Stakes high with Waymo yet to provide decisive evidence in trade secret-stealing case against Uber

04 May 2017

04 May 2017

Google’s sister division Waymo is currently in a high-stakes legal battle against ride hailing startup Uber. Waymo accuses Uber of stealing trade secrets fundamental to its autonomous vehicle programme.

Former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents from Waymo’s servers shortly before setting up his own self-driving tech company Otto, which was then bought by Uber, allegedly paying Levandowski $250 million (€229 million) in the process.

Uber then set up its autonomous programme in a matter of months; Waymo’s took eight years.

Uber is withholding a tranche of documents central to the Otto acquisition, which San Francisco federal court District Judge William Alsup has called a ′treasure trove’ that will be crucial to the case.

If it is proven that Levandowski conspired with Uber to steal Waymo’s trade secrets, this could spell doom to Uber’s core business expansion prospects as a dominant player in the emerging giant business of self-driving cars.

It all hangs in the balance.

One of the biggest expenses holding back Uber is the cost of attracting new drivers, which have a high turnover rate. If Uber is ever to be able to expand into suburban and rural markets – crucial for it to remain cost-competitive against rivals and remain the go-to service of choice – while still being able to commit to its core selling point of offering a ride within three minutes, then achieving this goal rests entirely on its ability to create a network of self-driving vehicles. And it is exactly this technology which is at stake in this case.

The judge is still considering whether to send Waymo’s trade secret claims to arbitration, which would not be open to the press or public.

Photograph courtesy of istock