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Alphabet’s Waymo filed an injunction against Uber for allegedly stealing intellectual property

Waymo filed sworn testimony that Uber’s head of self-driving, Anthony Levandowski, stole key files.

Justin Sullivan / Getty

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving project, has asked a judge to stop Uber from using what it believes is stolen intellectual property.

The motion for the injunction comes a few weeks after Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber and the head of its self-driving division, Anthony Levandowski, alleging the theft of a key part of Waymo’s self-driving system before Levandowski left parent company Alphabet.

Levandowski joined Uber when it acquired his startup, Otto, last year. Waymo was originally known as Google’s self-driving project.

To bolster its argument for an injunction, Waymo also filed sworn testimony from one of its security engineers, Gary Brown, who did a forensic search on Levandowski’s Google-issued laptop. According to the testimony, Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files from a repository the company used to store the design schematics of its systems.

The testimony further claims that two additional employees who left Google’s self-driving project to join Otto — Sameer Kshirsagar and Radu Raduta — also downloaded and transferred the company’s proprietary information to a personal device, including a file that listed the company’s external vendors.

Waymo initially decided to perform a forensic investigation of Levandowski’s computer after a Waymo employee was inadvertently copied on an email from a supplier with the subject line “Otto Files.”

The email was being sent to a list of people that Waymo believes were working with Uber. Attached to the email were drawings of Otto’s LIDAR circuit board.

Waymo alleged that it looked just liked its own technology, specifically the design of its circuit board for LIDAR technology, according to the testimony.

Additional testimonies that Waymo included detail Levandowski’s long flirtation with Uber before leaving Google.

According to testimony by Pierre-Yves Droz, who co-founded 510 Systems with Levandowski before Google acquired it in 2011, Levandowski met with Uber’s vice president of mapping, Brian McClendon, around the summer of 2015.

Droz’s testimony reads:

“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.”

Droz then alleges that Levandowski met with Uber in January 2016 — a month before Otto was officially founded but still in stealth mode.

“Later in January 2016, a colleague told me that Mr. Levandowski had been seen at Uber’s headquarters in mid January. I asked Mr. Levandowski about this, and he admitted he had met with Uber, and the reason he was there was that he was looking for investors for his new company.”

Uber called the original suit a “baseless attempt to slow down a competitor,” and said that it looked forward to taking it to court.

While this is not the first time an established company has attempted legal action against its former employees — in January, Tesla sued its former director of Autopilot for poaching people to join his new startup — this is the first time Waymo has taken such action.

In part, it’s because LIDAR — a.k.a. laser radar — plays a critical role in a self-driving system. The radar shoots lasers at objects in order to detect them, and works closely with the cameras and normal radar to create a thorough image of the car’s surroundings.

But it’s also because Waymo, unlike its competitors, is building both its own hardware and software in-house, and has come up with a proprietary design that it believes can bring down the cost of LIDAR immensely, with a possibility of selling that to automakers and other players.

So it’s not just important for the functionality of the autonomous technology, but also possibly for Waymo’s business.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment and will update when we hear back.

Update: This story was updated to include additional information from two more sworn testimonies Waymo has filed as part of the injunction.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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