The USPTO was not impressed. In March, an examiner noted that a re-drawn diagram of Waymo’s lidar firing circuit showed current passing along a wire between the circuit and the ground in two directions—something generally deemed impossible. “Patent owner’s expert testimony is not convincing to show that the path even goes to ground in view of the magic ground wire, which shows current moving in two directions along a single wire,” noted the examiners dryly.
Self-driving startups should not take this legal confusion as carte blanche to use the lidar technology described in Waymo’s and Velodyne’s patents, warns Brian Love, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law. “There’s a joke among patent lawyers that a final rejection is anything but final, because owners still have options even after a final rejection,” he tells Ars. “And to get an award in a patent action, you only have to show infringement of one claim in one patent. The fact that there’s even one claim left in Waymo’s patent means there’s one shot for arguing that someone infringes that claim.”