For Waymo, rubber meets road as Uber trial starts (VIDEO)

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 6 — Waymo has spent almost a year accusing Uber Technologies Inc of an unconscionable theft of its hard-won technology — and now has to deliver its proof. The companies faced off yesterday before a jury in San Francisco federal court over an alleged heist that has fascinated Silicon Valley from the moment Waymo filed its lawsuit last February.

Here is the latest development:

Waymo CEO to testify as first witness (11.43am PST)

Waymo’s first witness, its own chief executive officer, John Krafcik, is expected to testify about the departure of Anthony Levandowski, the engineer Waymo accuses of stealing its trade secrets. Uber may have something else in mind on cross-examination. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has testified that Krafcik talked “trash” in an email about the engineers who Levandowski poached from Waymo and who later joined Uber. Uber may ask Krafcik about the exchange to argue the Waymo CEO diminished the engineering talent that migrated to Uber.

Waymo, Uber make opening arguments (10.03am PST)

To win any of the US$1.9 billion (RM7.4 billion) in damages it seeks, Google’s self-driving unit also will have to demonstrate how its trade secrets are in Uber’s technology, details which have been obscured from public view. The courtroom will be closed when proprietary information is being discussed.

“A lot is going to depend on themes of conspiracy, but the rubber is finally going to meet the road for Waymo,” Michael Risch, a professor at Villanova University School of Law in Pennsylvania, said in an email. “Can they show trade secrets in Uber’s stuff or not? After a year of pretrial smoke, will they show a fire?”

QuickTake: Uber’s courtroom detour into the secrets of the mind

Waymo claims Uber’s overreach was rooted in its inferior position in the nascent market for self-driving cars. The company alleges that former Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick tried to bridge the gap by conspiring with Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski, who then downloaded the trade secrets and funneled them to the ride-hailing company through an acquisition and, eventually, as head of Uber’s driverless programme.

“This case is about two competitors where one of the competitors decided they need to win at all costs, that losing was not an option,” Charles Verhoeven, Waymo’s lead lawyer, said in his opening argument. “In this case that meant taking trade secrets from a competitor.”

Waymo plans call former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at a witness. — Reuters pic
Waymo plans call former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at a witness. — Reuters pic

The jury will see comments from Kalanick that he wanted to lure Levandowski to Uber to get the benefit of “cheat codes” and “to leapfrog Google,” Verhoeven said.

“The evidence is going to show Mr Kalanick is the one driving this, he’s the one who wanted to break the rules,” the lawyer argued.

Waymo plans call Kalanick at a witness. He may not end up testifying until today or tomorrow.

Uber argues the alleged trade secrets aren’t secret at all. Rather, they are pieces of know-how that its driverless car engineers, some of them from Waymo, accumulated in the course of their careers, the ride-hailing company contends.

“There’s no conspiracy. There’s no cheating. Period. End of story,” Uber lawyer Bill Carmody told jurors in his opening argument. “Like most conspiracy stories it just doesn’t make sense when you get the whole story.”

Uber claims Waymo has failed to uncover any evidence of theft — even after Uber permitted its adversary to inspect its LiDAR designs and facilities at least 11 times.

Carmody sought to dispel the notion that Uber stole anything resembling Waymo’s “crown jewels.” He cited an email to refute Waymo’s claim Levandowski stole 14,000 proprietary files.

The San Francisco-based startup has also argued that its LiDAR designs — the light radar technology at issue in the case, which self-driving cars rely on to sense surroundings and avoid obstacles — are different from Waymo’s.

The case is Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies Inc, 17-cv-00939, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco). — Bloomberg

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