Waymo sues Uber and Otto for theft of trade secrets

Waymo, the Alphabet-owned self-driving company that began life as Google’s self-driving car project, has filed suit against self-driving trucking company Otto, and its parent company, Uber. Waymo says that Uber “misappropriated” its trade secrets, and infringed upon its held patents. Specifically, Waymo says it has found evidence that Otto and Uber have been using elements of its self-driving tech related to its custom, in-house LiDAR sensors, which the company unveiled earlier this year.

In its complaint, Waymo says that it developed a “combination of unique laser systems to provide critical information for the operation of fully self-driving vehicles,” which were taken by Otto founder Anthony Levandowski specifically, who was previously a manager working for Waymo. Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 “highly confidential and proprietary files” from Waymo prior to leaving the company, including its proprietary LiDAR circuit board design. Amazingly, Waymo says it discovered this chain of events initially when a supplier accidentally copied it on emails to Uber and Otto that contained a circuit board design from the ride-sharing company which looked remarkably like its own.

Waymo says this theft took place in December 2015, just prior to when Levandowski left and started his own company, which would become Otto in January 2016. The complaint says Levandowski was already setting up his venture prior to leaving the Alphabet-owned operation.

The complaint makes even more allegations, accusing other former Waymo employees who left to join what would become Otto of downloading more of its trade secrets, including supplier lists and technical documents.

The Waymo suit cites Biz Carson reporting for Business Insider that Otto’s in-house development of its own LiDAR tech was key to its acquisition by Uber, and the suit also says that Levandowski and Otto gained more than half-a-billion dollars directly via the theft, and that Uber also resuscitated its own stalled efforts to compete with Waymo based on the planned abuses.

Obviously this is a huge setback for Uber, at a time when it’s also facing a lot of internal and external trouble related to alleged sexual harassment experienced by a former employee and made public earlier this week.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment, and will update if they respond.