Waymo drops 3 out of 4 patent claims against Uber

July 10, 2017

If you read that headline and thought that Uber might be off the hook for making use of information stolen from Waymo/Google, think again.

It's true that the autonomous car start-up has dropped 75 percent of its patent claims in the increasingly messy court battle. The suit has centered on allegations that Uber's self-driving car program employed proprietary designs stolen from Waymo by former employee Anthony Levandowski.   

But although legally patented materials will be of slightly smaller concern in the case, less-protected trade secrets still rest at its heart.

Waymo's move comes at the urging of U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco. Alsup recently suggested that Waymo whittle down its number of claims related to Uber's use of trade secrets. Those claims had numbered over 100.

Now, jurists will have to evaluate just one patent-infringement claim and ten or so instances of trade secret violation. Waymo says that details of that intellectual property were included in 14,000 documents that Levandowski downloaded to a jump drive before leaving Waymo's employ and starting autonomous trucking firm Otto in January 2016. (Otto was quickly bought by Uber eight months later.)  

The three patent claims that were cut from the suit involved a very specific type of lidar system that Uber has told the court it no longer uses and will not revive. The one patent claim that remains is associated with Uber's lidar design that's been code-named "Fuji". While Waymo says that the Fuji system closely resembles its own patented lidar design, Uber has denied such claims. (At least one of Uber's own employees, however, has a different story to tell.)

Complicating matters is the fact that the man at the center of the case, Levandowski himself, continues his refusal to testify, citing his Fifth Amendment rights. That strongly suggests that Levandowski may, indeed, have stolen the 9.7 gigabytes of information as Waymo alleges. Whether Uber and its former CEO, Travis Kalanick, conspired with Levandowski to take that data remains to be seen. 

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