Uber fires back at Google spinoff in self-driving car case

Mandy Carr
April 8, 2017

Uber came out swinging in court with opposition papers that seek to gut Waymo's claims that Uber's self-driving auto business rests on stolen trade secrets.

Alphabet/Google (GOOGL) unit Waymo's suit alleges that its former employee Anthony Levandowski stole 14,000 files full of self-driving vehicle trade secrets when he moved on to found his own self-driving auto company Otto, which Uber later acquired for $680 million.

Uber makes much of the fact that its LIDAR uses four lenses, while Waymo's technology uses a single lens. So in addition to fighting Waymo in court, Uber is fighting a vicious battle of public opinion with statements that are decidedly non-corporate. Uber purchased Otto previous year and installed Levandowski as the leader of its self-driving auto program.

"Waymo's injunction motion is a misfire: there is no evidence that any of the 14,000 files in question ever touched Uber's servers and Waymo's assertion that our multi-lens lidar is the same as their single-lens lidar is clearly false", Uber's associate general counsel, Angela Padilla, said in a statement. Waymo said that its suspicion that Levandowski and other former employees had taken secrets about its LiDAR system were confirmed in December when a third-party vendor mistakenly emailed Waymo designs for a LiDAR circuit board being used by Uber.

Uber's filing came in response to a motion for a preliminary injunction filed last month by Waymo, which asked the judge overseeing the case to order Uber's self-driving vehicle efforts to stop while the case proceeds. "I was never directed by anyone, at Uber or Otto, or otherwise, to take confidential documents or information from Google or Waymo". In its filing Friday, Uber said that granting the injunction would, among other things, "impede Uber's efforts to remain a viable business".

Levandowski, the central witness in the case, has sought his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and will not testify, over concerns about the possibility of a criminal case being filed.

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Levandowski's invocation of that right has led to complicated and, at times, heated arguments in court, with his attorneys arguing that even providing a list of privileged documents to Waymo could violate his rights.

Uber attorney Arturo Gonzalez told the court that none of the documents was found on Uber's servers.

"Mr. Levandowski took extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo's design server and then hide his activities", reads Waymo's original complaint. Judge William Alsup retorted.

In the meantime, Uber has filed for a motion to arbitrate the case, arguing that because Waymo's case is entirely predicated on actions Levandowski allegedly committed during his employment, it should be bound by his employment agreement.

Waymo alleges Levandowski plotted his betrayal to Uber while he was still an executive at the Google unit.

Waymo reiterated on Friday that Uber's claim to have never touched the 14,000 files is "disingenuous, 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". The next hearing is scheduled for May 3.

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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