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Google's Waymo v. Uber: Why the legal showdown matters

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Pilot models of self-driving cars for Uber are displayed in Pittsburgh. Autonomous vehicles are expected to cut traffic jams, but not before enough human drivers are off the road.

This week, all eyes (in Silicon Valley) are on a legal battle between two of the biggest names in driverless technology: Waymo and Uber.

This week, Silicon Valley is focused on a legal battle between two of the biggest names in driverless technology: Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project, and the ride-hailing company, Uber.

Waymo alleges that Uber acquired thousands of files and blueprints to precious trade secrets through hiring one of Waymo’s former star engineers. Uber denies the allegations. The engineer at the center of the case has since been fired from Uber for not cooperating with their legal defense.

The two tech giants began their courtroom showdown Monday with a whirlwind of heated opening statements and damning documents. Take Two’s A Martinez spoke with Alex Davies, transportation editor for WIRED magazine, who has been following the case closely.

Why this case matters

“This industry is quickly becoming a really big deal, and it’s chasing after a market that...could be worth $7 trillion globally...because this is finally the chance for companies [to] get more access to you and your data and your advertising dollars...and so it’s no surprise that it didn’t take very long to see legal battles over who owns the rights to the trade secrets that can actually get you into that car.”

On Waymo’s legal strategy

“There’s a weird tricky and hard to find line between what is general knowledge that an engineer could figure out and absorb over time, and what are actual technical documents...and that’s one of the things that the jury will have to decide over the next couple of weeks is, not just did Levandowski take those documents, which is actually not super disputed...but the big question is, did he bring them to Uber? Did Uber use them? And were they in fact trade secrets? And then on top of that, did Uber actually benefit noticeably from those trade secrets?”

How this might impact California consumers

“This case no matter what happens isn’t going to destroy the self-driving car industry. What it could shape is who controls those cars, and I think that’s going to matter [more than] what kind of car brand you drive today, but who’s controlling the car in which you’re driving and who’s controlling all of the data that comes out of that car.”

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