A judge has ordered Alphabet to whittle down its trade secret claims even further in its landmark lawsuit against Uber. This after granting the company more than a month to pursue additional claims.
In a new order dated Nov. 2, Judge William Alsup said that Alphabet’s self-driving arm Waymo cannot pursue one of the nine trade secrets it had accused Uber of misappropriating. The company had already been ordered to narrow its more than 120 trade secrets down to nine.
The judge said, among other things, that the expert opinion that Alphabet used to assert this claim was unreliable. While the other eight trade secrets remain intact, it’s worth mentioning this was the same expert that Waymo relied on to substantiate those claims.
It’s an interesting development in the ongoing legal saga between Alphabet and Uber, the ride-hailing company in which it owns a significant stake.
Alphabet has accused Uber of using self-driving trade secrets and proprietary information that its former top self-driving cars engineer Anthony Levandowski allegedly stole before selling his new company to Uber. Levandowski has since been fired from Uber, which has also seen massive executive turnover this year, including a dramatic CEO change.
Earlier this fall, Alphabet successfully secured a two-month delay of the trial, arguing that there was a “mountain” of new evidence in a recently unsealed due diligence document that it needed to pursue. Specifically, the company said it needed the time to determine if the new evidence could help distinguish additional trade secret claims.
The judge denied Alphabet’s request to add two software-based trade secret claims that came out of the due diligence document. The company is, however, allowed to pursue those additional claims in a separate trial if it chooses.
“Waymo’s case continues to shrink,” an Uber spokesperson said. “After dropping their patent claims, this week Waymo lost one of the trade secrets they claimed was most important, had their damages expert excluded, and saw an entire defendant removed from the case — and all this before the trial has even started.”
An Alphabet spokesperson said the document did provide additional evidence to bolster its remaining claims.
“Physical inspections of Uber’s devices, as well as photos and CAD drawings received during discovery, show Uber is using Waymo’s trade secrets, including copying aspects of Waymo’s LiDAR designs down to the micron,” a spokesperson said.
Additionally, Alphabet’s case for the monetary damages it wanted — more than $1 billion for a single trade secret — will rest squarely on its own arguments. In a yet-unsealed document, the judge said that Alphabet could not call on its damages expert during the trial.
Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber, which pits investors against its high-flying portfolio company, could set a precedent for the nascent self-driving industry. With a limited pool of talent, self-driving companies are busy poaching and “acqhiring” players away from competitors. In doing so, they bolster their own efforts but may have to create new protections against lawsuits like this one.