Febrero 21, 2018

Waymo v. Uber Kicks Off With Travis Kalanick in the Crosshairs

07 Febrero 2018, 12:13 | Benedicto Grullon

Waymo Takes Uber to Court

Waymo a self-driving car company owned by Google's parent company is suing Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets and self-driving car technology

Waymo alleges that its former engineer Anthony Levandowski stole thousands of confidential documents containing trade secrets before leaving Google.

Bill Carmody, of Susman Godfrey representing Uber, fired back in his opening statement, calling Verhoeven's characterization of Uber's practices "a tale of conspiracy". "This case is about defendant Uber making a decision that it had to develop this technology for its business model to survive".

"The only thing that's not OK is trade secrets", he said.

Referencing Uber's early efforts to recruit from Carnegie Mellon for its self-driving vehicle team, Verhoeven accused the company of abandoning "fair" tactics in an attempt to compete. That is something that Waymo will be looking to disprove in court.

Waymo has estimated damages in the case at about US$1.9 billion.

Uber's lawyer read an email from a Google engineer to Waymo attorneys in October 2016 during their investigation. To avoid losing the case, Uber will have to prove that followed all proper legal processes when it hired Levandowski, and wasn't hiring him because he had access to Waymo's trade secrets.

Uber was so driven to "win at all costs" in the race to develop self-driving vehicles that it cheated, a Waymo lawyer told a jury on Monday, the opening salvo in a trade-secrets lawsuit between the two technology companies that could help determine who emerges in the forefront of the autonomous auto business.

If a jury decides Uber did steal and use trade secrets and an injunction is handed down, Uber will immediately brush it off by claiming it doesn't use the secrets anyway. What was then known as Project Chauffeur eventually grew into Waymo, a semi-independent company managed by Google's parent company, Alphabet. 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.

Uber denies using proprietary Waymo technology, and said it has only used its own LiDAR tech in developing self-driving cars. Uber founder Travis Kalanick once referred to Levandowski as his "brother from another mother", but those feelings haven't translated to Uber's legal strategy.

The case subsequently continued, and as of writing, the press and public has been ejected from the courtroom while the alleged trade secrets are discussed in the opening statements. Carmody highlighted Uber's relationship with Carnegie Mellon University, which has a highly regarded robotics institute, as evidence that the company's ideas came from "people at Uber" and "real engineers" who have brought their "talents" to the ride-sharing company. "All Uber has to show for Anthony Levandowski is this lawsuit".

Waymo also alleges that the company used Waymo's laser and radar technology called LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) for developing the its own self-driving vehicle. A Waymo attorney pressed Kalanick for his reaction to what he described as a surprise revelation that Levandowski 'had some disks and some content from Google.

"At the end of this case you're gonna realise what matters is the tech, not Anthony Levandowski", they added. Levandowski joined Uber because, the Texas lawyer said, he thought he'd be joining a victor.

There's a good chance Waymo will call Levandowski to the stand but, given that he's so far only "pleaded the fifth", don't expect too much. He argued that Uber's Levandowski hire was unfortunate-but only because the engineer didn't get results, even in his speciality, lidar laser sensing. Kalanick, on the other hand, will testify later this week, and Waymo will have a chance to paint him as the villain they want the jury to see.

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