Posted by Ryan Lawler _Techcrunch.com
There were a few big breaks in the case between Waymo and Uber over self-driving car technology today. As a result, the scope of the case is starting to come into focus as both companies prepare for a trial set to begin in October.
First of all, Waymo has narrowed its case, dropping three out of four patent claims it originally made against Uber. Meanwhile, Uber has been granted the ability to depose Alphabet CEO Larry Page about why his company decided against partnering with Uber as part of its autonomous vehicle program.
Waymo, the self-driving technology arm of Google parent Alphabet, filed the lawsuit in February, alleging theft of trade secrets that Uber planned to use in its autonomous vehicles. The case centers around engineer Anthony Levandowski, who Waymo claims stole 14,000 documents before leaving the company and founding Otto, a self-driving trucking company which Uber later acquired.
Waymo decided to drop its claims on U.S. Patent Nos. 8,836,922, 9,285,464 and 9,086,273, noting that they were related to an earlier version of Uber’s autonomous lidar design nicknamed “Spider” that the company was no longer using. The remaining patent claim targets a newer version of lidar technology called Fiji, which is still in use by Uber.
An Uber spokesperson issued the following statement: “Waymo’s retreat on three of their four patent claims is yet another sign that they have overpromised and can’t deliver. Not only have they uncovered zero evidence of any of the 14,000 files in question coming to Uber, they now admit that Uber’s LiDAR design is actually very different than theirs. Faced with this hard truth, Waymo has resorted to floating conspiracy theories not rooted in fact, doing everything they can to put the focus on sensation rather than substance.”
In addition to the patent news, U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked Waymo to narrow its theft of trade secret claims from more than 100 down to 10 that could be put in front of a jury.
Over the course of the last several months, the judge has urged both parties to simplify the scope of the case so that each could be adequately prepared to argue the merits of the strongest claims post-discovery. This has been happening at the same time that Uber and Waymo have been arguing over what evidence can be admitted during the trial.
On that front, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, who has been overseeing the discovery process of the case, granted Uber’s lawyers the ability to depose Alphabet CEO Larry Page ahead of trial. Those lawyers are expected to question Page over why the company chose not to partner with Uber, a company it had invested in, as part of its autonomous driving efforts.
The company also seeks to depose Alphabet chief legal officer David Drummond, who served as a board member to Uber from August 2013 through August 2016. Corley ruled that Uber also will be able to depose Drummond, unless Waymo plans to call him as a witness.
Waymo, for its part, continues to argue that Uber was aware of the confidential information Levandowski took before leaving Google. In a statement issued today, a spokesperson said:
“Anthony Levandowski led Uber’s self-driving car program for over a year after stealing 14,000 confidential Waymo files. While Uber has decided it is now advantageous to disavow him, the truth is Uber supported Levandowski’s 5th Amendment claims to avoid self-incrimination well into this litigation and continues to obstruct the production of key documents every step of the way. We initiated legal action because we came across evidence showing stolen Waymo files made their way into Uber’s technology, and despite Uber’s attempt to distract with constantly changing storylines, Waymo has continued to build its case with more evidence uncovered during expedited discovery. We look forward to sharing this evidence in court.”