The Judge Hearing Waymo's Case Against Uber is a Monumental Badass

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
the judge hearing waymos case against uber is a monumental badass

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 Timeslater 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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2 of 19 comments
  • Ex007 Ex007 on Apr 03, 2017

    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.

  • Voyager Voyager on Apr 04, 2017

    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.

  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.
  • K. R. Worth noting that the climate control is shared with (donated to) the Audi 5000 of the mid-late 1980s.