Uber to Waymo: We aren’t using your robocar laser beam secrets

Uber is trying to persuade a judge not to issue an order that might stall the development of its autonomous driving technology, and possibly even sideline the head of the project, engineer Anthony Levandowski.(Reuters)

Uber Technologies Inc. has an alibi for Alphabet Inc.’s allegations of trade-secrets theft — the ride-hailing company is using off-the-shelf technology in its driverless cars weaving through San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Uber is trying to persuade a judge not to issue an order that might stall the development of its autonomous driving technology, and possibly even sideline the head of the project, engineer Anthony Levandowski.

In asserting its key defenses publicly Friday for the first time, six weeks after Waymo sued, Uber argues it’s been wrongly accused. It doesn’t even possess the 14,000 files of proprietary information Waymo says it stole and wouldn’t need them to advance its own self-driving vehicle program, as it’s relying on a commercially available navigational sensor system while it develops its own system, according to a copy of a planned court filing obtained by Bloomberg News.

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“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.

Waymo alleges Levandowski plotted his betrayal to Uber while he was still an executive at the Google unit. He and two other Waymo employees are accused of downloading thousands of confidential files, including lidar circuit board designs, before he left Waymo last year and launched his own robocar startup, Otto, that was acquired by Uber for $680 million.
‘Disingenuous at Best’

Waymo said Friday that Uber’s assertion it’s never touched the 14,000 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.”

“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 sate of Nevada,” the company said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge William A. Alsup has repeatedly admonished Uber and Levandowski in court hearings for being unwilling or unable to flatly deny Waymo’s allegations.

The judge said this week he’d never seen a stronger record in a trade-secrets case in 42 years and warned Uber’s lawyers that they’re “up against it,” meaning that he’s leaning toward issuing a court order that would prohibit the use of the disputed technology. At one point Alsup warned he might go as far as to bar Levandowski from working on Uber’s program until the litigation is resolved.

Uber said it’s never installed a lidar of its own design on a vehicle. It said its primary supplier for lidar for its driverless cars is Morgan Hill, California-based Velodyne Lidar Inc.

“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 in Friday’s filing. “Ultimately, that would be harmful to the public.”

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