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Alphabet's Waymo Sues Uber For Allegedly Stealing Self-Driving Secrets (bloomberg.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: It took Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo seven years to design and build a laser-scanning system to guide its self-driving cars. Uber Technologies Inc. allegedly did it in nine months. Waymo claims in a lawsuit filed Thursday that was possible because a former employee stole the designs and technology and started a new company. Waymo accuses several employees of Otto, a self-driving startup Uber acquired in August for $680 million, of lifting technical information from Google's autonomous car project. The "calculated theft" of Alphabet's technology earned Otto's employees more than $500 million, according to the complaint in San Francisco federal court. The claims in Thursday's case include unfair competition, patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation. Waymo was inadvertently copied on an e-mail from one of its vendors, which had an attachment showing an Uber lidar circuit board that had a "striking resemblance" to Waymo's design, according to the complaint. Anthony Levandowski, a former manager at Waymo, in December 2015 downloaded more than 14,000 proprietary and confidential files, including the lidar circuit board designs, according to the complaint. He also allegedly created a domain name for his new company and confided in some of his Waymo colleagues of plans to "replicate" its technology for a competitor. Levandowski left Waymo in January 2016 and went on in May to form Otto LLC, which planned to develop hardware and software for autonomous vehicles.
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Alphabet's Waymo Sues Uber For Allegedly Stealing Self-Driving Secrets

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  • Surprise! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @09:13AM (#53923101)
    Uber doing something unethical? This isn't news, it's business as usual.
    • by kelemvor4 ( 1980226 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @09:17AM (#53923117)

      Uber doing something unethical? This isn't news, it's business as usual.

      Come on now, they're saving us money! They can do no wrong!

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        Uber doing something unethical? This isn't news, it's business as usual.

        Come on now, they're saving us money! They can do no wrong!

        Given they aren't any cheaper than a minicab in my part of the world, I don't see what they are doing for me.

        I also live in a place where they can operate legally... and they still cant even turn a profit here.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's because Uber's business model is literally "ignore regulation". It sustains itself only because there are enough desperate employe^Wcontractors that the high churn doesn't affect their bottom line too much. Oh, and they're great at stalking ex partners of employees, so anyone with insider knowledge is going to be a little scared. Which isn't surprising, considering the CEO is an unabashed misogynist whose success is based entirely off having less idea of ethics than pretty much any tech CEO of any Am

          • Re:Surprise! (Score:4, Informative)

            by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @11:38AM (#53923621)

            Well you could find that critique in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (IMO a much better written book) which predates it. Das Kapital is a turgid piece of crap. The only interesting quote from that book is the bit where he talks about "precious stones" and how they're basically junk in terms of basic materials and that they could one day be manufactured and priced like dirt. Then again Atlas Shrugged is just as bad a read with lots and lots of random pointless dialogue.

            My advice: read The Wealth of Nations and skip those two.

            • Read: 'We The Living' and ignore everything else Rand wrote, overly wordy crap. 'We The Living' says all that needs to be said about collectivism.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Could have been worse, they might have had someone like Eric Schmitt on their board who took apple's secret project info to google.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Anthony Levandowski, a former manager at Waymo

    That seals it. He was a manager and therefore not capable of the engineering design.

    • While I agree with your conclusion, I would say that he wasn't "capable" because he was a manager, regardless of his previous status which could have been engineer. I am half convinced there is a secret to getting into management from an actual work position. Based on my own boss's progress, I am convinced that he went to an actual "Dilbert School of Management" and got his PhB degree. I turn to Dilbert every day to see what is his next plan.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        The secret to getting out of engineering or other technical work and into management is to become friends with management and to see them socially. Go drink with them. Go play golf with them. Go camping, go to strip clubs, go to games like football or baseball or the like, go play with offroad toys like quads or dune buggies with them. Whatever their interest is, go do it with them.

        Of course, for this to work you probably have to be likable to them too.
      • I've asked newly promoted managers: 'Did the lobotomy hurt?'

  • If it's true... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2017 @09:45AM (#53923189)

    If these allegations are true, then the fallout from this suit is going to completely undermine Uber's long-term strategy. The direct financial hit may be enough to sink the company outright, but even if it doesn't, they'll be dead in the long term.

