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Google's parent company accuses Uber of stealing self-driving car technology

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The race to develop self-driving vehicles took a new turn on Thursday when Google's parent company, Alphabet, filed a lawsuit against Uber, accusing it of stealing technology.

Alphabet contends that a manager at Waymo, its autonomous car subsidiary, took technical data with him when he left to launch a competing venture that went on to become Otto, Uber's self-driving vehicle unit.

"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," Waymo said in a San Francisco federal court filing.

It is calling for a trial to stop Otto and Uber from using what it said is patented technology.

It also wants unspecified damages in what it described in court documents as "an action for trade secret misappropriation, patent infringement and unfair competition".

The company argued that a "calculated theft" of its technology "reportedly netted Otto employees over half a billion dollars and allowed Uber to revive a stalled programme, all at Waymo's expense".

Uber acquired the commercial transport-focused tech start-up Otto last year.

Mr Anthony Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto, a 90-person start-up, was put in charge of Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking.


Waymo's lawsuit contends that Mr Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 proprietary files from a highly confidential design server to a laptop in December 2015, when he was a Waymo employee.

A week later, after removing a data storage card, Mr Levandowski reformatted the company laptop in what the suit maintains was an attempt to erase any trace of what happened to the downloaded data.

The suit is focused on proprietary information about LiDAR sensors, which use lasers to scan and essentially enable vehicles to "see" what is around them.

After downloading confidential information regarding Waymo's LiDAR systems and other technology while working at Waymo, Mr Levandowski attended meetings with high-level executives at Uber's headquarters in San Francisco in January last year, the lawsuit contends.

By the end of that month, Levandowski officially formed a venture that would become Otto and resigned from Waymo, according to the court filing. - AFP