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Waymo v Uber in trade secrets row

The trial of Uber in the trade-secrets scandal has begun in San Francisco before Judge William Alsup. The dispute between Waymo (a subsidiary of Google Inc,) and Uber is centred on self-drive technology. Waymo have alleged that Uber have stolen trade secrets relating to light detection and ranging (Lidar) for their driverless vehicles.

Uber are well known for their operation of personal transportation and food delivery services, but they have in recent years become a major player in driverless technology.

The accusation is that when Anthony Levandowski (a leading mind in self-drive technology) left his employment at Waymo/Google, he took with him over 14,000 confidential documents on Lidar. He quickly founded an autonomous truck driving company, Otto, which was bought out by Uber in its first year. One of the accusations is that the entire process was a charade, and that Otto was merely a front for Uber to steal Waymo’s trade secrets.

When the case moves forward, the jury are likely to hear from witnesses such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin (the co-founders of Google), and Uber engineers who will be questioned on whether they have ever seen the documents in question at Uber. Also likely to be questioned in court is Mr Kalanick, who was at the time the CEO of Uber. He has since been forced to step down after ‘pleading the fifth’ (protection from self-incrimination) in a series of other scandals relating to his time in charge of the tech monolith.

In the event that the jury find that Uber did steal trade secrets, they may be liable for damages of over $1bn: despite Waymo’s technology not yet being commercialised. Alternatively, an injunction may be issued that would stop Uber’s self-driving programme completely. This would be an extreme outcome, and it is more likely that any injunction would apply only to those trade secrets actually used. Uber claim to have no issue with that outcome, as their main defence is that they haven’t actually used any of the information.

This litigation is highlighting to the world the importance of properly securing and storing confidential data, and ensuring that departing employees are not given the opportunity to take their work, or the work of their department, with them.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or legal@mcdanielslaw.com.