    If the allegations are not true then it's an almighty blunder by Waymo; it'll hit their credibility really hard, but also their staff morale, because they'll all be wondering if they're going to be next to be falsely accused.

    It would seem to me that Waymo know this, so they must believe they have good evidence and a watertight (uber-strong?) case or they wouldn't have gone public with it at all.

    Google / Alphabet also has an investment in Uber, which muddies the waters further, and makes it even more certain that they'd only be doing this if they were absolutely convinced of it being true and of it holding up in court.

    I'm looking forward to seeing this one play out. Whatever happens, it's going to be messy.

    • The direct financial hit may be enough to sink the company outright, but even if it doesn't, they'll be dead in the long term.

      You're missing somethinghuge with your cognitively-challenged, anally-scented musings: Uber hasn't made any money yet with Otto so they have minimal exposure. The folks who sold Otto to Uber, on the other hand...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The direct financial hit may be enough to sink the company outright, but even if it doesn't, they'll be dead in the long term.

        You're missing somethinghuge with your cognitively-challenged, anally-scented musings: Uber hasn't made any money yet with Otto so they have minimal exposure. The folks who sold Otto to Uber, on the other hand...

        The "direct financial hit" here wouldn't be loss of earnings for Uber (which as you say are near enough zero anyway for now), it would be the cost in penalties and legal fees if they lose the case, and reputational damage.

        And Uber don't have "minimal exposure". They bought Otto outright, which means that the companies are merged and any liabilities Otto brought with it, such as this, are also merged into Uber. It still counts even if they didn't know at the time; that's why companies do Due Diligence as par

  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @09:45AM (#53923193) Homepage Journal

    Alphabet are alleging they have specific evidence the former employee downloaded the designs to a laptop, which he then tried to wipe to hide any trace he'd done this. Alphabet are also alleging the same former employee actually bragged about what he was going to do before he did it.

    So... assuming they're not lying, this is pretty much open and shut. I guess we'll find out over the next few weeks.

    • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @11:38AM (#53923619)
      Probably over the next several years actually.

      If Uber is forced to either pay Google to use the tech (which I assume is going to be very expensive) or is forced to abandon and restart development from scratch (which may mean having to essentially form a brand new team of employees since current ones may be unable to participate because of their previous association) then Uber's intentions to switch from their current driver-based model to a driverless model may not be possible. If that's so then it makes me wonder if Uber has any chance of succeeding, since it's pretty clear that their human-driven model is shaky at best. They may not be able to sustain it until they have self-driving tech without raising prices, which means at some point they won't be the better choice, from a consumer point of view, than a conventional taxi.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Uber's lawyer will say "To have a case, they'll need to come up with Waymo evidence".

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @09:58AM (#53923213) Journal

    Waymo was inadvertently copied on an e-mail from one of its vendors, which had an attachment showing an Uber lidar circuit board that had a "striking resemblance" to Waymo's design, according to the complaint

    Remember the thread yesterday about police subpoenaing Amazaon's Alexa recordings on a murder investigation? Can an email provider such as google or microsoft be required to supply email threads in a discovery proceeding? What about third party planning/scheduling/defect management/configuration management software? It is one thing if the data resides in the customer's computers/servers and the software vendor never had access to the data. But now a days I see lots of "cloud based" software doing this. Many companies use companies with names like AgileRally or CloudCentral. The entire history of user stories, discussions, projects plans, defects and corrections are archived at some fine grained detail in their servers. If they get subpoenaed in some discovery proceeding on such a patent lawsuit, how strongly would they protect their client's confidentiality? They might have contract to protect it, but at some point the cost of protecting the client might not be worth it for them and they might throw them under the bus.

    Unless it is impossible for them to get the data. It is possible to create the system such that all the databases reside in the client's computer or servers. The software provider's site only runs the code and all access to the data base are funneled through client's servers and it would be impossible for the vendor to get the data without the cooperation of the client. Unless such protections are employed it would be a folly for R&D heavy companies to house their data outside their servers.

