Uber’s Self-Driving Venture Might Live On As Judge Says Waymo Has No ‘Smoking Gun’

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Uber’s self-driving venture might not be doomed after all.

Many have weighed in on Uber’s alleged intellectual property theft case, predicting that the upshot of this legal turmoil might be Uber retracting its self-driving efforts altogether.

For those who don’t know, here’s a brief backgrounder of the situation: Google’s self-driving division, Waymo, accused Uber late February of stealing thousands of documents that it claims Uber used to build its self-driving technology with. It’s a long, strained battle, but those are the basics.

Self-driving technology is crucial for Uber’s business because it could help it become significantly more profitable. Work-related ethical questions related aside, a ride-hailing service made up of self-driving cars will deduct driver salary costs, lending Uber more cash in its coffers.

No ‘Smoking Gun’ Evidence That Uber Used Files Levandowski Stole, Says Judge

Now, the legal battle might be pivoting in Uber’s favor. A U.S. judge said Wednesday, May 3, that he had not seen any clear evidence that Uber had conspired with an engineer to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and use that to build a self-driving car program of its own.

Furthermore, the judge said that he was contemplating on whether he should issue Uber an injunction or not.

William Alsup, the U.S. judge in question, said in a San Francisco court that Anthony Levandowski did download about 14,000 documents shortly before abandoning Waymo.

Industry and legal experts predict appalling impacts on Uber’s business should the court prove that Uber and Levandowski deliberately worked together to take Waymo’s trade secrets and leverage that for its own gain.

Alsup, however, isn’t sure if Uber had actually used Waymo’s trade secrets.

“I’ve given you lots of discovery, and so far you don’t have any smoking gun,” said Alsup, referring to whether Uber actually knew Levandowski had said trade secrets in hand.

Levandowski Opts For Silence

Charles Verhoeven, attorney for Waymo, said the company suspects that evidence to prove as such exists. Levandowski, on the other hand, has so far been tight-lipped about the whole affair, having previously cited his constitutional rights against self-incrimination and, most recently, stepping down from LiDAR-related work at Uber.

The judge didn’t make a ruling during the court hearing. His skepticism over Uber’s knowledge of files Levandowski reportedly stole is the latest development in a legal battle pitting Google and Uber head-to-head, each intent to win the race to autonomous technology.

The Self-Driving Auto Industry

Market analysts believe that self-driving tech stands to become a tenfold billion dollar industry. Tesla, Apple, and Intel are among the other companies developing their individual self-driving tech. Uber and Google warring over a trade secret theft case is a touchstone moment for the quickly rising self-driving industry, because whichever wins stands to have a leg up in that race.

As always, expect due coverage of the ongoing legal battle as we find out more. For now, if you have any thoughts regarding Uber and Google’s intellectual property theft case, feel free to sound off in the comments section below!

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