Published: Tue, February 06, 2018
IT | By Lester Massey

Waymo-Uber tech battle heads to trial

Waymo-Uber tech battle heads to trial

Starting Monday, Alphabet-owned Waymo and Uber will face off in court in an autonomous vehicle (AV) technology dispute that will spark "one of Silicon Valley's biggest legal battles in years", according to Business Insider.

Last February, Google owner Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) filed a lawsuit against Uber, claiming that the ride-hailing app had stolen patents and trade secrets relating to its Waymo self-driving technology unit. The trial, which was delayed after Waymo accused Uber of withholding evidence, is expected to finally answer whether Waymo's technology was actually used in Uber's vehicles.

The trial could last up to three weeks, with witnesses likely to include Kalanick, Levandowski and key Google executives. In May 2017, Levandowski was sacked after declining to cooperate with an investigation into Waymo's claims.

"Internal documents indicate that Mr. Kalanick wanted to find 'cheat codes, ' " Verhoeven told the jury in his opening statement.

"This case is about two competitors, where one competitor decided they needed to win at all costs", Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven said during his 55-minute opening remarks.

Kicking off the trial with a almost hour-long argument, Charles Verhoeven, Waymo's chief lawyer, said Uber's former chief executive Travis Kalanick realized he couldn't catch up with Waymo and was willing to do whatever it took to finish first in the race for autonomous supremacy - even if it meant breaking the law.

However, Verhoeven did not take time to detail the specifics of the trade secrets that Levandowski allegedly stole - Waymo is set to present eight secrets at trial, a lot of them dealing with its custom LIDAR system that serves as the eyes of its self-driving vehicles. Nearly immediately, Levandowski started his own self-driving truck manufacturer, Otto.

A Waymo spokesperson told The Washington Post, "The evidence shows that Levandowski and other individuals at Uber intentionally and willfully misappropriated Waymo's trade secrets".

Uber's Carmody kicked off with a direct attack on Waymo's version of events. "Period. End of story", said Carmody, a partner at the law firm Susman Godfrey. Uber contends it's normal for engineers to download lots of files, and that Waymo's internal communications speak to a broader problem getting and keeping the best engineers.

"These documents, the whole basis for what Waymo says triggered this lawsuit, they're unimportant", Carmody said. But the one person we may not hear from in this case is Anthony Levandowski.

John Krafcik, Waymo's chief executive and the first witness called by the company, said he and Levandowski had had disagreements about the direction of Google's self-driving-car project.

"The only thing that's not OK is trade secrets", he said. It could be a blockbuster case between two technology giants over alleged theft of trade secrets. "He convinced Travis Kalanick he can make self-driving cars a reality". He also showed an additional email from Google's server engineer, in which he wrote that he was "uncomfortable" that lawyers were calling Levandowski's activity on the server suspicious. To kill a competitive threat, said Bill Carmody, Uber's lawyer. But looking isn't enough for a Waymo win. Levandowski "had gone from someone I considered a friend to someone I considered an enemy", he said, adding that having Levandowski work for a competitor would help that competitor.

Instead, he portrayed Waymo as a company that was losing its edge in the self-driving auto game. 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. Levandowski created the company in January 2016, 12 days before he left Google, taking with him more than a dozen employees and, Waymo alleges, proprietary data.

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