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It’s Waymo vs. Uber—Except in China

December 22, 2017

The Chinese search giant Baidu is suing former senior vice president Jin Wang for stealing driverless-car tech. Wang led Baidu’s self​-​driving unit but resigned in March to launch his own driverless firm, Jingchi.

Jingchi successfully completed its first autonomous-vehicle testing on public roads in June, barely two months after the company was founded. According to Technode, Baidu is now claiming that the impressive progress was an ill-gotten gain—the result of Wang's hanging onto one of Baidu’s computers when he left. That machine may have contained intellectual property the firm is fighting for.

The legal spat may at first glance seem ironic, since as we have reported, one of the goals of Baidu's self-driving arm, Apollo, is to make the software it develops for autonomus cars freely available.

But that magnanimity almost certainly doesn’t extend to hardware, and in that the dispute echoes the heated legal battle currently under way between Alphabet’s self-driving division, Waymo, and Uber. Waymo has accused Anthony Levandowski, a former employee, of illegally bringing the secrets of Waymo's propriety lidar technology with him when he left to start the self-driving-truck firm Otto, which Uber later acquired.

Baidu is requesting 50 million yuan ($7.6 million) in compensation, and asking that Wang stops using the trade secrets he stole from Baidu to compete against it. The case is now before Beijing’s Intellectual Property Court.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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