Waymo accuses Uber of 'cheating' as trade secrets trial begins

Waymo accuses Uber of 'cheating' as trade secrets trial begins

A high-profile legal battle begins to play out in San Francisco on Monday as Alphabet's self-driving vehicle division, Waymo, meets Uber in court. It could be a blockbuster case between two technology giants over alleged theft of trade secrets.

In history's eyes, coming in second is the same as losing. A veteran of high-stakes technology IP cases, the judge, who is known for his quick one-liners and no-nonsense attitude during pretrial hearings, implored the 10-person jury to focus on what's entered into evidence or uttered on the stand by witnesses, and not the performances of the suits in front of them.

But Waymo argues that the whole process was more of a charade and that Uber's founder and former boss Travis Kalanick was in talks with Levandowski before he left Google. "For him, winning at all costs, no matter what, was his culture and what he was going to do". Founded in 2009, as part of Google self-driving auto project, it was officially spun out of Google in 2016 and is now owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet. Poaching Anthony Levandowski - an engineer with a reputation for brilliance - from Waymo's ranks, he argued, was not only a way to jump-start Uber's autonomous technology, but also a way to smuggle Waymo's intellectual property into his company.

In the US district court in San Francisco this week, Waymo's lawyers are expected to argue that Levandowski provided Uber with about 14,000 critical documents containing eight lidar trade secrets that helped it develop its own self-driving vehicle tech. Waymo CEO John Krafcik, his company's first witness, testified that Levandowski's abrupt departure considerably shifted his perspective.

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Verhoeven likened Uber's behavior to a video game "cheat code".

Privately, Uber accuses Waymo of wanting to dumb down the jury's technical expertise in the hope of getting jurors who know less about sophisticated technology. Waymo claims Levandowski and Uber's senior executives met to discuss forming and acquiring Ottomotto while Levandowski was still at Waymo as a ruse for stealing Waymo's technology.

"There's not a single piece of Google proprietary information at Uber", he added. For years, Levandowski worked (in somewhat odd business arrangements) with Google - and later Alphabet - as part of the pre-spinout Waymo project team. "We're dealing with trade secrets that you can't see, you have to visualize them somehow".

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Uber and Google sister company Waymo will face off tomorrow in a court battle that could dramatically shift the race to develop self-driving cars. 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.

After being forced to reschedule proceedings at the eleventh hour, Alsup chastised attorneys for Uber, telling them, "You should have come clean with this long ago". Uber then bought Otto for $680 million in August 2016. "For all his time at Uber, all Uber has to show for Levandowski is this lawsuit".

Uber had seen Levandowski much as the Golden State Warriors saw Kevin Durant before signing him - as a star to be acquired to help achieve greatness, Carmody suggested. The engineer invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination nearly a year ago, shortly after the suit was filed, and is likely to do the same when US District Judge William Alsup compels him to take the witness stand. Levandowski may have the right idea: In December, Alsup unsealed a letter from prosecutors confirming that a criminal investigation of the alleged trade-secrets theft is under way. Waymo is seeking damages and a permanent injunction to prevent Uber from using the alleged trade secrets in future AV developments.

"That's why at the end of this case, the most important for y'all to do is to determine if the engineering concepts that we're going to be talking about more", he said.

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