By on February 24, 2017

waymo

Waymo is suing over claims that a former employee stole the design for one of its LIDAR systems and brought it to a competitor. The alleged theft of Waymo’s intellectual property came to light after the company was accidentally privy to an email chain that described an Uber design for a LIDAR circuit board that looked very familiar.

So familiar, in fact, that the Google-backed Waymo filed a lawsuit on Thursday in a California federal court. The suit accuses former Google employee Anthony Levandowski of stealing its tech for the LIDAR sensor used by the Otto autonomous startup company. Unfortunately for Waymo, Uber paid $680 million for Otto last August and is currently using the potentially stolen designs. 

According to a blog post written by the Waymo team, Levandowski downloaded over 14,000 confidential and proprietary designs for its current software six weeks before leaving Google. Those files included designs for the LIDAR and circuit board.

“Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints,” claims the Waymo posting. “Months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to ‘replicate’ Waymo’s technology at a competitor.”

The company also says it thinks other former employees have left its ranks to join Otto and Uber’s self-driving efforts, bringing valuable trade secrets with them. Waymo says it’s all part of one big collaborative plan to steal its intellectual property.

The court filling includes patent infringement, unlawful misappropriation of industrial secrets, and unfair business practices. Waymo wants an injunction to end the use of what it believes are its own designs, and is demanding a trial over the matter.

[Image: Waymo]

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25 Comments on “Google’s Waymo Accuses Uber of Stealing Its Autonomous Secrets...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “Our autonomous vehicles are Waymo ugly than yours.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Waymo! Waymo! Party On! Excellent!

    Seriously, there must be money to be made in this, or Google wouldn’t be suing people.

  • avatar
    phxmotor

    Uber makes Medalions worthless. A $250,000 investment of hard working taxi drivers to secure their job becomes obsolete overnight… it has become completely worthless. Now Uber wants to eliminate the need for drivers altogether. Great. Just great. Jobs?… jobs?… we don’t need no stinking jobs.

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      Cars made buggies worthless. Million dollar factories threw thousands of carriage workers out of work overnight.

      Telephones threw thousands of messengers out of work overnight. Then cell phones threw thousands of telephone operators out of work overnight.

      Jet engines threw thousands of piston engine mechanics out of work overnight. Engines which used to need overhaul every few hundred hours now last 100,000 hours between overhauls, and airliners which used to need four engines now get by with two.

      Or perhaps you approve of the Obama approach: ATMs threw thousands of bank tellers out of work overnight.

      Or to get back to cars: Self-serve fuel stations threw thousands of pump jockeys out of work overnight (except in Oregon and New Jersey). Now electric cars are making fuel stations and fuel truck drivers obsolete overnight.

      Waaahh!

  • avatar
    pdieten

    I hope Uber loses. Any bad thing that happens to Uber is a good thing for America.

    Not because somebody didn’t need to come along to disrupt the taxi industry, because that needed to happen. But it needed to happen by somebody who isn’t an arrogant ******* that doesn’t accept that rules apply to his company. Who sets predatory pricing, takes it out of the pay of the people who do the actual work for them, and still manages to waste money faster than the federal government because it turns out that car service can’t actually be provided profitably for what Uber charges.

    I wonder how long it’s going to take for people to realize that the problems with the taxi industry weren’t ALL caused by the high price of medallions…….

    • 0 avatar
      orenwolf

      While I don’t disagree with your sentiment, I think the issue here is more around lenient government regulation and enforcement than anything else – Uber is a great case study in Libertarianism in a way – this is the sort of company you get when you tell governments to get out of the way and let markets do what they want.

      • 0 avatar
        ScarecrowRepair

        Uber is about as libertarian as the pied piper.

        A lot of people see the results of government fumbling (taxi medallions are a fine example of crony corruption) and instead of trying to get rid of it, they want to extend it to new inventions. Then they complain about unfairness when the newcomers don’t like the old rules, and somehow forget how bad that corruption is and insist it should be made worse by applying to areas it is even worse at regulating.

        So somebody bought an expensive government corruption medallion. Why is it anybody else’s problem if it goes down in value because other people found a way around the government corruption?

        Suppose instead of buying a medallion, I buy $250K of stock in a taxi company. Does the taxpaying public have the duty to make up the difference when its value tanks?

        Suppose I bought $250K of stock in any other company. Would taxpayers be on the hook when it drops in value?

        If I am responsible for making up the loss of value in somebody’s tax medallion, then why didn’t I get my cut of when it was increasing in value from the nominal city hall price of probably a few hundred dollars to $250K?

