Waymo is now involved in a fierce court battle with Uber over alleged intellectual property theft and patent violation.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco, unsealed on Monday, marked a blow to Uber, which is engaged in a battle with Waymo to dominate the fast-growing field of self-driving cars expected to revolutionize the automotive industry. Waymo is also actively operating a fleet of self-driving vehicles that include Lexus SUVs and hundreds of Chrysler Pacifica minivans. How did we get here?
The case hinges on more than 14,000 confidential files that Waymo alleges Levandowski stole before he left the company.
Levandowski, a co-founder of 90-person startup Otto, was put in charge of Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking.
Uber was also ordered to keep engineer Anthony Levandowski away from work involving Lidar, a key sensor technology in self-driving cars that is the crux of the current litigation.
Waymo and Uber are now engaged in a bitter legal dispute. Automakers from Toyota to Ford to Volvo all have projects under way. The self-driving spinoff of Google's parent company filed a lawsuit against Uber for stealing intellectual property. "Chauffeur" was the name of the self-driving project at Google before it became Waymo; "SVN" was the password-protected repository of its design files, schematics, and various confidential information.
Unlike Uber, Lyft does not plan on developing its own autonomous vehicles.
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What does the judge say?
Alsup said he made the recommendation "based on the evidentiary record", but "takes no position on whether a prosecution is warranted".
Alsup's order suggests there's evidence that Levandowski could face federal prosecution, and there's circumstantial evidence that Uber may have violated federal trade secret theft laws, said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney in Detroit who now is a law professor at the University of MI.
The ruling states Uber can still work on its own autonomous auto project so long as the documents are returned by May 31, and Levandowski is removed from any related work. He remains at the company, however.
"We are pleased with the court's ruling that Uber can continue building and utilizing all of its self-driving technology, including our innovation around LiDAR". "We look forward to moving toward trial and continuing to demonstrate that our technology has been built independently from the ground up". The U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco hasn't responded to requests for comment.
A judge recently ruled Uber Technologies is definitely responsible for this, and granted a partial injunction against the company. But that's easier said than done. It has also ordered the return of all stolen documents to Waymo.
"Waymo has also sufficiently shown. that the 14,000-plus purloined files likely contain at least some trade secrets". Uber later acquired Otto, gaining access to the files. On Saturday, a federal judge gave a rare order alerting prosecutors to possible criminal misconduct by Uber. The Department of Justice has already opened an inquiry into Uber on its secretive "Greyball" software tool. The judge slams its "gamesmanship" in the case and notes that very few of the claimed 121 trade secrets can be realistically defined as such, writing that it has repeatedly "overreached" in its claims.