Vigilante engineer stops Waymo from patenting key lidar technology

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A lone engineer has succeeded in doing what Uber's top lawyers and expert witnesses could not—overturning most of a foundational patent covering arch-rival Waymo's lidar laser ranging devices.

Following a surprise left-field complaint by Eric Swildens, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has rejected all but three of 56 claims in Waymo's 936 patent, named for the last three digits of its serial number. The USPTO found that some claims replicated technology described in an earlier patent from lidar vendor Velodyne, while another claim was simply "impossible" and "magic."

Swildens, who receives no money or personal advantage from the decision, told Ars that he was delighted at the news. "The patent shouldn't have been filed in the first place," he said. "It's a very well written patent. However, my personal belief is that the thing that they say they invented, they didn't invent."

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