Late last week, a number of rulings came down in the case between Uber and Google’s self-driving car subsidiary Waymo, which accuses the ride-hailing giant of stealing a number of trade secrets. Among the orders, Waymo has to disclose details of a deal it struck with Lyft, Uber’s main competitor, to work on self-driving cars. In the high-stakes race to build and bring autonomous vehicles into the mainstream, the decision is an obvious sore spot for Lyft, as it doesn’t want any information that could benefit its rival to be out in the open.
In May, Uber launched an effort to rope its main rival into the Waymo dispute by issuing subpoenas to Lyft and Waymo for information related to the autonomous car deal between the companies.
Lyft responded by saying Uber was using the trade secrets suit—filed by Waymo in February—as “an improper vehicle to extract competitive intelligence from its rival Lyft in the ride-sharing business.” (Uber denies that Google trade secrets were used to bolster its self-driving car program, but it recently conceded that the engineer at the center of the case took the tech company’s documents.)
The autonomous car market is in still in its infancy, Uber has argued, therefore the Lyft deal could shed some light on the value of self-driving tech.
“While there generally are few industry licensing deals or models to consider for purposes of valuing technology in nascent industries,” Uber said last month in a court filing, “the Waymo/Lyft deal may provide a model in some respects for purposes of analyzing damages in this matter, particularly to the extent Lyft analyzed the value of Waymo’s self-driving technology to its ride-sharing business, given other options in the market for Lyft to use.”
On Friday, Judge Jacqueline Corley, the magistrate judge assigned to the case, delivered Uber a partial victory, saying the ride-hailing company is entitled to the Lyft documents to build a defense against Waymo’s argument that the alleged theft led to significant monetary damages.
Corley granted Lyft’s request for a protective order and to quash the subpoenas, which means the company won’t have to share its own internal documents with Uber. But Corley said Waymo has to turn over a ream of due diligence documents related to the deal, including a term sheet and letters of intent.
Corley said that Uber can use the documents to assess and develop a defense to Waymo’s argument that it suffered monetary damages from Uber’s alleged trade secrets theft.
“Defendants are entitled to develop their own defense to Plaintiff’s claims for relief and need not rely solely on what Plaintiff contends is relevant,” Corley wrote in a six-page order on Friday. “Further, that the documents are commercially sensitive does not make them non-discoverable.”
“Plaintiff and Lyft entered into the deal in the midst of this litigation and thus should have expected that they could become relevant,” she said.
A Lyft spokesperson declined on Monday to comment. Waymo directed a request for comment to a statement issued Friday, in which the company said that, “despite Uber’s attempt to distract with constantly changing storylines, Waymo has continued to build its case with more evidence uncovered during expedited discovery”
Until recently, Lyft wasn’t involved in the auto industry’s push to bring self-driving cars to the public. But earlier this year, the second-largest ride-hailing company in the U.S. began inking deals with partners that immediately garnered attention, particularly with the Waymo deal. Details of the agreement have been scant.
Last month, Lyft announced a separate deal with self-driving car start-up nuTonomy to launch an autonomous pilot program in Boston, sometime in the near-future.