The year-long public feud between Uber and Waymo will come into the public eye today.
The trial over whether Uber stole eight trade secrets from Google’s self-driving tech unit will begin in San Francisco.
Waymo is seeking damages and a permanent injunction preventing Uber from using these alleged secrets, which relate to the design of ‘Lidar’ sensor technology.
The case centres on Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who left Google’s self-driving car project to begin autonomous truck start-up Otto. The start-up was acquired by Uber within a matter of months, leading to accusations that Uber had orchestrated the whole process.
Levandowski (pictured below speaking in 2011) is accused of downloading Lidar designs before quitting and using them when he was installed as the head of self-driving tech at Uber.
Uber proceeded with the acquisition of Otto despite legal red flags when a law firm it had hired to conduct due diligence found he had been in possession of a large number of Google documents. Levandowski said he destroyed the documents, while Uber said they were never used and has also questioned whether Levandowski’s expertise should be considered a trade secret.
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Amid a catalogue of murky allegations, Judge William Alsup has reminded jurors ahead of the trial that it is simply a dispute over intellectual property.
“The central issues in this case remains whether or not Uber misappropriated Uber’s trade secrets, not whether Uber is an evil corporation,” he said.
“Waymo’s decision to devote so much time and effort to pursuing matters with so little connection to the merits [of the case] raises the possibility that Waymo is unwilling or unable to prove up a solid case… and instead seeks to inflame the jury against Uber with a litany of supposed bad facts.”
At a pre-trial hearing last November, he also said: “Is an engineer supposed to get a frontal lobotomy before they go on to the next job? The answer’s got to be no.
“But say they know the recipe for Coca-Cola. They have to forget that before their next job.”
Judge Alsup recently estimated that Uber and Waymo have spent at least $300m on legal fees between them.
Levandowski, who is not a defendant, is likely to be called as a witness. He was fired in 2017 after refusing to cooperate with Uber’s legal team.