Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, is suing Otto and its parent company Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets. The accusations imply former employee Anthony Levandowski illegally downloaded thousands of files before leaving the company.
The lawsuit comes in the midst of several internal conflicts at Uber. The ride-hailing startup recently suffered massive PR blows in the media over allegations of sexual harassment by one of its executives.
CEO Travis Kalanick also came under heavy fire weeks ago after accepting taking part of Donald Trump’s business advisory council. The chief of Uber dropped out from the group after investors pressured him over customer concerns.
Why is Waymo suing Uber and Otto?
Waymo claims Anthony Levandowski is responsible for stealing as many as 14,000 files containing private, patented information about the company’s proprietary navigation systems.
The startup emphasizes its LiDAR (Light Detection and Radar) technology in particular, which somehow ended up in Otto’s trucks according to documents obtained by the company as an email attachment by an unknowing source.
Alphabet’s self-driving subsidiary formed nearly ten years ago, but only recently surfaced as a formal business. It has managed to beat even Tesla and its Autopilot in recent autonomous tests, and their system is rumored to be highly advanced.
The complaint filing states Waymo is suing on the grounds of Violation of Defense of Trade Secrets Act, Violation of California Uniform Trade Secret Act, Patent Infringement, and Violation of California Business and Professions Code 17200.
How did Waymo know Uber had stolen its technology?
Waymo outlines a detailed timeline of events that suggest Anthony Lewandowski not only committed theft of trade secrets but also did so knowingly for his profit.
The domain for ottomotto.com was registered in July 2015, a key clue that indicated the former employee could have planned this for months in advance.
The Alphabet affiliate claims the engineer purposefully installed specialized software on a company laptop to gain access to their design servers. Once there, he downloaded 14,000 private files; roughly 10 GB of raw data, blueprints, plans, and documents in December 2015.
In January last year, the man met with Uber associates to presumably discuss a future leading his startup. Two weeks later he resigned from Waymo, launched Otto after five months in May, and was bought by Uber not three months later in August.
The deal closed at $680 million, a sum a bit suspicious for a company with no actual products or assets at the time, but still a potential threat to other rising startups.
Waymo is suing Otto and Uber for a yet undisclosed amount, but if the purchase price is any sign, damages could reach the $1 billion mark and beyond.