Uber is fighting to stay on London’s roads after the city’s transport regulator said its private hire operator licence will not be renewed after it expires on September 30, prompting a likely legal battle.
The app-based company has since apologised and has a right of appeal, but the much-publicised and divisive case puts huge pressure on the company.
As we find out below, this would not be the first court case the company has had to contend with, following a string of IP infringement battles.
Which way from here?
It’s a case that has caused at least one Uber executive to lose his job.
In February, Waymo, a self-driving technology company that started at Google, targeted Uber and its own self-driving subsidiary Otto (which no longer uses this name) over alleged patent infringement and theft of trade secrets.
Since then the case has taken several twists and turns, but most recently it has focused on a report investigating Otto employees previously employed by Waymo.
Waymo, after receiving the report, attempted to postpone the October 10 court date because of the “mountain of new evidence”.
Not holding back, Uber said Waymo’s allegations that an ex-Waymo manager who downloaded more than 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary files shortly before resigning and leaving for Uber have “collapsed like a house of cards”.
Waymo is reportedly seeking at least $1.8 billion for the alleged infringement.
Death threats and consumer confusion
Rather than patents or trade secrets, this case from August centres on trademark infringement claims filed by a company called Uber Operations.
The plaintiff, a provider of IT services to the healthcare industry, claimed that the taxi-hailing company had caused confusion among customers, despite the two not being direct competitors.
Uber Operations said Uber’s reported move into healthcare, “which has been discussed publicly”, is problematic for the company. It even claimed to have received death threats intended for Uber and its drivers, thus losing time and productivity in passing these on to law enforcement.
The case continues.
Falling into line
In July, a company called Fall Line Patents sued Uber over its use of location-based technologies in its app.
Fall Line cited US patent number 9,454,748, which covers software that collects location-specific data and is compatible with all devices, eliminating the need to create new software for every device.
It was the fifth patent infringement case Fall Line had filed this year, and came on the same day as it took patent action against Choice International Hotels.
Since the initial suit was issued things have heated up (pdf), with Uber seeking to dismiss the case based on the patent being invalid, but Fall Line fighting back by opposing the motion. It could be another long battle for Uber.
An end to the hail
Hailo, a taxi-hailing rival that may be seeking to captialise on Uber’s troubles in London, also sued Uber for patent infringement this year.
Filed in April, the case concerns US patent number 5,973,619, called “Automated vehicle dispatch and payment honouring system”.
It describes a software system that allows a method for users to pick transportation, select the number of passengers, put in a destination, obtain an estimated fare and submit a dispatch call.
By August, the companies had put their differences aside and the dispute was settled (pdf) in a California district court, although the terms were not released.
Robots v trucks
The concept of self-driving cars may seem too futuristic for you, but how about self-driving warehouse robots?
Last year, Canadian company Clearpath Robotics sued Otto for trademark infringement, based on the name of its Otto Motors division, which oversees self-driving warehouse robots.
The robotics company claimed that because of the highly similar nature of the marks, it had received a number of misdirected inquiries from the press, potential customers and current customers.
While the companies did settle the dispute (pdf) in February this year, once again there were no details of the terms, aside from the pair paying their own fees and costs.
At the INTA Annual Meeting in 2016, Uber IP manager Mooni Patel (who has since moved to social media company Snap) discussed issues including brand protection during a highly interactive session.
An audience member asked about a trademark infringement case from Florida that Uber had lost against another transport company called Uber Promotions.
In February that year, Uber was ordered to stop using the name UberEVENTS in Alachua County, a region near the city of Gainesville.
Despite the unfavourable result, Patel said the judge is “very unique and cerebral, and he appreciates the fine nuances of the case and I was quite impressed with it”.
In yet another settlement, the parties later shook hands and walked away (pdf) from the case in July last year, ten months after it was filed.