By on April 3, 2017

judge alsup

Uber has become quite an adept punching bag for journalists over the last few months. However, its unsavory actions only helped to hang itself in the corner of every garage across America while wearing an Everlast logo. At this point, it might as well say something nasty about everyone’s mother.

It isn’t just the press giving the ride-hailing and autonomous tech company a hard time, though. The judge overseeing its court case with Waymo over stolen intellectual property isn’t taking any bullshit from either company, or the litigant’s lawyers, and had some incredibly harsh words to share from behind the bench before adjourning court for the rest of April. 

To recap, Waymo is coming after Uber on the grounds that it is using Google-developed technologies without permission. Anthony Levandowski, the former head of Google’s self-driving car project who is now leading a similar effort at Uber, had allegedly stolen thousands of files upon his departure. While Google-turned-Waymo isn’t coming after Levandowski directly, Uber is being accused of making use of that stolen information in its current autonomous test platforms.

Waymo wants to use the courts to stop Uber from continuing with its research program and Uber wants the whole matter resolved in arbitration between Google’s Waymo and Levandowski, rather than in open court. Transcripts from the proceedings have surfaced via Reuters and The New York Times — later shared in total by Jalopnik — showing Levandowski exercising his Fifth Amendment rights, Uber tossing him under the bus, and US District Judge William Alsup having none of it.

“Waymo especially should not be allowed to avoid arbitration where it has alleged pervasive collusion between Levandowski and Defendants, and where its claims are connected with, and founded on, Levandowski’s alleged misconduct while he was a Waymo employee — conduct that his employment contracts governed,” Uber’s lawyers stated. “Waymo’s purpose for proceeding in this curious manner seems clear. Through artful pleading, it hopes to avoid arbitrating the misappropriation and UCL [unfair competition law] claims at all costs.”

Waymo claims that, regardless of Levandowski breach of contract, Uber has still infringed on its patents and the case needs to move ahead.

“I’m sorry that Mr. Levandowski has got his — got himself in a fix. That’s what happens, I guess, when you download 14,000 documents and take them, if he did. But I don’t hear anybody denying that,” Judge Alsup said. “If you think for a moment that I’m going to stay my hand because your guy is taking the Fifth Amendment and not issue a preliminary injunction to shut down that… you’re wrong.”

Uber’s lawyers explained that the company wasn’t at fault for Levandowski’s refusal to testify and would “love” it if he did.

“Okay. The public will read what you just said. I’m sorry, but the public’s right to know what goes on in the federal courts is more important than the newspapers beating up on you in the press,” responded Alsup.

The judge continued hitting Uber later on in the hearing.

“If your guy is involved in criminal activity and has to have criminal lawyers of the caliber of these two gentlemen, who are the best, well, okay they got the best. But it’s a problem I can’t solve for you. And if you think I’m going to cut you some slack because you’re looking at — your guy is looking at jail time, no.”

“[Waymo] are going to get the benefit of their record. And if you don’t deny it — if all you do is come in and say, ‘We looked for the documents and can’t find them,’ then the conclusion is they got a record that shows Mr. Levandowski took it, and maybe still has it. And he’s — he’s still working for your company. And maybe that means preliminary injunction time. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not there yet. But I’m telling you, you’re looking at a serious problem.”

Alsup didn’t spare Waymo from his wrath. Nearing the end of the hearing, the judge suggested that the company stop redacting information from its plea, or else it might as well be in arbitration, not a public courtroom. While he understands that Waymo wants to protect trade secrets, he reminded the company that it choose the wrong venue to keep things hidden.

“And if this continues, then several things are going to happen,” he warned. “One, we’re going to call a halt to the whole — we’re going to stop everything. And we’re going to have document-by-document hearings in this room, where I go through every document and you justify to me why we’re there. And then after we sort it all out, we will resume. And, of course, I’ll make 90 percent of those public. We will then resume. And your motion for preliminary injunction will be delayed day by day until we get this done. You have a very strong incentive to stop this nonsense with the redactions.”

“There’s going to be a lot of adverse headlines in this case on both sides,” Alsup said.

The companies are due back in court on May 3rd to debate the preliminary injunction that would prevent Uber from using Waymo technology while the lawsuit is ongoing. Alsup has requested that Uber and Waymo come up with code names for Waymo’s trade secrets so that they can be referenced during the public hearing — providing the companies with a bare minimum of discretion.

[Image: United States District Court, Northern District of California]

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19 Comments on “The Judge Hearing Waymo’s Case Against Uber is a Monumental Badass...”


  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Popcornable. Admirable judge.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Yep. Admirable. Uber’s lawlessness is part of a much broader pattern on their part. On a multitude of fronts, they’re becoming exposed as a basically fraudulent business that adds little real efficiency while exploiting everybody they touch. They’re toxic.

