Alphabet’s self-driving arm has dismissed three out of four of its patent infringement claims against Uber in its lawsuit alleging the ride-hail company misappropriated its self-driving trade secrets.
While Uber sees this as a small victory in the case, Alphabet isn’t actually going back on its claim that the ride-hail company copied the design for a key self-driving technology called lidar. Instead, the company has agreed to drop these patent claims ahead of trial because Uber had already abandoned the use of that particular design.
Alphabet reserves the right to bring that patent claim against Uber again if the ride-hail company revives the use of that design, called Spider. The remaining patent claim is against Uber’s other proprietary lidar called Fuji.
“We found after fighting for discovery a device created by Anthony Levandowski at Uber that infringed Waymo patents,” a Waymo spokesperson said. “Uber has assured the court in statements made under penalty of perjury that it no longer uses and will not use that device, so we have narrowed the issues for trial by dismissing the patent claims as to that device, with the right to re-file suit if needed.”
However, the judge in the case, William Alsup, previously said he thought Alphabet would lose on its patent claims.
At a June 7 hearing, Alsup said, “I want to reiterate to the plaintiff here that you should think a lot about just dropping the patent part of this case. And instead of making them go through the pain and suffering of answering all those contentions on the patent side of the case. But I'm not ordering that. I'm just saying that. I'm reiterating what I said earlier."
Uber, naturally, sees this as a victory, and a much-needed one at that. The ride-hail company has been forced to defend against a lawsuit that could handicap its autonomous operations — key to its future ambitions.
From the beginning, it appeared the deck was stacked against Uber. Judge Alsup saw little reason to question the evidence that Anthony Levandowski, a now former executive of both Uber and Alphabet, allegedly downloaded and stole proprietary information from Alphabet. Ultimately, Uber decided to fire Levandowski, who pleaded the Fifth, for not cooperating with the suit.
But, according to an Uber spokesperson, the decision to drop the majority of the patent claims is a sign that Alphabet’s case against Uber has been weakened. Alphabet will also be narrowing their claims of trade secrets from 120 to 10 per the judge’s request.
“Waymo’s retreat on three of their four patent claims is yet another sign that they have overpromised and can’t deliver,” the rep said. “Not only have they uncovered zero evidence of any of the 14,000 files in question coming to Uber, they now admit that Uber’s LiDAR design is actually very different than theirs. Faced with this hard truth, Waymo has resorted to floating conspiracy theories not rooted in fact, doing everything they can to put the focus on sensation rather than substance.”
However, during the preliminary injunction hearing, Alsup said there is evidence that at least some information from the files if not the files themselves have seeped into Uber.
As the defendant, Uber is now in the midst of its own discovery process and is seeking to depose top Alphabet executives like Larry Page and its chief legal officer David Drummond, a former Uber board member.
That’s primarily in order to discern Alphabet’s motivation in suing the ride-hail company. Uber has long held the position that Alphabet, which is also an investor, was simply trying to slow a competitor with this lawsuit — a position that’s been bolstered now that Alphabet has decided not to pursue some of it patent claims.
For Uber, deposing Page and Drummond would help to prove exactly that.
The company claims that Page knew that Levandowski downloaded these files when Page met with former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to discuss a potential partnership but didn’t say that Levandowski did anything wrong. Further, Uber claims Drummond and Kalanick also discussed a potential self-driving partnership between the companies and that he has unique knowledge of Google’s plans to compete with Uber.
“There is no substitute for these depositions, which would resolve some key unanswered questions,” an Uber spokesperson said. “For instance: why, after Google learned of the alleged downloading of 14,000 files, did Mr. Page not alert Uber’s then-CEO to that fact when they spoke? Simultaneously, Google was rejecting a partnership with Uber, choosing instead to compete. This—and the lack of evidence supporting Waymo’s case—begs the obvious question: was this lawsuit actually motivated by the downloading of the files, or was it an attempt to slow down a competitor?”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.