Waymo has dropped many of its patent infringement claims in its self-driving lawsuit against the ride-hail giant Uber. The move, which both parties agreed to, narrows the case as it heads toward an October trial date.
The claims addressed a LiDAR device that Uber had designed, nicknamed the Spider. LiDAR, which stands for "light detection and ranging," is a laser technology that helps self-driving cars see and navigate the world. Uber's Spider device is now defunct and never evolved beyond the design phase into a prototype, so Waymo has agreed to drop related patent claims after US District Judge William Alsup directed both parties to narrow their cases ahead of a trial.
"Uber has assured the court in statements made under penalty of perjury that it no longer uses and will not use that device, so we have narrowed the issues for trial by dismissing the patent claims as to that device, with the right to re-file suit if needed," a Waymo spokesperson said in a statement. "We continue to pursue a patent claim against Uber's current generation device and our trade secret claims, which are not at all affected by this stipulated dismissal. We look forward to trial.”
Judge Alsup asked Waymo in June whether the company thought its patent claims against Uber were worth the time in court. "In my view, they're not ... you're wasting time," he said.
Waymo initially said that Uber stole more than 100 of its trade secrets. The judge told the company to narrow its case to just 10 claims for a focused trial, which is slated for Oct. 10. The move to narrow the case by dropping some claims is not necessarily an indication that Waymo is losing footing — it just means the court will hear a more streamlined set of each side's strongest arguments.
Waymo's lawsuit against Uber alleges that Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee who decamped and later joined Uber, downloaded more than 14,000 files before leaving Waymo. The lawsuit argues that Uber, which acquired Levandowski's self-driving truck startup last summer, is benefitting from those trade secrets.
Judge Alsup said in May that Waymo information may have "seeped" into Uber's designs. As part of discovery, lawyers for Waymo have visited Uber facilities at least eight times, for a total of more than 50 hours. Still, Alsup told Waymo in a June 29 court proceeding that "you have been given access to everything in the world ... you're having an extremely hard time finding that any of your trade secrets got into their product."
"Waymo's retreat on three of their four patent claims is yet another sign that they have overpromised and can't deliver. Not only have they uncovered zero evidence of any of the 14,000 files in question coming to Uber, they now admit that Uber's LiDAR design is actually very different than theirs," an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. "Faced with this hard truth, Waymo has resorted to floating conspiracy theories not rooted in fact, doing everything they can to put the focus on sensation rather than substance."