Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, has asked a judge to block Uber’s work on autonomous vehicles, escalating the high-profile intellectual property dispute between the two technology companies and adding to the growing list of Uber’s troubles.
In court filings on Friday, the self-driving car operation owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, filed an injunction requesting that a judge prevent Uber from using technology that Waymo alleges was brazenly stolen.
If granted, the injunction would mark an extraordinary setback for Uber, which has dealt with a series of public relations crises in recent weeks, including a sexual harassment scandal, a law enforcement controversy and numerousexecutive departures.
Last month, Alphabet accused Uber of “calculated theft” of its technology with an explosive lawsuit alleging that a former Waymo employee, Anthony Levandowski, plotted to steal trade secrets before starting a new self-driving truck firm called Otto, which Uber eventually acquired. The complaint centers on Waymo’s proprietary LiDAR system, a technology that self-driving vehicles use to observe the road.
Uber, which considers self driving vehicles a key part of its future, has benefited from tens of thousands of confidential files and millions of dollars worth of research at Google, according to the lawsuit, which poses a major threat to the ride-sharing company.
The injunction request came the same week that Uber’s recently hired top artificial intelligence executive stepped down and just days after the company announced it would no longer use a controversial software tool that allowed it to dodge law enforcement efforts.
The court filings – which also seek to force Uber to return “unlawfully taken” documents – included testimony from multiple Waymo officials and a former colleague of Levandowski.
Gary Brown, a Waymo security engineer in forensics, wrote in sworn testimony that Levandowski’s laptop downloaded 14,000 files and that two other former Waymo employees who later joined Otto also exported documents. According to the fillings, Levandowski stole documents related to calibration, assembly testing and more, while Sameer Kshirsagar, a global supply manager, retrieved documents related to lasers, lens packaging and other areas.
Radu Raduta, a manufacturing engineer now at Otto, downloaded an “external vendors and consultants list”, according to testimony from Tim Willis, Waymo’s director of supply chain operations.
Pierre-Yves Droz, a principal hardware engineer and technical lead on Waymo’s LiDAR project, wrote in his testimony that in January 2016, Levandowski told him he was interested in implementing LiDAR at his new company and that “he planned to ‘replicate’ this Waymo technology”.
In another instance, Droz wrote, “We were having dinner at a restaurant near the office, and [Levandowski] told me that it would be nice to create a new self-driving car startup and that Uber would be interested in buying the team responsible for the LiDAR we were developing at Google.”
If Otto uses Waymo’s intellectual property, it would give Uber a “multi-year ‘head-start’” in the self-driving car market, Droz wrote, adding: “The growth, profitability, and even survival of individual companies will likely be determined by what happens in the next few years.”
An Uber spokesperson declined to comment on the new filings and referred back to an earlier statement, saying, “We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court.”
“Competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions,” a Waymo spokesperson said in a statement. “Given the strong evidence we have, we are asking the court step in to protect intellectual property developed by our engineers over thousands of hours and to prevent any use of that stolen IP.”
The injunction is also the latest headache for Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who was recently forced to apologize over a video that emerged of him berating an Uber driver who questioned him about fares. The executive has also faced intensifying backlash surrounding the company’s reportedly toxic culture.