Waze Founder in 2006: Maps Belong to the Community

Plaintiff in class action against Waze for IP violation produces 2006 message from founder of travel app firm to buttress case.

Waze
The navigation app made by Waze, founded in 2008 by Uri Levine, software engineer Ehud Shabtai, and Amir Shinar. Daniel Tchetchik

One of the founders of Waze declared eight years ago that he could not foresee a situation in which his company would demand payment for use of maps derived in part from Freemap, an open-source mapping project which he was involved in at the time.

A class action suit was filed last week against Waze, the Israeli traffic navigation app that was sold last year to Google for a billion dollars, alleging that the company violated intellectual property rights in its use of maps developed Freemap.

This declaration, which came to light Sunday, was made by Ehud Shabtai, Waze’s chief technology officer, who also started Freemap and designed most of its software.

The lawsuit, filed in the Tel Aviv District Court against Waze, its founders – Shabtai, Amir Shinar, Gili Shinar and Uri Levine – and a Google subsidiary in Israel, claims that Waze's technology is based partly on the work of the Freemap programming community, which is therefore entitled to half of the company’s intellectual property at the time of its sale.

It also claims that Waze broke a commitment to leave its program, maps and information open to the public.

“I don’t see the maps as something that belongs to me, but rather to the community,” Shabtai wrote in 2006, in an online response to a Linmagazine website article on Freemap, “so I don’t envision a situation in which I would demand payment or royalties for the use of this information.”

Shabtai’s statement surfaced in connection with a filing of supplementary information by the lawyer for Roy Gorodish, the lead plaintiff in the class action suit.

Gorodish claims that in addition to Shabtai, others also contributed significantly to the development of Freemap's software. The defendants then adapted it as part of the Waze app and sold it to Google, without telling the Internet giant that its program and maps belong to the community. Gorodish estimates that Waze’s intellectual property was worth $128 million at the time of the sale, of which he says the community is entitled to $64 million.

“At this stage, I don’t have a business model that will enable the project to finance itself,” Shabtai wrote in 2006. “I hope to find a way of funding the project and preserving its 'openness' to the greatest extent possible. All of you of course are invited to contribute to the project to map the country and develop mapping/navigational software. [Signed] Ehud Shabtai.”

For his part, Yitzhak Aviram, Gorodish’s lawyer, says the online letter demonstrates that at the time, Shabtai did not believe he had a right to the maps. Last week, when the lawsuit was filed, Waze had not yet seen the statement and could therefore not comment.