Ex-Google self-driving engineer secretly collaborated with competitors, suit says

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New details emerge in Google lawsuit that alleges former employee Anthony Levandowski plotted to steal trade secrets and take them to Uber

A former Google employee secretly collaborated with competing self-driving car companies for years before allegedly stealing trade secrets and bringing the proprietary technology to Uber, according to a new court filing.

Anthony Levandowski now head of Ubers self-driving program and a key player in Googles high-profile intellectual property lawsuit against Uber collected $120m in incentive payments from Google, according to the claim, all while he was breaching his obligations to Google and building a company that would compete with Google. The filing also alleges that while at Google, he helped the company investigate one of two competing firms with which he was involved.

The filing provides new details about Googles case against Levandowski, suggesting that his alleged plot to steal trade secrets involved his clandestine association with the side companies dating back to 2012. The claims have come to light a week after Levandowski invoked his fifth amendment right, with his lawyers stating in court that there is potential for criminal action.

Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Googles parent Alphabet, first filed the suit against Uber in February, accusing the ride-share company of engaging in the calculated theft of its technology. The complaint claimed that Levandowski downloaded sensitive, secret, and valuable internal Waymo information before leaving to start his own self-driving truck company, Otto, which Uber acquired for $680m in 2016.

The lawsuit, which could be a fatal setback for Ubers self-driving car ambitions, stems from Waymos proprietary LiDAR system, which are the eyes the cars use to observe and respond to the world around the vehicles.

Spokespeople for Google and Uber declined to comment, and a lawyer for Levandowski did not respond to a request for comment.

The filing claimed that Levandowski was previously involved in two enterprises known as Odin Wave and Tyto Lidar. Odin Wave was incorporated around August 2012 and listed at an address owned by Levandowski, according to the filing. In 2013, Google said it learned that Odin Wave had submitted an order for a part that was similar to one used by Google in its unique and proprietary laser technology for self-driving cars.

Anthony
Anthony Levandowski, head of Ubers self-driving program, speaks about their driverless car in San Francisco. Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP

At the time, Levandowski denied having any ownership interest in Odin Wave, which later merged with a firm called Tyto Lidar. The manager of Tyto, which was developing LiDAR sensor modules, was friends with Levandowski and worked with Levandowski on an early, self-driving vehicle prototype, the filing said.

Levandowski was involved in the side companies while he was working on Googles LiDAR sensor modules, according to the claim. In 2015, Google began to investigate possibly buying or using Tytos products or purchasing the company, and Levandowski was a part of that process while at Google.

Levandowski visited Tytos headquarters as part of the investigation and was aware of Googles confidential opinion of Tytos technology and the viability of Tytos business, according to the claim. Levandowski did not disclose his relationship with Tyto and its employees, which, according to the claim conflicted with Levandowskis duties to Google.

In May 2016, Tyto merged with Otto, shortly before Uber bought Otto.

The filing released on Monday was authored by Googles attorneys in October 2016, outlining the case against Levandowski. The document, however, has only come to light now because Uber filed it as evidence to support its push to have the case resolved in private arbitration, as opposed to a public trial. The document is an earlier arbitration demand from Google against Levandowski.

In what appears to be a redaction error by Ubers attorneys, the documents revealed that Otto co-founder Lior Ron was also targeted in the earlier arbitration demand from Google. Uber has previously kept his name secret and appeared to redact it throughout the filing except on one page.

The lawsuit and theft claims are one of many scandals plaguing Uber. CEO Travis Kalanick has faced widespread criticisms for a company culture that enables sexual harassment and discrimination, and the co-founder was also recently caught on video berating a driver.

The company has also faced numerous high-profile departures and backlash for a secretive tool it used to evade law enforcement.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/03/google-waymo-uber-self-driving-car-lawsuit-collaboration-competitors

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