By , Tom Brant
Published February 24, 2017
A former employee stole trade secrets from Google's self-driving car project and brought them to a startup that was later acquired by Uber, according to a complaint filed in federal court on Thursday.
Waymo, a division of Google's parent company Alphabet that took over the search giant's self-driving car project last year, filed a complaint against Uber's subsidiary Otto, claiming trade secret misappropriation, patent infringement, and unfair competition.
The complaint alleges that Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 proprietary design files—9.7GB worth of data—for Waymo's Lidar system in late 2015 before he left the company to found Otto.
Those designs showed up in an email that Waymo received from one of its circuit board suppliers in December, according to the complaint. The email, which apparently was referring to Uber's own Lidar design, confirmed Waymo's earlier suspicions that Levandowski had given Waymo's trade secrets to Uber, which acquired Otto in August 2016.
"As of August 2016, Uber had no in-house solution for LiDAR – despite 18 months with their faltering Carnegie Mellon University effort – and they acquired Otto to get it," Waymo wrote in the complaint. "By September 2016, Uber represented to regulatory authorities in Nevada that it was no longer using an off-the-shelf, or third-party, LiDAR technology, but rather using an '[i]n-house custom built' LiDAR system."
Waymo investigated the matter further, and said it discovered that additional former employees—now working at Otto and Uber—also downloaded confidential Lidar information.
"Our parent company Alphabet has long worked with Uber in many areas, and we didn't make this decision lightly," Waymo said in a statement regarding its lawsuit. "However, given the overwhelming facts that our technology has been stolen, we have no choice but to defend our investment and development of this unique technology."
An Uber spokesperson told PCMag that "we take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully."