Waymo drops three of four patent claims against Uber

Meanwhile, a judge ruled that Uber may depose Alphabet executives Larry Page and David Drummond.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

The Alphabet-owned autonomous car company Waymo has pared down its legal challenge against Uber, dropping three of its four patent infringement claims against the ride-hailing firm. Along with its remaining patent claim, Waymo has also sued Uber for stealing trade secrets.

As Bloomberg first reported, the decision to drop some patent infringement claims comes after a June hearing in which US District Judge William Alsup urged Waymo to "think a lot about just dropping the patent part of this case." The judge has also asked Waymo to reduce its trade secret claims from more than 100 down to fewer than 10.

Back in May, Uber fired the engineer at the heart of the dispute, Anthony Levandowski. After Levandowski left Alphabet-owned Google in 2016 (before Waymo was spun off into its own company), he launched the autonomous truck company Otto and sold it to Uber. Waymo filed suit against Uber, claiming that when Levandowski left Google, he took with him more than 14,000 confidential files containing trade secrets.

The allegedly stolen data included circuit board blueprints and information concerning the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system, which is a key component in self-driving car sensor and mapping technologies. Waymo alleged that its intellectual property has made its way into Uber's own LiDAR technology. The three dropped claims pertain to a specific "Spider" LiDAR design that Uber no longer uses.

"Uber has assured the court in statements made under penalty of perjury that it no longer uses and will not use that device, so we have narrowed the issues for trial by dismissing the patent claims as to that device, with the right to re-file suit if needed," a Waymo spokesman said in a statement to Bloomberg. "We look forward to trial."

In a statement provided to ZDNet, an Uber spokesperson said the dropped claims are "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," the statement said. "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."

Meanwhile, the court on Friday ruled over Alphabet's objections that Uber may depose Alphabet CEO Larry Page. A judge wrote that "Page has first-hand non-repetitive knowledge of relevant facts." Uber plans to question Page about why Google did not partner with Uber

The court also said Uber can depose David Drummond, Alphabet's chief legal officer and a former Uber board member, unless Waymo agrees to not call him as a witness at trial. The court said Uber can question Drummond about conversations he had with former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, as well as his knowledge of the Uber/Otto deal.

A trial in the case is set for October 10.

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