from the will-judge-alsup-design-his-own-lidar? dept
Judge William Alsup certainly continues to make himself known for how he handles technology-intensive cases. In techie circles, he's mostly known for presiding over the Oracle/Google Java API copyright case, and the fact that he claimed to have learned to program in Java to better understand the issues in the case (in which he originally ruled, correctly, that APIs were not subject to copyright protection, only to be overturned by an appeals court that simply couldn't understand the difference between an API and functional code). He's also been on key cases around the no fly list and is handling some Malibu Media copyright trolling cases as well.
And, last month, he was handed another big high-profile case regarding copying and Google: the big self-driving car dispute between Google's (or "Alphabet's") Waymo self-driving car company and Uber. In case you weren't following it, Waymo accused a former top employee of downloading a bunch of technical information on the LiDAR system it designed, only to then start his own self-driving car company, Otto, which was then bought up by Uber in a matter of months. Most of the lawsuit is focused on trade secrets, with a few patent claims thrown in as well.
Either way, Judge Alsup appears to want to be educated on LiDAR before the case begins. In two orders last week, Judge Alsup first asked lawyers for each side to present a basic tutorial on the basics of self-driving car technology:
For a tutorial for the judge, counsel shall please make presentations to set forth the basic technology in the public domain and prior art bearing on the trade secrets and patents at issue on the motion for provisional relief. Please do not refer to the actual systems or subsystems used by either party. (Those will be presumably covered in the motion papers.) For the tutorial, please refer only to what is in the public domain or prior art, regardless of whether or not one side or the other actually practices it. That is, in the tutorial, please do not say what the parties actually practice but if the item is in the public domain, you may reference the public domain part, even if one side or the other practices it. Make sure that all points in the tutorial reside in books, treatises, articles, public interviews, public videos, blogs, websites, seminars, presentations, Form 10-Ks, or other publicly verifiable sources. Please exchange approximate scripts beforehand so that each side may vet the other. Each side will have forty minutes on APRIL 12 AT 10:00 A.M. The public may attend the entire presentation. The judge is interested in learning the basic technology and learning publicly known art.
I'm kinda disappointed that I've got something else that I can't get out of that day so that I can't attend. Oh, and Judge Alsup also got some press attention for then asking that each side might want to send "young lawyers" for the tutorial:
This would be a good opportunity for a young lawyer to present in court.
Of course, Judge Alsup actually has a bit of a history of doing similar things. If I remember correctly, he made a similar suggestion in the Oracle/Google case as well, and people have noted he's done it before as well. The idea is that he wants to encourage firms to enable younger, less experienced lawyers to get more courtroom experience and find areas where you don't necessarily need the veteran partner, even in a high-profile clash among mutli-billion dollar behemoths.
Still, it was another request that came a few days later that has gotten more attention (first spotted by Julia Carrie Wong), in which Judge Alsup also asked each side to recommend a book for him to read about LiDAR. But not just any book. You see, Judge Alsup wants you to know that he's not a total noob when it comes to light and optics, so don't feel the need to send him "LiDAR for Dummies" or whatever:
The judge requests each side to name one (and only one) book, treatise, article or other reference publicly available that will inform him about LiDAR, and particularly its application to self-driving vehicles.
Please keep in mind that the judge is already familiar with basic light and optics principles involving lens, such as focal lengths, the non-linear nature of focal points as a function of distance of an object from the lens, where objects get focused to on a screen behind the lens, and the use of a lens to project as well as to focus. So, most useful would be literature on adapting LiDAR to self-driving vehicles, including various strategies for positioning light-emitting diodes behind the lens for best overall effect, as well as use of a single lens to project outgoing light as well as to focus incoming reflections (other than, of course, the patents in suit). The judge wishes to learn the prior art and public domain art bearing on the patents in suit and trade secrets in suit.
Now I'm just waiting to find out that Judge Alsup, tinkering alone in his garage (or, better yet, at the Courthouse), will build his own damn LiDAR system, just to better understand the technology at play.
I don't always agree with Judge Alsup on stuff (I don't always agree with anyone), but I respect his desire to go deep in trying to understand the core technologies when he's reviewing cases on those subjects. That's (unfortunately) quite different than many other judges. Hopefully more judges adopt Judge Alsup's practices on cases like these.