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An email fail made Google suspect Uber was copying its self-driving car technology


Travis Kalanick Uber CEO
CEO Travis Kalanick

A Google employee wasn’t supposed to receive an email titled

Yet, the accidental cc-ing of a competitor’s technology designs
revealed something potentially much worse: the plans looked
eerily familiar.

On Thursday,
Google’s self-driving car spin-out, Waymo, sued Otto and its
parent company Uber over alleged theft of intellectual
property and patent violations.

Waymo claims that a former employee downloaded more
than 14,000 files and took them to start his own company.
That startup, Otto, was acquired by Uber only a few months after
its official launch for $680 million.

In its lawsuit, Waymo claims that it had already started looking
into whether its intellectual property was stolen in the summer
of 2016. “The sudden resignations from Waymo, Otto’s quick public
launch with Mr. Lewandowski at the helm, and Uber’s
near-immediate acquisition of Otto for more than half a billion
dollars all caused Waymo grave concern regarding the possible
misuse of its intellectual property,” the company wrote in the


Six months later, by chance, the “evidence” landed in a Waymo
employee’s inbox.

One of Waymo’s suppliers had accidentally included the employee
on an email chain meant for members of the vendor’s Uber team,
the complaint states. Attached in the “OTTO FILES” email was the
drawing for a circuit board used in self-driving car “Lidar”
sensors that “bore a striking resemblance to” the one Waymo had
been confidentially building.

That accidental email fail nearly confirmed Waymo’s suspicions.
After the company filed a public records request to see what Uber
had told Nevada about its self-driving systems, Waymo was
convinced. Uber had told Nevada regulators that its cars relied
on custom-built Lidar sensors, the suit says.

“Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret
recipe from a beverage company,” Waymo wrote in a blog post
announcing the lawsuit.


  1. Rudy says:

    According to the Medium post, Google only found out about the theft recently, by accident.

    Edit: Skimming the lawsuit itself, the email from the supplier which tipped off Google/Waymo was sent Dec 16 2016, so about two months ago. Allow some time for the investigation/forensics, and that’s about it.

  2. Justcause says:

    OK, let’s say he did this copying of files, it’s been a year since he left Google, why now?

    Deeper pockets to sue?

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