By now, you've likely heard about the lawsuit going on between Alphabet's self-driving company Waymo and Uber. Essentially a former Waymo employee downloaded confidential documents and took them over to his new job at Uber. The two are in court right now battling it out, but what does this mean for the future of the auto industry? Here you have two companies in court battling over self-driving car tech, but neither company is an auto maker, technically. Depending on the ruling from this case, it could really affect the self-driving car industry in the coming years.
The skinny of the lawsuit is that Anthony Lewandowski, who was over at Waymo before leaving in January, downloaded thousands of confidential files, which he said he needed so that he could work from home. However, he took those files over to his new job at Uber, where he was in charge of their self-driving division. Waymo found out about it because a supplier that was working with both companies, accidentally attached a copy of Uber's LiDAR system to an email, which was the exact same as what Waymo had been using. Which caused this entire lawsuit to get started. Uber has claimed that they can't find the files on their servers, because they never came to their servers. Although the judge seems to think otherwise.
Now, while the judge has yet to make a decision in the case, he does appear to be leaning towards Waymo's way, especially with the amount of evidence Waymo has against Uber and Lewandowski in this case. It's likely that the judge could grant Waymo an injunction which could mean two things. One, and this is the better option for Uber, that Lewandowski can now longer work on the project. Two, Uber may have to stop all work on their self-driving cars. Which would be a big deal, since they have been working on them for a couple of years, and do have them on the streets of Pittsburgh picking people up, as well as being tested in Arizona (although, they apparently aren't doing too well in Phoenix).
This case is pretty serious, this is worse than just infringing on a patent. Uber basically is infringing on an entire LiDAR design that Waymo has created. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, since both companies get their LiDAR from the same source. But Waymo recently started making their LiDAR setup in-house with their own design, which means that Uber is basically using their in-house setup, but without paying royalties to Waymo, which is typically how these things work. Now the future of the self-driving car industry is at stake here. If Uber isn't able to continue working on self-driving technology, it could stifle competition in the space, and competition is needed to get something like self-driving cars on the market.
While it's still unclear what the future of self-driving tech will be with this case, especially since the case is still ongoing, it could become a big deal for the future. It shows that Waymo isn't afraid to go after other companies that are seemingly taking their work. Which they shouldn't be. Not because they are owned by Alphabet and have the means to do so, but it's just not fair for another company to take your work and use it on their own products without acknowledging the creator or working to pay royalties to that creator. We'll have to await the judge's decision which should be coming in the next couple of weeks, to see how this will really affect the industry, though.