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Uber fires head of self-driving unit over trade secrets lawsuit by Waymo

Anthony Levandowski is accused of stealing trade secrets when he left Google last year.

By Mike Bambach
Uber fires head of self-driving unit over trade secrets lawsuit by Waymo
Uber said Tuesday it has dismissed engineer Anthony Levandowski, the leader of its self-driving vehicle program, due to ongoing litigation between it and competitor Waymo. File Photo by Shutterstock/360b/UPI

May 30 (UPI) -- Rideshare company Uber has fired the leader of its self-driving vehicle program as the result of an ongoing lawsuit with a competing firm that involves trade secrets, officials said Tuesday.

In an email to employees, Uber said it dismissed engineer Anthony Levandowski, who headed the company's Advanced Technologies Group after leaving Google early last year.

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Levandowski's dismissal is the result of a legal battle between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving technology project previously owned by Google until it spun off six months ago.

In the lawsuit, Waymo accused Uber of using trade secrets taken by Levandowski when he left Google, where he similarly worked on its self-driving project before it turned into Waymo.

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Waymo claims Levandowski downloaded 14,000 technical files from a company server and used the information to launch autonomous truck startup Otto. Uber acquired Otto a few months later and tapped Levandowski as its vice president of technology.

The lawsuit says those technical files included information about lidar, the radar-like system of lasers that creates the digital map self-driving cars need to navigate.

The suit has become a high-profile trade secrets case; Uber admits that Levandowski took Waymo documents but says it has not used the company's technology in its own designs.

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Google has been a pioneer in self-driving technology and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the project.

Uber denied the accusations, but Levandowski declined to comply with a federal judge's order to turn over evidence and testimony, citing the "potential for criminal action".

Uber has been unable to convince Levandowski, 37, to cooperate -- and threatened to fire him earlier this month.

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"Over the last few months Uber has provided significant evidence to the court to demonstrate that our self-driving technology has been built independently," Angela Padilla, Uber's associate general counsel for employment and litigation, wrote in the email to employees. "Over that same period, Uber has urged Anthony to fully cooperate in helping the court get to the facts and ultimately helping to prove our case."

Earlier this month, Waymo signed a deal with Uber's top rival Lyft -- the No. 2 rideshare company in the United States -- to develop self-driving cars.

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