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Rebecca Zisser / Axios
In late February, Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo filed a stunning lawsuit against Uber, alleging the company had been using stolen proprietary technology. At the center of the dispute is Otto, a self-driving car startup founded by former Waymo employees that Uber acquired last year, and its leader, Anthony Levandowski, who allegedly downloaded 14,000 Waymo files before quitting and convincing several colleagues to join him at the new company.
Why it matters: The lawsuit could jeopardize Uber's self-driving efforts, which the company has said are crucial to its long-term success. It also raises questions around intellectual property and the ability of employees to work for competitors as a growing number of companies — both established Silicon Valley names as well as new startups — rush to develop self-driving car technology.
It's a complicated case with a dizzying amount of back-and-forth arguments between Uber and Waymo. The timeline below, which we'll continue updating, will help you keep up.
Methodology: This timeline was created using court documents and news articles (linked to the sources).
April 2012: Ron leaves Google for Motorola.
Aug. 2012: Odin Wave, a startup developing self-driving car tech, is incorporated and registered to a Berkeley address owned by Levandowski.
July 2013: Google learns of Odin Wave after a vendor alerts it that the startup ordered a custom part very similar that designed by Google, and looks into the company. It subsequently questions Levandowski, who denies having any ties to Odin Wave.
Feb. 2014: Google learns that Odin Wave has merged with another startup, Tyto Lidar, whose manager is friends with Levandowski.
Oct. 2014: Ron returns to Google.
February 2015: Uber announces plans to develop self-driving cars, and a a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.
Spring 2015: Google investigates possibly acquiring Tyto Lidar or using its products because of the overlap with its own technology. Levandowski participated in the evaluation process without disclosing his ties to the company.
Late summer 2015: Levandowski begin to solicit other Google employees to leave and join him at a new company. Soon after, a manager of Google's self-driving car project heard of this and tried to get Levandowski fired. Google wasn't able to confirm the rumors.
Fall 2015: Levandowski begin working with Ron on a plan to establish a competing company. At the time, they picked the name "280 Systems."
October 2015: Uber considers purchasing LiDAR technology from Levandowski's upcoming company, according to a document.
Dec. 2015: Levandowski resumes attempts to convince Google colleagues to leave. He also looks for special instructions and software to download 14,000 proprietary files onto his work laptop, and attempts to wipe any traces that he did so. He also downloads some files onto a personal device.
January: Levandowski and Ron hold two gatherings at the former's Palo Alto, Calif., home to try to persuade Google employees to join them. The meetings happened before both had resigned. The pair also attempt to get entire teams to leave Google on specific dates.
Jan. 12-13: Levandowski and Brian McClendon, former Google Maps exec and then-Uber employee, trade emails discussing Levandowski's yet-to-be-formed startup.
Jan. 13: Ron resigns from Google.
Jan. 14: Levandowski meets with senior Uber executives at the Uber headquarters.
Jan. 15: Levandowski and Ron form 280 Systems.
Jan. 27: Levandowski resigns from Google. During his exit interview, Levandowski describes projects he's considering, none of them seeming to compete with Google's self-driving car project. He also denies attempting to convince other employees to leave in a subsequent conversation with the Google HR employee.
Jan. 28: Date on which Levandowski's 5.3 million Uber shares begin vesting. Uber issued the shares following the acquisition, but backdated the shares.
Feb. 22: Uber prepares a term sheet in anticipation of an acquisition of Otto Trucking/Ottomoto.
Feb. 24: Uber and Otto's founders orally agree to enter into a Joint Defense Agreement, and confirm via email the following day.
March 4: Uber and Otto's law firms retain forensics company Stroz Friedberg to compile a due diligence report.
April 11: Uber and Otto sign a Joint Defense Agreement, which means that in the event of a lawsuit, attorneys for both companies could collaborate and maintain confidential communication.
May 18: By this date, Tyto Lidar has merged with Otto.
May: Otto unveils what it's been working on.
June: Google begins investigating the departures of Levandowski, Ron, and other employees and discovers thousands of files had been downloaded.
Aug. 11: The report's appendix is provided to attorneys of the joint defense group and marked "for attorney's eyes only."
Aug. 18: Uber announces its acquisition of Otto for $680 million.
Aug. 23: Google discusses possible litigation against Uber.
Sept. 13: Uber begins testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.
Oct. 24: Otto publicizes a delivery of Budweiser beer via its self-driving trucks.
Oct. 28: Google files an arbitration demand claiming Levandowski and Ron breached their employment contracts when they started a competing company and poached Google employees for their new company.
December: Led by Levandowski, Uber begins testing self-driving cars in San Francisco, but quickly suspends its trials after the DMV revokes the car's registration because of a refusal to apply for a permit.
Dec. 13: Google's self-driving car subsidiary, now called Waymo, is copied on an email chain that shows one of its vendors is working on a part for Uber that looks very similar to Waymo's own design, raising further suspicions.
Feb. 3 and 9: Waymo receives confirmation from Nevada regulators that Otto was using Waymo's LiDAR designs. Waymo also receives documents dated shortly after Uber acquired Otto, in which the ride-hailing company said it was using an in-house LiDAR design.
March 2: Uber says it will apply for a self-driving car testing permit in California. The DMV had already reinstated the cars' registrations, though they were being driven manually only.
March 10: Waymo aska the judge for a preliminary injunction to block Uber's self-driving car project.
March 16: Uber tells the judge that it will seek to move the lawsuit to private arbitration, citing an arbitration clause in the employment contract of the former Alphabet employee at the center of it.
April 3: Documents from an attempt at arbitration in October are made public, revealing that Levandowski was secretly linked to multiple self-driving car startups while working for Google.
April 5: Uber admits it's found one of the 14,000 stolen files, but it's on the personal computer of a former Waymo employee who now works for Uber.
April 7: Uber responds to Waymo's request for a preliminary injunction on its self-driving cars by admitting that vehicles currently on the road are using sensors from vendors, not those it built in-house. It also submits to the court a detailed description of how the sensors it built are designed differently than Waymo's.
April 10: Waymo pushes back on Uber's request to move the case to arbitration, arguing that neither side was party to Levandowski's employment contract with Alphabet. The judge also rules that Levandowski can't use the Fifth Amendment to conceal a third-party report that presumably references the 14,000 files.
April 12: During a hearing the presiding judge suggests Uber may be hiding what Levandowski has been working on while at Uber.
Mid-April: During a deposition, Waymo's attorneys quiz Levandowski on both companies's LiDAR technology, though he declines to answer most questions.
April 22: Waymo tells the court in new documents that Uber has been hiding a device designed by Levandowski using its trade secrets.
April 25: A court of appeals rejects Levandowski's attempt to assert his Fifth Amendment so broadly that Uber can redact documents on his behalf, opening the door for Waymo to request the confidential due diligence report. During a hearing, Uber tells a magistrate judge that Alphabet CEO Larry Page could have important information about what the company knew prior to Levandowski's departure.
April 27: Waymo and Uber debate in front of the presiding judge the latter's request to move the lawsuit to private arbitration. The same day, Levandowski announces he's stepping away from working on Uber's LiDAR technology for the duration of the lawsuit in an attempt to avoid a preliminary injunction.
May 3: The companies presented their arguments in court in regards to Waymo's request for a preliminary injunction on Uber's self-driving cars.
What's next: Judge Alsup is expected to soon rule on Waymo's request for a preliminary injunction.