A stunning claim of stolen trade secrets may be the first big intellectual property battle of the self-driving car era.
Waymo, the self-driving car company that began at Google, is suing Uber and the self-driving truck company Otto, which Uber acquired last year. Waymo said in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday that one of Google’s former software engineers, Anthony Levandowski, installed special software on his laptop so he could download more than 14,000 secret documents—totaling nearly 10 gigabytes of “highly confidential data”—from the company’s server when he still worked at Google. Waymo claims in the court filing that Levandowski then reformatted the laptop in an attempt to wipe it of evidence, then never used the laptop again.
Levandowski then took those secrets with him when he left Google to found Otto and used them in his role leading Uber's self-driving car effort, Waymo claims. A call to Levandowski’s cellphone went straight to voicemail, which was full. “We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully,” an Uber spokesperson said in an email.
In another astonishing detail from the court filing, Waymo says it was tipped off of the alleged theft when Waymo was “apparently inadvertently” copied on an email from a vendor of Uber’s. The email included an attachment of an Uber circuit board that “bears a striking resemblance to Waymo’s own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets,” Waymo said in its lawsuit.