Google has filed a lawsuit against Uber alleging the firm stole trade secrets and technology in an act of “calculated theft”.
Waymo, Google’s self-driving car unit, claims an ex-employee downloaded 14,000 confidential files before leaving the company to set up his own firm.
Anthony Levandoski’s self-driving truck company, Otto, was subsequently acquired by Uber for a reported $680m in August last year.
The explosive claims come at a difficult time for the ride-hailing app, which lost more than 200,000 users during the #DeleteUber campaign earlier this year.
It was drawn into the spotlight again last weekend over allegations of sexual harassment detailed in a blog by former engineer Susan Fowler.
Uber told HuffPost UK it was taking the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and would review the matter carefully.
In a blog, Google’s Waymo team said the alleged theft related to the design of its LiDAR (light detection and ranging) system.
“Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company,” the blog said.
The suit also claims Levandowski “went to great lengths to take what he needed to ‘replicate’ Waymo’s technology and then to meet with Uber executives, all while still a Waymo employee”.
Waymo claims it became aware of the alleged behaviour when one of its staff received an email intended for Otto’s employees that showed machine drawings of Otto’s LiDAR circuit board.
“Its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design,” the blog said.
“We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board.
“To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation.
“Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.”
Google’s suit claims other former Waymo employees now working at Otto and Uber also allegedly downloaded confidential files related to Waymo’s LiDAR system before leaving the company.