        • 0 avatar
          orenwolf

          Oh, I’m definitely not arguing for medallions. I *am* pointing out that Uber’s ability to get away with some of their practices is directly proportional to the government’s ability to respond, and the teeth the regulations in question have, though.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Good comment. They pretty much flipped the bird to PA and CA over licensing and fees.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      The Uber ecosystem consists of what, a million working people? Hard to imagine their collective “arrogant prickness” are all that different from that of the population at large.

      • 0 avatar
        pdieten

        Talking about the management in general and the CEO in particular. The drivers are victims of the gig economy. Remember, they’re not employees. They’re just folks Uber uses and abuses under the guise of providing them money, which turns out to never be enough to cover their real expenses if those expenses were correctly accounted for. Taxi companies have to deal with that. Why shouldn’t Uber?

        • 0 avatar
          orenwolf

          You need to talk to more Uber drivers. A great many I’ve personally ridden with LOVE that they can drive when they want some extra cash. That “gig economy” and being a contractor means they control their own fates. They aren’t victims any more than the people who choose minimum wage jobs are. Those “employees” aren’t much better off, especially in employment-at-will areas.

          • 0 avatar

            I’ve found the same thing when I’ve been driven with Uber. Uber drivers appreciate the opportunity and are happy to do it.

            During Art Basel in Miami, an event that makes normal slug-like Miami traffic become positively stationary, I let Uber do the driving, and it was considerably cheaper than it would have cost for me to park.

            I have a lot of starving artist friends, and UberPool and Lyft Line have given them the freedom to get where they need to go for about $2.50 a ride – less than bus fare and a lot more efficient. They certainly could not have afforded cab fare. I don’t know how Uber or its drivers can make money with such low prices, even if they get a healthy number of shared rides, but I’m glad they’re doing it.

            Certainly replacing costly, inefficient and uncomfortable public transport systems with UberPool style service seems a lot more effective and even cheaper for taxpayers.

            So on balance, I consider Uber an unalloyed good from the customer point of view – so if it’s about serving the public, there’s no question Uber wins. If it’s about making crony capitalist money by renting poor drivers a lousy vehicle for $450 a day, then conventional taxis win.

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      If by “predatory pricing” you mean surge pricing, you probably also are in favor of price caps during emergencies to stop price gouging. In which case you are 180 degrees wrong.

      Prices are one of the most important inventions ever. One of the worst things governments do is corrupt prices with subsidies, caps, floors, etc.

      When there’s an emergency and gas stations raise prices, or the price of generators goes through the roof, or food prices double, it does two things: it tells outsiders that there’s money to be made bringing in more gas or generators or food in, and it tells people to only buy the minimum they need. People who pay attention will stock up ahead of time and leave emergency buying to people who actually have enough of an emergency to pay the extra, and if it weren’t for outsiders bringing in more supplies in difficult conditions, supplies would run out and nobody would have anything, not even people who really need it.

      Everything is scarce, that’s what economics studies. Everything will be rationed in an emergency, one way or another. If you force prices to stay artificially low, then people will pay for them by standing in line for hours, or bribes (I’ll trade you some firewood tomorrow for gas today), or making long trips. The only way to avoid that would be to leave it to government bureaucrats, which is another form of payment in kind, and just as susceptible to bribes and favoritism and corruption in general.

      Uber’s surge pricing is just another aspect of that. When demand surges, it’s because of bad weather, bad traffic, huge crowds, and other conditions which discourage Uber and other drivers. What everybody wants more than anything is to get more Uber drivers on the road, and you can either do it by threatening them (government? bosses?) or paying them. And just like emergency supplies, when demand exceeds supply, the supply has to be rationed, and you can either do it with up front prices, or bribes, time, and other expenses, or by government bureaucrats.

      Econ 101 is incredibly simple and useful. There’s an old joke that the first lesson of economics is scarcity, and the first lesson of politics is to ignore the first lesson of economics.

      • 0 avatar
        pdieten

        “If by “predatory pricing” you mean surge pricing, you probably also are in favor of price caps during emergencies to stop price gouging. In which case you are 180 degrees wrong.”

        No. Surge pricing is fine. The predatory pricing I’m referring to is its traditional definition of pricing the service less than it costs to provide it, in order to drive competitors out of business. Uber loses money on every ride, and that’s while not paying the drivers enough to properly cover their own expenses. That’s messed up.

        • 0 avatar
          ScarecrowRepair

          I’d have to see plenty of unbiased documentation to believe Uber loses money on each ride.

          Monopolies in real life aren’t what the movies and horror books make out. They are universally made monopolies by government action — charters, patents, Certificates of Need that new competitors have to get that have to be approved by competitors. Natural markets do not allow monopolies to survive very long at all.

