Judge orders Uber not to use technology taken from Waymo

Robyn Ryan
May 16, 2017

And while Judge Alsup did stop short of ordering Uber's self-driving research halted and the cars pulled from the road, he did say that Waymo had shown "compelling evidence" that a former star engineer named Anthony Levandowski downloaded confidential files before leaving Waymo and going to work for Uber.

Waymo sued Uber earlier this year, accusing Uber of stealing trade secrets and intellectual property it had developed related to lidar, the radar-like sensors that self-driving cars use to navigate.

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.

In February Waymo filed a lawsuit claiming that a former manager took technical data when he left to launch a competing venture that was later acquired by Uber.

Uber will be able to continue working on its self-driving vehicle technology, the judge said, but embattled engineer Anthony Levandowski must be removed from any work relating to a key technology called LIDAR, which helps cars "see".

Despite the judge's ruling on Levandowski, Uber also had cause for celebration as its self-driving research program was not required to be put on hold, a serious blow that could have put the company behind others in the race to bring autonomous vehicles to market.

Likewise, Waymo commended Lyft saying, "Lyft's vision and commitment to improving the way cities move will help Waymo's self-driving technology reach more people, in more places". The two companies formed an alliance to fuse Lyft's ride-hailing service and Waymo's technology, a deal that marries technology from Google's holding company Alphabet with the second-biggest ride hailing service in the U.S. It sued Uber in February alleging stolen Waymo technology was used to build Uber's self-driving fleet, which Uber launched in Pittsburgh previous year.

Alsup referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation of possible trade secret theft on Thursday, when the ruling was released under seal.

He also warns that "even a limited injunction would impose hardship on Uber's overall LiDAR development that is disproportionate to Waymo's limited showing of misappropriation by defendants thus far".

"The Waymo lawyers are now in a super-position to prove their case", said Chris Broderick, an attorney focusing on trade secrets issues with Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips LLP.

Uber is the biggest United States ride service by volume and has been developing self-driving technology, which it sees as a key to its future, as it expands its ride service with human drivers.

"We look forward to moving toward trial and continuing to demonstrate that our technology has been built independently from the ground up", the spokesperson added. It put hundreds of millions of dollars into a self-driving testing facility in Pittsburgh past year, and also partnered with Volvo to expand its semi-autonomous technology.

Scolding Waymo for gamesmanship, Alsup said it would be wrong to allow a single company to monopolize "broad scientific concepts and principles" by asserting them as trade secrets. "I've given you lots of discovery and so far you don't have a smoking gun", Alsup said.

Other reports by VideoGamingPros

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