Uber is trying to create self-driving auto tech and apply it in a massive ride-sharing service all on its own, something Lyft's comparably sparse resources wouldn't allow, but the Waymo-Lyft team up means all of Uber's future efforts will face a strong challenger.
Judge William Alsup of San Francisco wrote the Uber either knew or should have known that Levandowski had taken more than 14,000 confidential files from Waymo.
While still at Waymo, Levandowski used his work laptop to search the company's intranet for the terms "chauffeur svn login" and "chauffeur svn eee setup". How did we get here?
At a court hearing last week about Waymo's request for an injunction against Uber, Alsup told Waymo it had one of the strongest bodies of evidence he had seen in his career, but suggested that the company hadn't yet convinced him that Uber had benefitted from information allegedly stolen from it.
However, GM's recent purchase of Cruise Automation, a startup specializing in self-driving vehicles, could present a quandary as to which cars are used, and whose sensor arrays and software are fitted.
After Uber bought Otto, Levandowski took over oversight of Uber's self-driving vehicle division. The judge also ordered Uber to do what it could to ensure the return of the files to Waymo, including the possibility of terminating Levandowski's employment at Uber. Automakers from Toyota to Ford to Volvo all have projects under way. Waymo had grown increasingly suspicious about Otto and the fact that its staff kept being poached by the company, so a Google forensics security engineer, Gary Brown, dug into access to the secured SVN repository and found Levandowski's massive data dump as well as similar, but smaller, data grabs by two other Waymo employees who subsequently moved to Otto and the Uber. Things started souring when Google developed its own self driving technology and showed signs of piggy-backing it to enter the ride hailing business rather than licensing it to its long-time partner. Lyft has partnered with GM to offer short-term-use Chevrolet vehicles to Lyft drivers and eventually bring out autonomous Bolt EV taxis.
What does the judge say?
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The judge granted Waymo a partial injunction and ordered the return of any and all stolen documents to Waymo, and required Levandowski have nothing further to do with the development of the technology. He remains at the company, however.
Uber said in a statement Monday that it's pleased the court allowed it to continue the research, including its own Lidar innovations.
"We look forward to moving toward trial and continuing to demonstrate that our technology has been built independently from the ground up", the spokesperson added.
This latest maneuver could be partly down to Waymo's increasingly bitter rivalry with Uber, the undisputed ride-hailing king in the US market. But that's easier said than done.
The deal appears to play off the assets each company brings to the table.
"Waymo has made a strong showing that Levandowski absconded with over 14,000 files from Waymo, evidently to have them available to consult on behalf of Otto and Uber", Judge Alsup wrote in his order on Monday.
Alsup referred the case to federal prosecutors last week for a possible criminal investigation into the alleged theft of trade secrets.