Waymo: "We're bringing this case because Uber is cheating"

Joanna Estrada
February 6, 2018

While jurors won't hear about that stuff at trial, they may hear how Uber was forced in November to reveal that it quietly paid $7.5mn to settle a wrongful-termination suit filed by a whistleblower who alleged the company stole trade secrets and worked to hide evidence from discovery in potential lawsuits.

But because trade secrets can be hard to define, they raise questions about the line between an employee's skill or knowledge versus intellectual property belonging to an employer. The company will have to be able to prove that what Levandowski took was actually a trade secret, instead of something any reasonable self-driving auto engineer might figure out on their own. She was eventually stripped of her title as victor. It sued Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets and self-driving vehicle technology.

"We're bringing this case because Uber is cheating". What was then known as Project Chauffeur eventually grew into Waymo, a semi-independent company managed by Google's parent company, Alphabet.

Uber Technologies Inc has spent much of the past year confronting and atoning for business practices adopted when co-founder Travis Kalanick ran the place. He has not cooperated with Uber's lawyers, and Judge Alsup has referred Mr Levandowski to the federal prosecutors for possible theft of trade secrets. Evidence presented so far hasn't cast Levandowski or Uber in the most flattering light, but it's still unclear if Waymo will be able to make a convincing case.

The email reportedly contained various images and drawings of Uber's Otto technology and its 3D sensors which contained Alphabet trade secrets, according to the company. In addition, it wants financial compensation.

What Uber is arguing: Uber says that what Waymo claims are trade secrets actually are not.

"Uber is cheating" is the simple reason Waymo has spent the past twelve months suing its autonomous auto rival, Waymo lawyer Charles Verhoevan told the court as the much-anticipated case ends day one in California. "They took our technology...to win this race at all costs", he said.

He highlighted internal communications from Uber executives talking about how winning was an imperative and saying that the company needed to find "cheat codes".

While he acknowledged that he wanted to poach Google's best engineers because Google had superior technology, he said he knew better than to try to steal the tech itself. "There's no cheating - there's not a single piece of Google proprietary information at Uber", Carmody said.

After the opening statements, the press and public were removed from court for introduction of material directly related to what Waymo argues are trade secrets. To kill a competitive threat, said Bill Carmody, Uber's lawyer. "Not one word a lawyer says is ever evidence unless I tell you specifically you may consider it evidence".

"But like most conspiracy stories it just doesn't make sense when you get the whole story". Google was an early investor in Uber, but their relationship began to deteriorate in 2015 as their interests diverged. Levandowski had already been meeting with Kalanick before forming Otto, Verhoeven said, building a timeline that showed the engineer accessing and downloading Waymo material, including a 14,000-file cache, right before a meeting with the ride-hailing company's executives. When Waymo filed its lawsuit, Levandowski exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Levandowski was sacked from Uber in May 2017 because the company said he refused to cooperate with Uber in the Waymo lawsuit and did not hand over information requested of him in the case.

Chris Urmson, shown here last March at South by Southwest Interactive with Google's prototype self-driving auto, announced that he would be departing the search company, where he was chief technology officer for its autonomous vehicle project for seven years. "Mr. Kalanick said he wanted to use Levandowski to leapfrog Google". Those messages continue: "It was at this point that Levandowski first seriously considered leaving Google".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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