Uber- Alphabet: Tussle for Self-driving Technology
Written by: Stuti Raibagkar
Here is one more for the biggest ride hail Company- Uber. It is already dealing with numerous court cases and is facing criticism for its law Enforcement evading software. Now it is faced with one more lawsuit and this relates to Intellectual Property. Alphabet- Google’s parent company has sued Uber for misappropriation of trade secrets and violating its patents. At stake is Uber’s self –driving efforts. If Uber loses, it may have to cease operating any technology that use these trade secrets.
This all began when Uber started developing its own self-driving car. Well, what’s wrong in developing your own self-driving car? To answer this question let’s clear the facts. On Feb 23, Alphabet filed a complaint alleging Anthony Levandowski stole 14,000 confidential files related to self-driving techniques from Alphabet before he left and joined Uber. Who is Anthony Levandowski? Anthony Levandowski was a former executive for both the companies: Alphabet and Uber. He was working at Alphabet’s self-driving division (now Waymo) before joining Uber where he was appointed as the head of Uber’s self-driving division. The confidential files included designs for a key part of most of self-driving system- The lidar. Lidar stands for Light Detection and Ranging, a laser-based radar that can recognize objects such as oncoming traffic and pedestrians, which is why it’s considered crucial to self-driving systems. Why was this Lidar important to Alphabet? The current lidar technology costs more than $20,000 per car, while Alphabet had created a design which would reduce the cost by 90 percent and thus the contentions were, due to some information from those files, Uber could speedily develop their own version of self-driving car. Now, to prove themselves right, Alphabet will have to produce strong evidence of Levandwoski brought the files to Uber for the express purpose of using the technology. And to prove misappropriation of trade secrets, it will have to prove that Uber acquired or used the proprietary information that Levadwoski allegedly stole, a tough one to prove though!
Trade secret is any confidential information that generally is not known to public and which provides businesses an economic benefit over competitors, just like lidar technology. Patent is an exclusive right given to the inventor to sell, use, distribute and manufacture his invention for a specific period of time. However, one could make the argument that Anthony Levandowski was in Alphabet’s self-driving department and took his brain with him! The only person who can answer this question is Levandowski, but sadly Levandowski has asserted his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid incriminating himself, meaning neither the court nor Uber can force him to take the stand or produce any document he has in his personal possession. Whether, it was really a misappropriation of trade secret or just the use of one’s intellectual, is a question to be considered by the courts and all of us. The trial is set for the October, till then, enjoy the ride!
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