21 July 2019
Waymo alleges that Uber used the former's proprietary information on navigation technology for driverless cars as it wanted to 'win at all costs'. Photo: Reuters
Waymo alleges that Uber used the former's proprietary information on navigation technology for driverless cars as it wanted to 'win at all costs'. Photo: Reuters

Hearings begin in Waymo trade secrets case vs Uber

A Federal Court in San Francisco began hearings on Monday in a trade secrets lawsuit involving Alphabet’s self-driving car unit Waymo and ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies.

In opening statements before a 10-person jury, the two firms traded accusations against each other amid the civil case that could help determine who emerges in the forefront of the autonomous car business, Reuters reports.

Waymo had sued Uber, alleging that the latter used Waymo’s trade secrets to advance Uber’s own driverless-car program.

Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer, was said to have downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files in December 2015 containing designs for autonomous vehicles before going to work for Uber and leading its self-driving car unit in 2016.

In the court room Monday, as lawyers for the two tech firms read out opposing statements, jurors heard that Uber was either a cheating competitor willing to break the law to win the race to develop self-driving cars, or the victim of an unproven conspiracy theory stitched together by Waymo.  

“Waymo wants you to believe that Anthony Levandowski got together with Uber as part of some grand conspiracy to cheat and take trade secrets,” Uber attorney Bill Carmody said in his opening statement, according to Reuters.

“But like most conspiracy stories it just doesn’t make sense when you get the whole story.”

Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven told the jury that the competitive pressures were so great to develop the cars that the then CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, decided that “winning was more important than obeying the law.”

“We’re bringing this case because Uber is cheating. They took our technology … to win this race at all costs,” Verhoeven said. 

Waymo has estimated damages in the case at about US$1.9 billion. Uber rejects the financial damages claim. 

Uber attorney Carmody said the “elephant in the courtroom” was that, despite the downloads by Levandowski, Google’s proprietary information never made it to Uber and into its self-driving technology.

“There is no connection whatsoever between any files he downloaded … and what’s in here,” Carmody said, pointing to an Uber-designed Lidar sensor sitting in front of him, a light-based sensor that is crucial to autonomous driving and central to the case. 

“There’s not a single piece of Google proprietary information at Uber,” he added. “Nothing, zero, period.” 

After what is expected to be two weeks of testimony, the jury will have to decide whether the eight apparent trade secrets were indeed such, and not common knowledge, and whether Uber improperly acquired them, used them and benefited from them, Reuters noted. 

Levandowski, regarded as a visionary in autonomous technology, is not a defendant in the case but is on Waymo’s witness list.

Levandowski was fired 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. 

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