          Standard Oil and Rockefeller is a prime example. He hit a peak of something like 85% of the market by pure innovation — shipping oil in tanker cars, not barrels; improving the refining process for efficiency (his scientists invented Vaseline to make better use of the leftovers from refining); and generally making what customers wanted. Once his competitors wised up and copied his methods, his market share started declining, and the government bustup began after his market share had dropped to 60-something percent. He was also fixated on Pennsylvania oil and other companies found cheaper oil in Oklahoma and Texas.

          The traditional telling is that monopolists lower prices only where upstarts have started competing, driving them out of business, then raising prices and soaking the public. It’s a myth. True free markets just don’t allow that.

          Monopolies instead arise when governments pass out monopoly charters. Booze distribution networks are classic examples, only existing because the amendment which repealed prohibition explicitly allowed states to control distribution. Bar associations and medical boards have monopolies entirely from state creation. Occupational licensing (2000 hours of schooling to cut hair) do far more damage than any temporary market monopoly.

          You can find all sorts of artificial monopolies in the patent system — James Watt, who didn’t know how to build high pressure efficient steam engines and sued everybody who did, and probably delayed steam railways by 20 years. The Wright Brothers, who were lousy businessmen and delayed American industry until the government finally bought their patents so they could have airplanes for the war. Bell, who got his patent and monopoly only because he got to the patent office a few hours before Gray. Edison, whose monopoly on movie cameras forced the movie industry to move as far away as possible (Hollywood).

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            “Edison, whose monopoly on movie cameras forced the movie industry to move as far away as possible (Hollywood).”

            The climate permitting year-round outdoor production had nothing to do with that?

        • 0 avatar
          Lex

          Is that the same as Dumping?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Show me the blueprints.”

    “Show me the blueprints.”

    “Show me the blueprints.”

    “Show me the blueprints!”

  • avatar
    stuki

    Once the ambulance chasers take over the shop with all their clueless, self righteous childishness, no wonder the engineers are leaving.

    Levandowski knew as much about autonomous tech as anyone. His brain wouldn’t magically be erased by leaving his Waymo office. If he did bring actual documents, the only role they served were one of convenience. Not having to retype all the stuff, and rerun the experiments, at a new place.

    The value add of Otto was never a circuit board design for a technology (Lidar) that, with the current fashionableness of all things “self driving,” are obsoleted every six months anyway. Instead, the value add was application of knowledge gained in the context of a more general solution to “‘se;d driving,” to one more specifically aimed at a much simpler subset of the problem(s) Levandowski worked on at Google/Waymo: That of heavy trucks driving on highways. Waymo could have specifically targetted trucks as well, and Levandowski would never have left.

    But they didn’t, so he did, and in the process helped make “self driving” something with a least a sliver of potential to be something more than just hype.

    Which is more than any lawyer, investor, manager nor other self promoting semi literate neither have, nor ever will, accomplish. Which, of course, won’t stop them from doing the only thing they are capable of: Trying to get the power of the state to help them stick their useless, grubby fingers into value chains created and fed by those that are actually trying to do something useful with their lives.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “If he did bring actual documents, the only role they served were one of convenience.”

      Yes, but one aim of protecting intellectual property is to make it difficult to replicate the knowledge somewhere else. And then when you do (by memory, let’s say), it needs to have sufficient distinction from the original to not be considered a copy.

      Companies understand this, and often try to enforce non-compete rules on certain high-value employees so they don’t jump to a competitor with the goods, sometimes for a year or so. Boldly copying electronic files is expressly forbidden.

      Being a bright guy doesn’t entitle you to steal the files just because you’d figure it out anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I pretty much remember and could re-create any significant code I’ve ever created. That’s the kind of stuff you don’t forget. That being said, every time I left a company to compete with them was because I didn’t like what they were doing in terms of design direction and wouldn’t touch their code with a ten-foot pole anyway. When I was younger and a bit naive, I used to think that I could come in and fix screwed up companies. I was wrong.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          “…every time I left a company to compete with them was because I didn’t like what they were doing in terms of design direction…”

          As in, didn’t like the excessive cautiousness at Waymo/Google, which would pretty much guarantee years spent “making sure,” before attempting to get anything obviously significant off the ground. So you get the heck out with all you have learned so far in life, and start Otto.

          Which noone really minds, as you’ll just crash and burn anyway, being a loose cannon cowboy. It’s not like the “email logs” from the pre-Otto days, only yesterday became known, after all. Instead, the whole lawsuit is not about Levandowski “stealing”, but about slowing down and upping the cost/risk for Uber. By means of weaseling around with lawyers. Rather than beating them braino y braino.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            Waymo, as far as I know, is being overly cautious in some bad ways. I think they need to be a bit more aggressive when it comes to testing environments. Maybe they are and I don’t know about it.

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