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Waymo Case Against Uber Hinges on View of Trade Secrets Law

No matter the outcome of next week’s trial, Waymo has accomplished a lot from its lawsuit against Uber for allegedly stealing Waymo’s trade secrets related to self-driving cars. The suit has hurt Uber’s reputation and its effort to develop the vehicles.

The trial itself, which will start Monday unless the parties suddenly settle, could have some fireworks, especially if former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick testifies. But even if Waymo wins, the case likely won’t have a big impact on the self-driving car industry or on Uber’s current fleet of prototype self-driving cars. The federal judge overseeing the case, William Alsup, said Tuesday that the central question in the three-week trial is “not whether or not Uber is an evil corporation.” Yet the trial could send a powerful signal about the legal threshold for proving theft and misuse of trade secrets, and shed light on how prevalent that behavior might already be in Silicon Valley.

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Also, the lidars Waymo produced have moving parts inside. That means they might not be suitable for long-term use in cars, though Uber plans to use them in more than 1,000 vehicles in the next year or so. Still, the race is now on to develop more durable “solid state” lidar, which doesn’t involve moving parts. Solid state lidars might not be ready in meaningful numbers for years, but they will replace the type that Uber and Waymo are fighting about.

Jack Russo commented on this article.
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By virtue of its notoriety, the Waymo v. Uber case may influence other companies to sue rivals that hire their former employees.