Alphabet’s self-driving spin-off Waymo and Uber are currently embroiled in a rather sticky patent infringement battle, which could prove to be detrimental for the ride-hailing giant. Waymo has alleged one of its former executives, who is now employed at Uber, to have fled off with over 14,000 confidential documents. But, Uber hasn’t shown any disposition to investigate the matter at hand and the U.S federal judge presiding over this lawsuit is twisting its arm to do the same.
Let’s build some ground for those reading about this significant lawsuit, which could most likely impair Uber’s self-driving efforts, for the first time. This all started out last month when Alphabet’s Waymo filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Uber out of the blue. The former alleged the latter for using its confidential technology to build their own LiDAR sensors, an important component of self-driving vehicles.
Further, Waymo’s massive allegation against the ride-hailing giant stem from the fact that it has accused three of its former executives of stealing internal documents before leaving the company. The most prominent of them being Anthony Levandowski, who was said to be spearheading Google’s self-driving division at the time. He has been alleged of stealing 9.7GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files, and testing documentation — over 14,000.
But, he departed the self-driving division to start his own autonomous truck startup called Otto (or something even before that, as Google claims). His self-driving company was acquired by Uber for a whopping $900 million, but the tech giant believes that they were colluding to build the ride-hailing giant’s technology even before that. There has, however, been no action from Uber against allegations slapped on their self-driving tech.
In the court meeting, Google lawyer David Perlson said that no executive from Uber (or even their lawyers) have come forth to even take a look at the 14,000 documents they’ve allegedly stolen. And that is the case when Alphabet has openly made their confidential documents available to them. With regards to the same, Perlson added:
The court gave its order, a very clear order, as to what was supposed to be produced by March 31. They have not complied with the order, in numerous respects.
They haven’t obtained anything from Mr. Levandowski personally. We’ve repeatedly asked them for a return of these 14k documents, and they basically ignored us. A lot of that is due to the fact that Mr. Levandowski is not cooperating, on some baseless 5th Amendment privilege ground.
And though Uber has denied any allegations and termed them as baseless, the federal judge presiding over the case doesn’t seem to be satisfied with mere words. The ride-hailing giant has repeatedly said that they don’t have the stolen documents and they have searched their own servers and found no trace of the same.
Further, Uber lawyer Arturo Gonzalez said that his law firm has collaborated with forensic consultants and interviewed 85 employees who previously worked at Google (42 of them belong to the autonomous mobility division). They’ve randomly searched through their work computers and Git director but haven’t found anything substantial related to Waymo’s technology. He added,
We searched 12 terabytes of data in two weeks. That’s the equivalent of 8.3 billion pages of text. So any suggestion that we’re not looking is extremely unfair.
We found 3,100 hits. But you know what? They’re not substantive. Most of these 14,000 documents are not trade secrets at all.
Except for one allegedly stolen file which was found on a personal device belonging to Sameer Kshirsagar, another former Google executive accused of fleeing with a full load of their company secrets. But, Gonzales reiterated that the document wasn’t found on Uber’s server but a personal device of a former Google employee. He added,
We did collect documents from him and thus far we have only found one document from his computers that matches the documents identified in the complaint.
Though the ride-hailing giant has repeatedly mentioned that it is conducting a thorough search for the alleged documents, but the U.S federal judge William Alsup presiding over the case is not satisfied with what they’ve presented so far. He still believes that Waymo has presented much substantial evidence of the fact that Levandowski downloaded their trade secrets and then wiped the computer clean to hide evidence and just left. This is on the record and as for the documents being trade secrets or not, it doesn’t matter because they were important enough and have been stolen.
Talking about the same, Alsup told Uber’s lawyer:
He’s not denying it. You’re not denying it. No one on your side is denying he has the 14,000 files. Maybe you will. But if it’s going to be denied, how can he take the 5th Amendment?
This is an extraordinary case, I’ve never seen a record this strong in 42 years. So you are up against it. You are looking at a preliminary injunction even if what you tell me is true. What you are telling me is not going to be a get out of jail free card.
This means that Alsup is taking a rather tougher stance against Uber, who’s taking the allegations against their self-driving technology and current team lead lightly. Thus, the judge has given them a warning and instructed them to conduct an even exhaustive search for the 14,000 stolen documents. And if they’re not able to do so, Alsup said that it could lead to a preliminary injunction that will render Levandowski useless — he won’t be able to continue working on this project. To this, Uber’s lawyer Gonzales adds,
We’re digging and we’re digging. I firmly believe the reason we’re not finding this information is because it didn’t make it to Uber. The only thing the record shows so far is that 14,000 files may or may not have been taken. They have to show that we are using them. We will demonstrate that those 14,000 files never made it to Uber.
Thus, you can clearly witness that Waymo is currently strangling Uber, who is already caught in several other troubles, ranging from its toxic work culture and management exodus due to the same. Both the parties will again be meeting in court tomorrow for another hearing, this time focused on Levandowski’s argument.