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        Let’s enjoy every last example of Rule of Law we still get because it’s definitely going out of style.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        I’ve been carted around by Uber guys up to several times, and have yet to experience having been unduly exploited. I also know guys who have been paid by them, again without having been exploited. I know Uber is the most recent hobgoblin, thrown out as red meat to get the indoctrinati all riled up and clamoring for Massa to pjotect them. But that has to do with the indoctrinati being easy to play marks, not with anything intrinsic to Uber.

        If Lewandowsky really did illegally download a pile of documents, that really ought to be between him and Google/Waymo. Of course, if Uber knowingly took possession of the stolen property, that’s on them. But we still haven’t left the realm of crimes here. Prove Lewandowsky guilty of stealing. Then Uber of knowingly buying loot.

        But holding up an entire research team and project, because one guy on it has been accused, so far without conviction, of having stolen something at some point; is just another in an ever longer line of land-grabs by rent seekers and their lawyers that is hamstringing Silicon Valley. Just as they have previously succeeded in hamstringing the rest of American once-were enterprise.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Part of the issue tying Lewandowsky and UBER is the fact that he was seen actively working with them within 3-8 weeks of leaving Waymo.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            That ought to mean someone with hiring power at Uber should fear a criminal investigation leading to him/them being tossed into a not so nice jail cell. Not some amorphous threat of holding up a huge engineering undertaking of which Lewandowski was only one part.

            Don’t get me wrong; If the whole Otto interlude really was pre orchestrated with Uber involvement, with the goal being to steal reams of research that everyone involved knew was proprietary to Google, it’s only appropriate for the courts to get involved. I personally doubt that’s the case, but what do I now? But if so, then treat it as a criminal matter. And target and inconvenience those directly involved as narrowly as possible.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Thumbs up on your original statement, OMP. Personally, I get the idea UBER isn’t going to survive this either way but not even Waymo will get out scot-free. Waymo may survive but there’s a good chance they’ll lose what lead they have in autonomy while this is in litigation.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This case could conclude with both parties unhappy, and Mr Levandowski unemployed and radioactive.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Where was this guy during my divorce?

  • avatar
    thegamper

    The amount of documents involved and the complexity of the patents involved will make this case a nightmare if Waymo is trying to keep everything sealed. At the same time, these matters are pursued without making the trade secrets public knowledge/public record. Why damage Waymo for no wrongdoing. I like the judge beating up on the guy who stole the documents, but he needs to stop yelling and find a reasonable way to this case moving. Being a jerk to all the parties doesn’t necessarily end in justice.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    We’re talking about a judge who *actually learned coding in Java* to help him understand the Oracle vs. Google trial.

    https://www.wired.com/2012/05/google-schmidt-page-damages/

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      Just as one would want patent lawyers, one would want patent judges who have an understanding of the technology involved. From the article, it appears the Judge knew other programming languages.

      Without knowing the specifics of the Oracle v. Google trial, in many cases, if 100 programmers were asked to solve a problem, its a quite high probability that more than 1 will write almost if not identical code. No reason to re-invent the wheel. Common knowledge vs Patent infringement is always an issue.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I’m not buying some of what this judge is saying. While this is a courtroom proceeding, this doesn’t have to be public. If the information that Waymo is redacting is truly patent or copyright sensitive, I would think a capable judge would understand that this sort of information being public is just an excuse for any company, especially the Chinese, to copy the engineering.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Due to this potentially leading to criminal charges for Mr Levandowski, where some of this data may need to be brought up as evidence (potentially the whole of what Mr Levandowski stole), then there is no reason for this to be a closed trial. After all, this isn’t a patent trial as such but rather a charge of industrial espionage against UBER because of him.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    Judge Alsup is pretty amazing. He oversaw the Oracle v Google Java/Android case, where he basically had to learn to program and understand what an API was. He’s no bullshit.

  • avatar
    Serpens

    “he reminded the company that it choose the wrong venue to keep things hidden.”

    So close to completing the article without a grammar mistake.

  • avatar
    ex007

    Having had several cases before Judge Alsup, not all of which went my company’s way, I can say that he is both honest and fair. Those two traits place him in the 99th percentile of all judges. My experience with both federal and state judges all over the country is that the overwhelming majority are neither honest and/or fair. At least with Alsup, he will apply the law to the facts and render a (non predetermined) decision.

  • avatar

    Particularly in this day and age, creativity, original ideas and therefore IP are or can be the Holy Grail, the game-changer that makes one company work towards the most viable direction and another working itself towards extinction. Famous example: Apple iPhone versus Nokia and Blackberry. The more I come to know of Uber, the more I realize that they’re just a bunch of rats.


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