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Google’s allegations of self-driving tech theft are ‘baseless,’ Uber says

Why it matters to you

Waymo's accusations against Uber are pretty serious, and have started a legal battle between two of the biggest names in self-driving cars.

Waymo — a part of Alphabet, which owns Google — filed a lawsuit Thursday against Uber, alleging that the ride-sharing service stole some of its autonomous-car secrets. Waymo was began as Alphabet/Google’s self-driving car project years ago, and was spun off into its own company.

In the lawsuit, Waymo claims a former employee may have stolen proprietary files — 14,000 of them, to be exact — and used them to start a new company, according to Bloomberg. The company in question is Otto, the autonomous-driving tech startup acquired by Uber in August for $680 million. Otto demonstrated a self-driving semi truck late last year.

“We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully,” an Uber spokesperson told Bloomberg. The lawsuit alleges unfair competition, patent infringement, and trade secret misappropriation. It also claims the allegedly stolen technology earned Otto employees more than $500 million.

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According to the lawsuit, Waymo became aware of the issue when it was inadvertently copied in an email from a supplier that showed an Uber lidar circuit board, which bore a “striking resemblance” to one of Waymo’s designs. The complaint accuses former Waymo manager Anthony Levandowski of downloading the 14,000 files in question in December 2015. That allegedly included the lidar circuit board, part of a sensor that helps autonomous cars “see” their environment.

Levandowski left Waymo in January 2016 and formed Otto in May. The lawsuit alleges that, prior to his departure, he created a domain name for his new company, and told other Waymo employees that he planned to “replicate” the company’s technology for a competitor.

The lawsuit comes as Uber faces allegations of sexual harassment made by a female former employee. The coming is testing self-driving cars in ride-sharing service in Pittsburgh and Tempe, Arizona. Cars were moved to the Arizona city after an aborted launch in San Francisco. That operation was shut down when the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the registrations of Uber’s test vehicles, after the company refused to apply for the correct autonomous-car test permits.

Uber has since denied Google’s charges, dubbing them nothing more than “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.” On Friday, an Uber spokesperson told Business Insider, “We are incredibly proud of the progress that our team has made. We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court. In the meantime, we will continue our hard work to bring self-driving benefits to the world.”

Article originally published on 02-24-2017. Updated on 2-25-2017 by Lulu Chang: Added Uber’s statement denying the veracity of the charges.