Two companies vying for dominance in the emerging self-driving car industry will go to war in the courtroom on Monday. Before a federal judge, Uber and Waymo will meet for a battle over allegedly stolen trade secrets.
The trade secrets in question are related to a technology known as light detection and ranging, or LiDAR. The sophisticated technology helps a self-driving car navigate using lasers to scan the road and surroundings. Despite claims Uber created its own version of LiDAR, Waymo says the original technology behind it was developed by them and later pilfered by a former employee to be used elsewhere.
Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who worked for Waymo, quit the corporation two years ago to start a tech company he named Otto. On his way out the door, Levandowski purportedly took thousands of confidential files related to LiDAR with him. Uber later bought Otto for $680 million, and Levandowski began to work for them. Levandowski claims the Waymo LiDAR technology files were destroyed prior to starting with his new employer.
Waymo, owned by Google-parent Alphabet, contends Uber knew about the stolen trade secrets, including crucial information about LiDAR, and used them to develop its own self-driving system. However, Uber denies Waymo’s claim, saying their technology was created independently of any supposedly stolen trade secrets. According to USA Today, Uber ultimately fired Levandowski in mid-2017 for refusing to work with Uber’s legal counsel.
“Waymo will need to prove that Levandowski stole its information, that Uber knew it, and that Uber incorporated [the information] into its self-driving car technology,” said trade secrets attorney Russell Beck, per an Ars Technica report. “Uber will need to show that, even if there was some wrongful conduct, it is not using Waymo’s technology and, therefore, no harm, no foul.”
If Waymo wins, Uber is expected to pay billions of dollars in damages. An amount the already struggling ride-share company may have trouble shelling out. An Uber loss will likely smother any chances of them staying in the race to get a self-driving car on the market, while further ruining the company’s already stained reputation.
In addition to Uber’s claim they did not steal trade secrets, the company says Waymo is only using its Alphabet-backed power and wealth to wage a costly war in hopes of stamping out a potential rival in the self-driving car industry. Attorneys for both parties will present their sides to Judge William Alsup in U.S. District Court at 8 a.m. on Monday. Both Anthony Levandowski and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick are expected to give testimony during the trial.