Waymo claims former employee Anthony Levandowski stole over 14,000 proprietary design files and replicated the technology for a separate startup now owned by Uber.
Google's Waymo has filed a lawsuit against Uber, accusing a former employee of stealing proprietary sensor designs.
The suite focuses on Anthony Levandowski, formerly the technical lead on Google's self-driving car project. He left in 2016 to form a separate startup, Otto, that was later acquired by Uber.
"We found that six weeks before his resignation ... Levandowski downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo's various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo's LiDAR and circuit board," Google says in a blog post explaining the lawsuit.
Waymo recently highlighted its LiDAR system as one of the company's most important innovations designed in-house to better integrate with its software platform. A previous blog post explained that LiDAR modules from traditional suppliers typically "cost more than the car itself" and are consequently unfit for use beyond prototype tests.
The in-house engineered hardware suite includes proprietary vision systems, radar sensors and other components.
"Hundreds of Waymo engineers have spent thousands of hours, and our company has invested millions of dollars to design a highly specialized and unique LiDAR system," the company adds.
Waymo suggests Otto's LiDAR sensor -- allegedly stolen from Waymo -- was one of the "key reasons" Uber acquired Levandowski's startup in 2016. The lawsuit claims other former Waymo employees who work for Otto and Uber participated in the alleged theft.
"Months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to 'replicate' Waymo's technology at a competitor," the company claims.
The legal showdown is not unlike a similar lawsuit filed by Tesla against its former Autopilot project manager, Sterling Anderson, who is accused of taking hundreds of gigabytes of proprietary and confidential data when he left to form his own startup. Notably, Tesla's lawsuit suggests Anderson had help from startup co-founder Chris Urmson, formerly head of Google's self-driving car project, who left Google before the division was spun off into Waymo.
Tesla lamented the current state of the industry that allegedly creates a "get-rich-quick environment" where small teams of programmers "with little more than demoware" can create a startup that is quickly acquired by a mainstream automaker for a billion dollars. The multiple lawsuits could have a significant impact on the autonomous driving industry and Silicon Valley's startup culture.