company right in the gut. If Uber can develop its autonomous technology enough to make the majority of its cars driverless, it could increase profit. Then it would be able to cut down on its fares and increase demand.
But things aren’t looking too good for Uber. Levandowski invoked his Fifth Amendment right which allows him to avoid self-incrimination. That was a decision made against Uber’s lawyer’s advice. Lior Ron, who helped Levandowski co-found Otto, was also named in the lawsuit.
Finally, it would appear that Uber desires to move the lawsuit case into arbitration. Its argument is that since Levandowski is the center of Waymo’s accusations, as well as a former employee, it should be allowed into an arbitration agreement. This is a clever request on Uber’s part. It would allow the company to avoid the embarrassing and expensive jury trial that is scheduled to begin in October.
Waymo’s spokesperson said in a statement,
“Uber’s assertion that they’ve never touched the 14,000 stolen files is disingenuous at best, given their refusal to look in the most obvious place: the computers and devices owned by the head of their self-driving program. We’re asking the court to step in based on clear evidence that Uber is using, or plans to use, our trade secrets to develop their LIDAR technology, as seen in both circuit board blueprints and filings in the State of Nevada.”