SECONDS AWAY, ROUND ONE. Waymo, the self-driving car division of Alphabet, and Uber, the enfant terrible of crapsicabs, have clashed in the first day of a court hearing alleging that Uber had stolen Waymo patents for its own autonomous vehicles.
In a case that some analysts predict will be bigger than Samsung vs Apple, the knives were out even in the opening remarks with Google's lawyers using the word "cheating" to describe the actions of Uber's former executive Anthony Levandowski, who had previously been at Google.
Technically, Uber argues it wasn't complicit, a fact its lawyers were keen to point out as they tried to create some distance between itself and Levandowski.
It was Levandowski's company Otto, which made self-driving trucks that were bought by Uber for $680m. However, Uber claims it didn't know that the technology in question had been stolen as part of 14,000 files that Levandowski is said to have ‘liberated' when he left Google.
"Uber regrets ever bringing Levandowski on board," said Uber's attorney Bill Carmody "For all his time at Uber, all Uber has to show for Levandowski is this lawsuit."
Uber countered, also pointing out that Google engineers had said during investigations that the technology stolen by Levandowski was not crucial to the function of its own car efforts.
It is Uber's LiDAR circuit that is the bone of contention and it seems by pure chance was sent to Waymo in error, where they spotted the similarities.
The trial is expected to take two weeks and will include some very high-profile witnesses. Most notable is former Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick, who is expected to testify as a witness for both parties.
Judge William Alsup warned the San Francisco court that no one, regardless of their status would be getting special treatment during the trial and that all testimony would be heard in the public court, regardless of how packed with press and spectators it was.
The rub for Waymo will be whether Uber knowingly used "stolen" data in its development and whether it tried to cover up the fact. We'll be watching with interest. µ
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