FORBES, 1 MARCH 2017, FEAT. PROF. BRYANT WALKER SMITH:
Google’s self-driving car project that began in 2009 is well known as the incubator that kickstarted a multi-billion dollar race to perfect this 21st automotive technology. Along the way, it also helped Google amass hundreds, perhaps thousands, of patents covering every aspect of software, hardware and on-road behavior for automated vehicles.
The blistering lawsuit filed against Uber and its Ottodriverless truck unit by Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo alleging trade secret theft, based on alleged actions by a former Google engineer now at Uber, also makes clear that the company intends to aggressively protect that patent trove and big head start.
Automated vehicle tech will be a game changer, creating the possibility of huge reductions in traffic deaths, ubiquitous low-cost urban transportation and potential relief for drivers from the soul-crushing tedium of congested highways. Like any transformative technology, scores of companies smell revenue opportunities and are jumping into the space quickly. Given how much Google has poured into mastering automated driving, and what’s at stake for Waymo as it works to sell complete ready-to-install driverless systems to FCA, Honda and other companies, the Uber suit looks like the opening salvo of many legal battles to protect its intellectual property.