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2017-03-10 19:43:05
Waymo Asks Court to Block Uber’s Self-Driving Car Project

SAN FRANCISCO — Waymo, the self-driving car business spun out of Google’s parent company last year, asked a federal court on Friday to block Uber’s work on a competing self-driving vehicle that Waymo claimed could be using stolen technology.

Waymo also filed testimony from employees and a Google security engineer describing how Anthony Levandowski, a former Google executive, discussed Uber’s interest in the technology and systematically stole proprietary company documents. In February 2016, Mr. Levandowski left to start his own self-driving truck company, Otto. He sold it to Uber for $680 million six months later.

Waymo sued Uber last month, accusing the ride-hailing company of colluding with Mr. Levandowski to steal crucial parts of Waymo’s technology to accelerate its development of autonomous vehicles.

Gary Brown, Google’s security engineer specializing in forensics, said in a partially redacted declaration that Mr. Levandowski searched Google’s network in December 2015 for login details to a document repository for “Chauffeur,” the internal code name for the driverless car project.

Mr. Levandowski then installed special software that allowed him to access that repository and proceeded to download over 14,000 files, or about 9.7 gigabytes of data, according to the declaration. A few days later, Mr. Levandowski attached a memory card to his laptop for eight hours, Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Levandowski, along with former Google employees Sameer Kshirsagar and Radu Raduta, gained access to a Google Drive folder containing company files and exported documents about suppliers to a personal device, according to the declaration. Soon after, they left the company for Otto, Mr. Brown said in his testimony.

Waymo asked the federal court here for a preliminary injunction against Otto and Uber. A hearing for the injunction motion is scheduled for April 27.

Waymo said in its initial lawsuit that it was inadvertently copied on an email from a supplier with blueprints of Uber’s circuit board design for its lidar technology, or light detection and ranging sensors, used in self-driving cars. Waymo said Uber’s designs bore “a striking resemblance” to its secret designs.

In another partially redacted declaration filed with the court, Pierre-Yves Droz, a hardware engineer at Waymo, said Mr. Levandowski, while still with Google, told him that he wanted long-range lidar for his start-up and that he wanted to “replicate” Waymo’s technology.

Mr. Droz said this did not surprise him because Mr. Levandowski had told him earlier that he wanted to start a self-driving car company and that Uber would be interested in “buying the team” responsible for the lidar being developed at Google.

Mr. Droz also said Mr. Levandowski, after being spotted at Uber headquarters while still working at Google, admitted to him that he had met with the ride-hailing service because he was looking for investors for his new company. Mr. Droz joined Google when it acquired 510 Systems in 2011, a self-driving car start-up he founded with Mr. Levandowski.

An injunction that hampers Uber’s ability to keep working on driverless cars could be meaningful in the fast-moving industry. Traditional automakers and technology companies see major opportunities in sensor technology and artificial intelligence to replace traditional automobiles with autonomous vehicles.

New start-ups are popping up regularly as both car companies and established tech firms are plowing money into acquiring talent and technology. Proponents of driverless cars say that autonomous vehicles will reduce the number of automobile fatalities and injuries, as well as free people to be more productive.

Mr. Levandowski, Mr. Kshirsagar and Mr. Raduta could not be reached for comment.

“Competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions,” said Johnny Luu, a Waymo spokesman. “Given the strong evidence we have, we are asking the court step in to protect intellectual property developed by our engineers over thousands of hours and to prevent any use of that stolen IP.”

Uber has called the Waymo lawsuit “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.” An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment on the injunction request.

Once allies, Alphabet — the parent company of Waymo’s and Google — and Uber are now fierce competitors. Alphabet was one of Uber’s early investors, with an $250 million investment in 2013. And Uber used to rely on Google’s mapping technology before deciding to develop its own maps.

As it became increasingly apparent that the two companies were headed for a showdown, David Drummond, a longtime Alphabet executive, stepped down from Uber’s board of directors.

As an independent company, Waymo is under greater pressure to generate revenue. It could enter the ride-hailing business with its autonomous vehicles.

Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, has said that autonomous vehicles are central to the company’s future. Replacing human drivers with robot cars theoretically would allow Uber to lower costs over time and offer safer rides around the clock.

Google started working on driverless cars eight years ago, long before most companies thought the concept could be commercially viable. While the technology has improved dramatically, Waymo has yet to articulate a business strategy for how it intends to make money from autonomous vehicles.