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Alphabet sues Uber over autonomous car technology

A former top manager at Google's self-driving car division allegedly downloaded 14,000 confidential files onto a laptop. A lawsuit claims he then reformatted the laptop to cover his tracks.

Google's parent company Alphabet accused lift-sharing business Uber of stealing its technology for self-driving cars in a lawsuit filed in the US on Thursday.

The court filing claimed that a former top manager, Anthony Levandowski, at Alphabet's autonomous car subsidiary Waymo stole vital technical data for use in his rival autonomous vehicle business Otto, which he sold to Uber for a reported US$680 million (642 million euros) last year.

"Otto and Uber have taken Waymo's intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time and expense of independently developing their own technology," Waymo said in a 28-page San Francisco federal court filing.

Levandowski's startup is building big-rig trucks that navigate highways without a human behind the wheel and Levandowski is now overseeing Uber's effort to develop and dispatch cars driven by robots.

Waymo called for a trial to stop Otto and Uber from using what it says is patented technology. It also wanted unspecified damages as "an action for trade secret misappropriation, patent infringement, and unfair competition."

It argued that a "calculated theft" of its technology "reportedly netted Otto employees over half a billion dollars and allowed Uber to revive a stalled program, all at Waymo's expense."

Thousands of confidential files

The complaint claimed Levandowski loaded 14,000 confidential files onto a laptop before leaving to start Otto. The files allegedly included the designs for circuit boards needed for "LiDAR," an array of sensors that enable self-driving cars to see what's around them so they can safely navigate roads.

The suit alleges that a week after downloading the files and after removing a data storage card, Levandowski reformatted the company laptop to erase any trace of what happened to the downloaded data.

"Mr Levandowski took extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo's design server and then conceal his activities," Waymo alleged in the lawsuit.

It also contended that other former Google employees stole trade secrets before leaving to join Otto.

An Uber spokeswoman told news agency AFP that "we take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully."

Waymo said it decided to take action after it was "inadvertently" copied in on an email from a supplier which included drawings of an Otto circuit board which bore a "striking resemblance" to Waymo's own.

aw/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)

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