Tech companies are used to witnessing litigation, a lot. Most cases though, are usually about patent and intellectual property issues. For Uber, its most public court cases have had nothing to do with patents or intellectual property until now.
The company has been sued by Waymo, the self-driving car division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. Waymo alleges that Uber stole key information about its driverless car designs and implemented them as their own.
Waymo is accusing the company of knowingly stealing its key designs when the ridesharing company recruited a top engineer who had reportedly taken 14,000 internal files without authorization before leaving Google.
The suit was filed in February 2017, but the trial began February 5, 2018. And it could go a long way to decide Uber’s future.
Let’s get a background on this case.
How did Uber steal Google’s tech?
The case centres around Uber’s purchase of a driverless truck company, Otto, and hire of its owner Anthony Levandowski in August 2016. Levandowski had been a member of Google’s self-driving programme before he left in January 2016. After leaving Google, he went on to start his own company: Otto.
The company had only been in existence for a few months before it was purchased by Uber for an incredible $680 million. This acquisition formed the crux of the taxi-hailing companies’ self driving division, with Mr Levandowski leading its program.
Waymo alleges that the documents stolen by Mr Levandowski are key to Uber’s self-driving innovations and is suing them for it.
What’s at stake in this trial?
This case is a really big one. It could have consequences for Uber’s future and the future of driverless cars too.
Waymo and Uber are two big companies investing a lot in driverless cars. Uber for one has a $300 million partnership with Volvo to produce fully autonomous cars by 2021.
The stakes are higher for Uber than Alphabet. The first company to develop a commercially viable robotic car would completely dominate the ridesharing market and dictate the trends going forward.
Uber is already the most popular ridesharing app in Nigeria and 107 other countries. But it faces competition from Didi, Ola, and Taxify. Yet it is light years ahead of the competition. If it doesn’t take advantage of this gap, it knows it would be harder in the future.
If the company loses this case, it may very well fall out of luck in the race for driverless cars. It would lose all its work to Google, and would have to start from scratch. This would very likely give the competition enough room to take it on.
At the same time, there is the financial pressure of losing to Google. If Waymo can prove that Uber stole its trade secrets, the latter could be forced to fork out billions of dollars. If this happens, with the burden accruing from the cost of global expansions, it may have to scale down a lot of its ambitions and even begin pulling out of markets like Nigeria and Asia.
We’ll follow the story to keep you updated.