Waymo Drops Most Patent Claims in Autonomous Tech Fight With Uber
Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car division, dropped three of four patent-infringement claims in its lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc. over the startup’s autonomous vehicle program.
Waymo’s decision to include patent claims in its complaint against Uber was a surprise move for Google parent Alphabet, which normally prides itself on limiting patent fights. The bulk of Waymo’s case is not over patents, but trade secrets.
Waymo alleges that Uber stole trade secrets from Waymo when Anthony Levandowski, who worked for Waymo, downloaded 14,000 files to his personal computer and then joined Uber to lead the startup’s driverless car program. Uber fired Levandowski in late May. The executive has invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and has refused to testify in the case, hindering Uber’s ability to defend itself against Waymo’s claims.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco has asked Waymo to narrow its more than 100 trade secrets claims to fewer than 10 to put in front of a jury. In a June 7 hearing, he also said, “I want to reiterate to the plaintiff here that you should think a lot about just dropping the patent part of this case.”
“Waymo’s retreat on three of their four patent claims is yet another sign that they have overpromised and can’t deliver,” Uber said in a statement. “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.”
Lidar is a key component that helps autonomous vehicles see their surroundings, and it’s at the center of this case. A Waymo spokesman said July 7 that it dropped the three patent claims because they relate to a specific “Spider” lidar design that Uber no longer uses. The fourth patent claim focuses on another lidar design, “Fuji,” that the startup continues to use, the spokesman 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,” the Waymo spokesman said in a statement. “We look forward to trial.”
The case is Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies Inc., 17-cv-00939, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).