Google Top Filer of Self-Driving Car Lidar Patents

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By Malathi Nayak and Tommy Shen

Technology giant Alphabet Inc.’s Google has the biggest trove of U.S. patents related to the crucial autonomous-car technology that’s at the heart of its dispute with Uber Technologies Inc., Bloomberg Law data show.

The future is likely to bring even more patent and trade-secret disputes, as carmakers and technology companies race to deliver the first commercially viable self-driving cars to consumers.

But to do that, companies need Light Detection and Ranging—or lidar—technology. Lidar is a radar-like system that uses lasers instead of radio waves to create a 3-D image of the surrounding environment.

In the last decade, 770 patents have been granted by the Patent and Trademark Office on lidar-related inventions for both automotive and other industries, Bloomberg Law data show. Another 719 patent applications have been submitted, according to the data.

In the automotive sector, from 2006 to 2016, Google filed more lidar technology patent applications than any other company, followed by automakers General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. GM has partnered with ride-hailing service Lyft Inc.

The volume of lidar patent applications peaked in 2014, with a total 235 applications filed, while 2013 saw the highest number of lidar patents granted—123.

On Feb. 23, Waymo, the self-driving car business of Alphabet, accused ride-hailing service Uber, in a court filing, of stealing its lidar designs. In January, Tesla Motors Inc. sued a former employee, accusing him of taking confidential information about the company’s driver-assist system to a new autonomous-car startup.

To contact the reporter on this story: Malathi Nayak in Washington at mnayak@bna.com; Tommy Shen in Washington at tshen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

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