Uber has said from the beginning that Google’s claims of
intellectual-property theft involving self-driving-car technology
On Friday, Uber finally told its side of the story and laid out
its argument on why it believes the lawsuit brought by Waymo, a
Google spinout from the Alphabet-owned company, is a “misfire.”
Uber is trying to stop a judge from halting the development of
its self-driving-car program by asserting:
- Its lidar design, a key component in self-driving cars,
has a four-lens design, unlike Waymo’s single-lens
It also has two optical cavities
compared with Waymo’s one.
- The 14,000 files downloaded by Anthony Levandowski, a
former Google employee who now runs Uber’s self-driving-car
program, never made it to Uber.
- Waymo didn’t immediately speak up when it learned that
Levandowski had downloaded the files in October. It waited five
months before asking for the court for an injunction.
sued Uber in February, claiming that Levandowski had stolen
vital lidar technology shortly before starting his own
self-driving-vehicle company (which Uber later acquired).
The trade-secrets case is shaping up to be one of the most
significant and closely watched battles in Silicon Valley in
years, pitting two of the world’s most powerful companies, and
former partners, against each other.
stop Uber from using any technology that may have been built on
its proprietary information.
“Waymo’s injunction motion is a misfire: There is no evidence
that any of the 14,000 files in question ever touched Uber’s
servers, and Waymo’s assertion that our multi-lens lidar is the
same as their single-lens lidar is clearly false,” Uber’s
associate general counsel Angela Padilla said in a statement. “If
Waymo genuinely thought that Uber was using its secrets, it would
not have waited more than five months to seek an injunction.
Waymo doesn’t meet the high bar for an injunction, which would
stifle our independent innovation — probably Waymo’s goal in the
The missing files and a ‘complicated situation’
The 14,000 files that Waymo says Levandowski downloaded onto a
thumb drive and then wiped clean from a computer remain a
sticking point in the case.
“To be sure, Uber finds itself in a complicated situation: it is
unambiguously developing its own technology independent of Waymo,
but its employee Mr. Levandowski is accused of downloading 14,000
files from Waymo before he joined Uber,” Uber’s lawyers write in
their argument. “Uber is blocked at this stage from providing an
explanation against that accusation because Mr. Levandowski has
asserted his Fifth Amendment constitutional rights.”
In its arguments, Uber has repeated that it can’t find evidence
of any of those files ever making it to Uber, based on searching
more than 100 terabytes of data. Uber did allow that it found two
files on the personal, non-Uber-owned device of a different
employee named in the complaint, but they weren’t among the ones
Waymo says Levandowski downloaded and were used only during the
person’s time at Waymo.
Waymo has pushed back against the assertion that the 14,000 files
never made it to Uber, however, since Uber hasn’t been able to
search Levandowski’s devices. Levandowski has invoked his Fifth
Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the court is
weighing whether to allow it.
“Uber’s assertion that they’ve never touched the 14,000 stolen
files is disingenuous at best, given their refusal to look in the
most obvious place: the computers and devices owned by the head
of their self-driving program,” a Waymo representative said.
“We’re asking the court to step in based on clear evidence that
Uber is using, or plans to use, our trade secrets to develop
their lidar technology, as seen in both circuit board blueprints
and filings in the state of Nevada.”
Clear evidence or a misfire?
While Waymo claims there is “clear evidence” that Uber is using
or plans to use its trade secrets, Uber still believes that
Waymo’s understanding of its technology is fatally flawed.
At the heart of the argument is a technology called lidar, a
laser-based system similar to radar that allows cars to “see” the
world around them.
Waymo says Uber is copying its designs and violating its patents
based on blueprints it saw thanks to a wrongly sent email and a
public-records request in Nevada. Uber says Waymo leaped to
certain assumptions based on the two documents that it was
building something similar, which the ride-hailing giant said
“Waymo could not be more wrong, and Uber’s design could not be
more different,” Uber said.
Uber says its development of its in-house lidar technology began
way before its acquisition of Otto, the company Levandowski and a
stable of former Waymo employees founded.
Uber had hired many researchers from Carnegie Mellon University
in 2015, when it launched its Advanced Technologies Center, who
began working on developing Uber’s lidar systems. As part of
their research, Uber began developing a system that had four
lenses, not the single-lens system that Waymo uses. The project
had the codename “Fuji” after Mount Fuji in Japan.
Waymo has said the blueprint in the email it received from its
supplier was the proof it needed that Uber was using its
“This email cannot be the smoking gun Waymo claims it is, because
the assumptions Waymo draws from it are false,” Uber argues. “For
instance, Waymo repeatedly argues that the architecture of the
board necessitates a single-lens design, which Uber does not
Even though it has been developing an in-house system, Uber is
still using only commercially available systems purchased from
Velodyne for its cars on the road, the company says.
While Uber is saying Waymo’s arguments that it’s using the
technology are meritless, it acknowledges that the injunction it
faces does present a large threat to its business.
So far, US District Judge William Alsup has said Uber won’t be
able to stop the injunction if all Uber can say is that it can’t
find the files.
“If all you can show is that you can’t find them in your files,
there’s going to be a preliminary injunction of some sort,” Alsup
said during a hearing on Wednesday. “It can’t be helped. You have
got to do more than what you are telling me.”
Uber says any injunction could harm its ability to be a “viable”
business and even threaten public safety since the company
believes self-driving cars are a way to prevent accidents and
“To hinder Uber’s continued progress in its independent
development of an in-house lidar that is fundamentally different
than Waymo’s, when Uber has not used any of Waymo’s trade
secrets, would impede Uber’s efforts to remain a viable business,
stifle the talent and ingenuity that are the primary drivers of
this emerging industry, and risk delaying the implementation of
technology that could prevent car accidents,” Uber said.
“Ultimately, that would be harmful to the public.”