A trial pitting two of the biggest players in self-drive technology against each other has begun in San Francisco.
Ride-sharing firm Uber is being sued by Waymo, the self-driving company spun out of Google.
Uber is accused of stealing and using trade secrets relating to Lidar (light detection and ranging) – one of the technologies that enables an autonomous car to understand what is happening around it.
Waymo is making its case first, and then it will be up to Uber to defend itself.
Top corporate lawyers representing both companies each gave nearly hour-long presentations to the jury in order to bolster their arguments.
Waymo believes Uber tried to steal its driverless car secrets in order to gain a foothold in a technological race that it was losing.
Uber argues it is the victim of an unproven conspiracy theory stitched together by Waymo to discredit its operations.
The first salvos were delivered to a 10-person jury in San Francisco federal court in a civil lawsuit that could help determine who emerges at the forefront of the autonomous car business.
The case hinges on whether ride-hailing firm Uber used apparent trade secrets to advance its autonomous vehicle program.
In February 2017, Waymo opened proceedings against Uber, accusing the ride-sharing service of stealing trade secrets and infringing on its patents, with damages estimated at $1.9bn.
According to Waymo, a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded 9.7Gb of “highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation”, before resigning and founding Otto, a self-driving truck company which was later acquired by Uber.
“Waymo wants you to believe that Anthony Levandowski got together with Uber as part of some grand conspiracy to cheat and take trade secrets,” Uber attorney Bill Carmody said in his opening statement to the jury. “But like most conspiracy stories, it just doesn’t make sense when you get the whole story.”
Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven told the jury that the competitive pressures were so great to develop the cars that the then-chief executive of Uber, Travis Kalanick, decided that “winning was more important than obeying the law.”
“We’re bringing this case because Uber is cheating. They took our technology… to win this race at all costs,” Verhoeven said.
Uber is already well on the way to launching a driverless taxi service, with a trial run beginning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2016.
Uber attorney Carmody said the “elephant in the courtroom” was that – despite the downloads made by Levandowski – Google’s proprietary information never made it to Uber and into its self-driving technology.
“There is no connection whatsoever between any files he downloaded… and what’s in here,” Carmody said, pointing to an Uber-designed Lidar sensor sitting in front of him, a light-based sensor that is crucial to autonomous driving and central to the case.
“There’s not a single piece of Google proprietary information at Uber,” he added. “Nothing, zero, period.”
After what is expected to be two weeks of testimony, the jury will have to decide whether the eight apparent trade secrets were indeed such – and not common knowledge – and whether Uber improperly acquired them, used them and benefited from them.
Levandowski, regarded as a visionary in autonomous technology, is not a defendant in the case but is on Waymo’s witness list.
Levandowski was fired from Uber in May 2017 because the company said he refused to cooperate with Uber in the Waymo lawsuit and did not hand over information requested of him in the case.
Last week, Waymo revealed plans to launch a driverless ride-hailing service with thousands of minivans supplied by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.