    • by hajo ( 74449 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @10:52AM (#53923393) Homepage

      Software code DOES get subpoenaed all the time in disputes. This doesn't even have to be criminal cases, in civil cases as well. If the code resides in a version control system of some sort they typically get all of that as well. (Some smart guys have tried to deliver code in printed form to bury the other party but the courts have mostly refused those 'smart' tactics.
      Email gets subpoenaed all the time as well. Again bot in civil and criminal cases. Also from outside vendors. This is not a big issue. A company gets a subpoena from a judge and they hand over the data. What is troubling with surveillance in the US is that it is happening on a massive scale without judicial oversight.
      Your latest paragraph is moot. Once served with a subpoena those materials HAVE to be turned over. It doesn't matter where the data resides. If people can see it and manipulate it it can be turned over.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Your latest paragraph is moot. Once served with a subpoena those materials HAVE to be turned over. It doesn't matter where the data resides. If people can see it and manipulate it it can be turned over."

        Microsoft and Ireland might disagree with you.

        https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/12/faulty-logic-heart-microsoft-ireland-email-dispute

      • The question is how hard you hard you try to interpret the subpoena language as restrictively as possible. If you own the data you can fight very hard and spend lots of resources and lawyers to make absolutely sure you don't turn in anything outside the purview. But if it is not your data and if it is no skin off your teeth, you only spend just enough to satisfy the contract language with your customer.

        The customer knows what is really valuable, guess the motivation of the other party and know what one sh

        • It doesn't matter if "it's your data". If there is a legitimately issued supeona and you don't turn over what it requests you are guilty of contempt of court and you can't appeal contempt of court.

    • Remember the thread yesterday about police subpoenaing Amazaon's Alexa recordings on a murder investigation? Can an email provider such as google or microsoft be required to supply email threads in a discovery proceeding? What about third party planning/scheduling/defect management/configuration management software? It is one thing if the data resides in the customer's computers/servers and the software vendor never had access to the data. But now a days I see lots of "cloud based" software doing this. Many companies use companies with names like AgileRally or CloudCentral. The entire history of user stories, discussions, projects plans, defects and corrections are archived at some fine grained detail in their servers. If they get subpoenaed in some discovery proceeding on such a patent lawsuit, how strongly would they protect their client's confidentiality? They might have contract to protect it, but at some point the cost of protecting the client might not be worth it for them and they might throw them under the bus.

      I don't think there's any question that Google or Microsoft could be required to provide email threads and other data. I think what was novel about the Alexa recordings was the realization that the data exists and that a conversation could be recorded without necessarily being aware that it was.

      There is no such expectation with email - when you send an email there is no question that the recipient is going to have a record of it; and most people are clueful enough to realize that their email provider and t

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Well there are two quite different scenarios here, unnamed and named defendant. If it's an unnamed defendant like they're trying to subpoena the subscription information of the IP that uploaded this movie to P2P it's up to how much the third party wants to fight. If it's a named defendant like against Uber then Uber will have their own lawyers to fight that subpoena themselves, they're a party to the case and it's their data. The third party will usually get an order to preserve data and if that is the outc

  • by Anonymous Coward

    just drove away all by themselves.

  • What a masterful plan if Google played Uber by conspiring with Anthony Levandowski to create Otto and then dangle it in front of Uber as a too good to pass up acquisition.

  • Alphabet's just upset that they've been messing around with self-driving cars for the better part of a decade and it still doesn't look any closer to a product, and Uber has stolen a march on them by actually _using_ them. If you can't make your product succeed, tearing down the competition is almost as good.

    • Alphabet's just upset that they've been messing around with self-driving cars for the better part of a decade and it still doesn't look any closer to a product, and Uber has stolen a march on them by actually _using_ them. If you can't make your product succeed, tearing down the competition is almost as good.

      Uber aren't using them, they are talking about using them, but all their "tests" are just PR at this point since we are still a couple of generations of self-driving cars away from them being able to do last mile point-to-point driving.

  • I'm not advocating stealing from an employer.. but I really want a self driving car. So hurry up and steal it so my next Acura can drive me home from a bar.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was once shown a Chinese copy of a POE we designed. They even put our initials on the silkscreen. They visually copied the simple two layer design and didn't understand it enough to leave it out. Dummies.

    I wonder if a contractor name or email was still in a copied design and was added to the CC when someone thought they were including a stakeholder.

    Haha, or they still had the founder's old Gmail address in the address book instead of the Otto email address due to auto name completion.

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