Waymo drags Uber to the court

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Uber paid $680 million for a startup run by Anthony Levandowski, one of the top engineers in a robotic vehicle project that Google began in 2009 and later spun out into Waymo.

Uber is accused of stealing and using trade secrets relating to Lidar, one of the technologies that enables an autonomous auto to understand what is happening around it.

Global taxi technology company Uber, is being sued by Google's subsidiary, the self-driving company Waymo in San Francisco.

The case hinges on whether ride-hailing firm Uber used apparent trade secrets to advance its autonomous vehicle program.

A Google-bred pioneer in self-driving cars and Uber's beleaguered ride-hailing service collided Monday in a courtroom showdown revolving around allegations of deceit, betrayal, espionage and a high-tech heist that tore apart onetime allies. "Like most conspiracy theories, it doesn't make sense when you hear the whole story".

In his February 2015 email to co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the head of Google's self-driving auto project, Chris Urmson, wrote that Uber was acquiring people who he had suggested Google hire more than a year earlier "but was denied the opportunity to do so".

Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven told the jury that the competitive pressures were so great to develop the cars that the then-chief executive of Uber, Travis Kalanick, decided that "winning was more important than obeying the law".

"We have a choice between being the headline or the footnote in history's book on the next revolution in transportation", said Urmson, according to court filings by Uber.


"There is a big competition, and Google is in the lead because they developed it in the first place", Verhoeven said. Like Waymo, Google is owned by Alphabet Inc., which led a $1 billion investment in Uber rival Lyft a year ago. Uber rejects the financial damages claim.

Uber attorney William Carmody highlighted internal documents showing that Google hoped to use its self-driving cars to draw business away from Uber.

"There is no connection whatsoever between any files he downloaded. and what's in here", Carmody said, pointing to an Uber-designed Lidar sensor sitting in front of him, a light-based sensor that is crucial to autonomous driving and central to the case.

After what is expected to be two weeks of testimony, the jury will have to decide whether the eight apparent trade secrets were indeed such, and not common knowledge, and whether Uber improperly acquired them, used them and benefited from them.

The trial is likely to be closely monitored by Nasdaq-listed internet search company Baidu, which is engaged in a similar dispute in China against the former head of its autonomous driving unit and the self-driving technology start-up that he launched past year. In Uber's, Waymo filed a threadbare lawsuit because it was losing engineers to Uber and other companies and wanted to hobble its rival.

Two of the world's richest people, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, also may testify about the importance of Waymo's self-driving project and Levandowski's role in it. "What we came to find is aspects of our technology were taken from us in an unfair fashion and it was important for us to correct that", Krafcik said. Levandowski founded a self-driving truck start-up called Otto after leaving Google; Uber later acquired it and appointed him to run its self-driving auto division. The list of expected witnesses includes both the combative Kalanick and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Gurley, an early Uber backer who later helped engineer Kalanick's departure as Uber's CEO.

"We did not", replied Krafcik.

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