Smart cars are the thing for the future. With entities like Hyperloop looking to expand its activities to UK, Europe and Asia and Google working on strengthening their Artificial Intelligence wing, it is about time that technology takes over the mobility industry. Driverless and Smart cars are already in the prototype stage and going global with such technologies is already in the works. Obviously when there is technology of this extent and multi billion dollar companies are involved, lawsuits and legal issues are waiting to happen. Here is everything you need to know about one of the biggest ongoing Multi Billion-Dollar lawsuit between Waymo – Google’s smart car initiative and Uber – A giant in the mobility business.
It was in the beginning of this year when Waymo sued Uber for allegedly stealing their intellectual property rights over the technology to build and market driverless smart cars. When one tech giant files a lawsuit against another, we are definitely talking billions. Waymo has filed for an injunction or a stay order as we know it in India for the smart car department of Uber and if they win Uber will have to cease all activities including their ambitious driverless taxi project on the grounds of infringement of IP rights.
It all started when Anthony Levandowski, an employee of Alphabet’s self driving driving division (Waymo), left his job at Waymo in January 2016 to start Otto – A startup which focused on self driven trucks. Now that does sound normal doesn’t it? Here’s the catch. According to the cyber-forensics experts, Levandowski, before he left his job at Waymo, illegally download close to 14,000 files which were related to the driverless cars technology on to his personal storage device from his work computer and that is where it all began. Once he started Otto, it was soon acquired by.. You guessed it right, Uber! Now did they know about the 14,000 files Levandowski had at that time nobody can tell for sure. Although research shows that Levandowski and Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick knew each other from a long time and that Uber had complete knowledge about Levandowski possessing the files from Waymo. He was made head of the self driving unit of Uber thus creating unrest in employees which later lead to the resigning of many of the top officials in Uber.
Once Levandowski became the head of the self driving section of Uber, they allegedly used the files which he obtained illegally from Waymo into the production of self driving taxis. This was when Waymo filed for the injunction against Uber, thus adding to the list of problems Uber has been facing lately. According to Waymo, after Levandowski obtained the intellectual property of self driving technology, he started Otto and that was the time when Uber had started to take their self driving taxi project seriously. Hence Uber acquired Otto just 6 months after it started and thereby acquiring all the files Levandowski possessed. Did they use those files for their purposes? Currently nobody can tell for a fact. The story doesn’t end there. Following the lawsuit, Uber fired their head of self driving project, ie. Anthony Levandowski. The man who is in centre of a billion-dollar lawsuit. This move by Uber has made everyone to raise their brows. Why isn’t Uber protecting it’s employee? Why did Travis fire Levandowski? These are the questions everyone in the silicon valley is asking right now. For an outsider it looks like Uber took the services and IP which Levandowski possessed and when confronted with a lawsuit, they fired him. That sounds too cold to be true doesn’t it?
Why is this case so important to Waymo? Recently, Alphabet announced that it will be building it’s own technologies including Lidar (Light detection and Ranging) which are vital for the development of driverless and smart cars. Reports suggests that this technology, if bought from a third party vendor would cost Alphabet almost $20,000 per car. Whereas if developed on their own, it would bring down the cost almost 90%.* That’s the underlying reason for all of this.
As per Tech Crunch reports, Court has directed Uber to handover the term sheet signed during the acquisition of Levandowski’s startup Otto. On the other hand, Levandowski has asserted his 5th amendment rights to avoid being potentially incriminating himself. The objective for Uber’s attorneys now is to somehow prove that even of Levandowski had the alleged 14,000 Waymo files with him, Uber did not make use of it. The judge in this case has denied Uber’s stay plea which means that the case will go to trial around October as planned.**
This has been one of the most interesting course of events during the recent times. Who knows we may even get to see this drama on screen if Hollywood shows interest in this matter. Rings a bell doesn’t it? This looks like a classic example of Pirates of Silicon Valley. Will Waymo win the lawsuit?, Will Uber prove that it has not used Waymo’s IP?, and What will happen to Levandowski? Only time will tell.
* Source – Johana Bhuiyan for Recode.
** Source – Tech Crunch.