Waymo Says Uber Cheats, Uber Decries 'Conspiracy Theories'
Lawyers for Google spin-off Waymo and ride-hailing giant Uber laid out their opening statements Monday at the start of one of the highest-profile lawsuits ever to hit Silicon Valley. Each company told a new version of the story of an infamous Boston Marathon runner who won by taking the subway.
Waymo claims in its lawsuit that Uber got hold of its critically important and proprietary information concerning navigation technology for self-driving cars, and used it for its own driverless- program. Central to the case is the alleged theft of 14,000 Waymo files by former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, who went on to work for Uber.
The Bay Area tech rivals are battling each other, and a host of other technology and auto companies, to gain early ground in an autonomous-vehicle market estimated by Intel to be worth $7 trillion by 2050.
Waymo's lawyer Charles Verhoeven was first to raise the specter of Rosie Ruiz, the 1980 Boston Marathon cheater, and he cast Uber as Ruiz. "Uber is cheating," Verhoeven said. "They took our technology in an effort to win this race at all costs."
Uber's lawyer Bill Carmody gave the story a different ending, putting Waymo in the role of a race official conducting a detailed investigation, but finding no wrongdoing. "There's no cheating -- there's not a single piece of Google proprietary information at Uber," Carmody said.
Waymo lawyer Verhoeven argued that Uber was so desperate to catch up with the pioneering Google in the self-driving car race that its CEO at the time, Travis Kalanick, decided that "winning was more important than obeying the law" and that Kalanick "made a decision to cheat."
The alleged cheating took the form of targeting Google engineer Levandowski, and bringing him -- and Google-owned data on the laser-based autonomous-vehicle navigation system called LiDAR -- to Uber via purchase of a "fake" company Levandowski had started, Verhoeven said.
"The evidence is going to show that repeatedly Mr. Levandowski inappropriately and secretly downloaded confidential Google documents on the very same day he was meeting with Uber executives about moving over to Uber and developing their LiDAR," Verhoeven said.
Waymo claimed that a self-driving truck startup called Otto, founded by Levandowski and sold to Uber, was simply a mechanism for getting Waymo's trade secrets into Uber, using what Verhoeven called "this fake company."
Verhoeven told jurors they would see evidence of "direct copying" by Uber of Waymo's intellectual property.
Uber's lawyer Carmody kicked off with a direct attack on Waymo's opening statement.
"That was quite a story we just heard, a tale of conspiracy," Carmody said. "Like most conspiracy theories, it just doesn't make sense when you hear the whole story."
Carmody keyed in on emails from a Google engineer who reported on data allegedly stolen by Levandowski, and found that the information was considered so "low value" that Google even considered hosting it off its company infrastructure.
"These documents, the whole basis for what Waymo says triggered this lawsuit, they're unimportant," Carmody said.
Levandowski, who was fired from Uber in May, "did some things at Google he shouldn't have done," but that didn't include bringing Waymo's trade secrets to Uber, Carmody argued.
Uber's LiDAR technology comes from the minds of its own engineers, and even if they brought some knowledge from other companies there's nothing wrong with that, Carmody said.
"Engineers ... are free to go from one job to another, and they don't get a lobotomy in between," Carmody said, adding that skills, talents and publicly known ideas can properly be brought from one job to another.
"The only thing that's not OK is trade secrets," he said.
Uber had seen Levandowski as the Golden State Warriors saw Kevin Durant before signing him -- as a star to be acquired to help achieve greatness, Carmody suggested.
"It is absolutely undisputed that Anthony Levandowski, he's a pioneer in the autonomous vehicle business," Carmody said. "He convinced Travis Kalanick he can make self-driving cars a reality."
But the relationship ultimately failed to deliver what Uber had wanted, the lawyer said.
"All Uber has to show from Anthony Levandowski is this lawsuit," 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.
Then came the first witness to testify before the jury, as Waymo put its CEO John Krafcik in the hot seat. Krafcik testified about a growing mistrust he said he felt toward Levandowski. "He had gone from someone I considered a friend to an enemy," Krafcik said, adding that he'd kept in touch with Levandowski after the man had left Google because "we needed to understand what he was doing."
Carmody, questioning Krafcik, focused on employees who had left Google and Waymo to work for Levandowski's startup Otto, and noted that Krafcik said in an internal document that Waymo had been having "significant retention challenges." Carmody also had Krafcik confirm that he was unaware of Waymo having a list of company secrets that would tell employees leaving the firm what they weren't allowed to bring to a competitor.
Waymo lawyer Verhoeven then had Krafcik point out that although five other former Waymo employees had left to go into autonomous-vehicle startups, Uber was the only firm Waymo sued or accused of stealing trade secrets.
© 2018 San Jose Mercury News under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.
Image credit: Google/Waymo.
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