There’s no doubt that self-driving cars will be the next big thing in the automobile industry, which is why Google got so upset when a former employee allegedly took trade secrets regarding their self-driving technology to a competitor.
Anthony Levandowski claims he has been working on technology for driverless automobiles since he was in college. He entered a self-driving motorcycle into the Pentagon’s first competition for driverless vehicles in 2004, when he was still a graduate student at the University of California in Berkeley.
In 2007, Levandowski started working for Google on their maps program. When Google gave the go-ahead to start experimenting with self-driving automobiles, Levandowski was one of the first people chosen for the team.
Levandowski left Google early in 2016 to start his own business, a driverless truck company named Otto. That company was bought by Uber, at which point Levandowski became the vice president in charge of Uber’s driverless vehicle project.
Waymo, Google’s own driverless car company, responded by suing both Uber and Otto for allegedly planning to steal trade secrets. According to the complaint, in the month before he quit his job at Google, Levandowski allegedly accessed a highly confidential server that contained designs for critical technologies it was using in its self-driving automobiles.
Uber doesn’t appear to think Google’s lawsuit has much validity, calling it baseless and claiming it’s nothing more than an attempt to slow down a competitor. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but the fact is that engineers like Levandowski and information on self-driving vehicles are worth millions of dollars. Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google’s driverless vehicle project, said in 2016 that the going rate for engineers for self-driving technology was around $10 million per person.
Both Uber and Google are convinced that driverless vehicles are the future and that they’re going to revolutionize the automobile industry – and they’re probably right. With that in mind, neither company wants to be left behind. If Levandowski did steal information from Google relating to their self-driving automobile technology, Uber could find itself facing a very steep payout in court.
Nevertheless, Levandowski insists he never stole any sensitive information from Google and that he has been passionate about working on self-driving technology since he was a college student.
Other Google employees who worked with Levandowski said he allegedly grew frustrated with the slow pace of Google’s progress in the area of driverless vehicles, thinking the company was going to lose its chance to be the first in the market.
But quality should not be sacrificed for speed. While Google’s test runs of its self-driving cars have been nearly flawless, Uber has had multiple incidences of its self-driving cars running red lights in San Francisco. The company finally announced it was pulling its driverless Volvos out of California after the state’s D.M.V. revoked the vehicles’ registrations. The self-driving cars have since been loaded onto a truck bound for Tempe, Arizona, which is friendlier towards driverless cars. Although the cars did not drive themselves to Arizona, they were loaded onto one of Levandowski’s self-driving trucks.
Our Chicago non-compete agreement attorneys have defended high-level executives in covenant not to compete and trade secret lawsuits. A case in which our firm defended a former Motorola executive was covered in Crain’s Chicago business. You can view that article by clicking here.
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