Waymo to Judge: Shut Down Uber's Self-Driving Program


Waymo, the self-driving car company that spun out of Google’s Project X division, has filed a preliminary injunction against Uber and its self-driving semi-truck branch, Otto, claiming in a filing Friday that Uber stole trade secrets.

Waymo levels a laundry list of charges at Uber and Otto with one clear prerogative: shut it all down.

The preliminary injunction, filed Friday, requests that the Northern District Court of California prevent the defendant, Uber, from basically doing anything with the allegedly stolen technology. This would effectively halt Uber’s self-driving car program until the resolution of the lawsuit, which Waymo says is necessary to prevent Uber using the technology “to gain a potentially irreversible edge in the new self-driving car market.”

The lawsuit started, not by some feat of corporate espionage, but by a simple public records request and a classic email fail. Waymo executives received a data-filled email meant for Andrew Levandowski, a former Waymo employee who founded Otto, and noticed that the LIDAR system Otto was using was, well, pretty much the same as Waymo’s.

Here’s the key excerpt from the injunction’s opening, emphasis ours, with some of the legalese edited out (the “circuit board” Waymo is referring to is a diagram included by accident in the fateful email mistake):

Plaintiff Waymo LLC (“Waymo”) shall and hereby does move the Court for a preliminary injunction prohibiting Defendants [Uber and Otto] from accessing, using, imitating, copying, disclosing, or making available to any person or entity Waymo’s Asserted Trade Secrets, including but not limited to the Asserted Trade Secrets as embodied in LiDAR systems that contain or are designed to operate with the printed circuit board depicted in the schematic attached … or any colorable variation thereof. Waymo further requests that Defendants be enjoined from making, using, selling, or offering to sell devices that infringe [claims on a whole bunch of U.S. Patents owned by Waymo]. Further, Waymo requests that Defendants be compelled to return any and all Waymo confidential information in their possession or control, including the 14,000+ documents unlawfully taken from Waymo by Mr. Anthony Levandowski and his colleagues.

Then, Waymo got a little saucy. In the injunction’s preliminary statement, the company basically crapped on Uber, which has experienced an extraordinary fall from grace in the past few months. The statement touts Waymo’s rapid accomplishments in self-driving tech, and then turns to Uber like a vindictive mean-girl tattling on another student for copying their homework.

“Uber, on the other hand, is a late entrant to the self-driving car space. Desperate to catch up with Waymo — by any means necessary — Uber jump-started its self-driving car efforts by using Waymo trade secrets stolen by Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee,” the statement says.

The hearing is scheduled for April 27 at 8 a.m., which is the earliest judge William H. Alsup could grant the preliminary injunction while the full case goes to court. The point of a preliminary injunction in a case like this is to make sure the defendant, if proven guilty, can’t continue committing the crime they’re accused of while a lengthy court battle plays out. It doesn’t help Waymo very much to sue Uber for stealing its tech if Uber gets to happily use said tech for months on end while the two teams of big-shot corporate lawyers slug it out in courthouses and conference rooms across San Francisco.

“Competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions,” a spokesperson from Waymo tells Inverse. “Given the strong evidence we have, we are asking the court step in to protect intellectual property developed by our engineers over thousands of hours and to prevent any use of that stolen IP.”

A spokesperson from Uber said the company was reviewing the latest paperwork, and referred Inverse to its earlier comment on Waymo’s initial complaint:

“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.”

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