Uber responded to a lawsuit from Google self-driving vehicle spinout Waymo on Friday, denying claims it has used intellectual property stolen by former Google engineers. The engineers later started a new autonomous vehicle company called Otto that was acquired by Uber last year and now plays a big role in its self-driving vehicle research.
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In a statement Friday afternoon, an Uber spokesperson said: “We are incredibly proud of the progress that our team has made. 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. In the meantime, we will continue our hard work to bring self-driving benefits to the world.”
This is a much stronger stance than Uber took earlier in the day when it told GeekWire in a statement: “We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”
At the center of Waymo’s lawsuit is Anthony Levandowski, who was influential in Google’s self-driving car efforts and later left the company to co-found Otto, a venture working on self-driving trucks. Uber acquired Otto last year for $680 million and made Levandowski the head of its self-driving vehicle efforts.
Waymo alleges in its lawsuit that before leaving Google, Levandowski downloaded 14,000 confidential and proprietary files related to technology like circuit boards that mount on vehicles and contain “laser-based scanning and mapping technology that uses the reflection of laser beams off objects to create a real-time 3D image of the world.” The lawsuit alleges that several other Google employees followed Levandowski to Otto and downloaded even more confidential files, such as supplier lists and manufacturing details, before leaving the company.
Here is how Waymo, which spun out of Google late last year, characterized the case in court documents:
Fair competition spurs new technical innovation, but what has happened here is not fair competition. Instead, Otto and Uber have taken Waymo’s intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of independently developing their own technology. Ultimately, this calculated theft reportedly netted Otto employees over half a billion dollars and allowed Uber to revive a stalled program, all at Waymo’s expense.