By on May 4, 2017

judge alsup

The U.S. judge hearing Alphabet and Waymo’s case against Uber Technologies over pilfered trade secrets stated Wednesday that the inquest lacked clear evidence of any wrongdoing — making his decision on whether to issue an injunction against the ride-hailing service a difficult one.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup — who has already proven himself a no-nonsense individual — explained while there was undisputed proof engineer Anthony Levandowski had downloaded 9.7 gigabytes of company files prior to leaving Alphabet Inc.’s autonomous vehicle program, there wasn’t enough to indicate he conspired directly with Uber to share those trade secrets.

With nearly the entirety of the case revolving around that singular incident, this is a major problem for Waymo. 

Levandowski has declined to answer questions throughout the deposition, citing his constitutional rights against any self incrimination. However, Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven continues to assert the company’s belief that Uber and Levandowski have been conspiring together for over a year — prior to its purchase of his autonomous trucking business, Otto. According to Reuters, Verhoeven has also accused Uber of withholding thousands of pertinent documents on the erroneous grounds that they are confidential legal documents.

“I’ve given you lots of discovery, and so far you don’t have any smoking gun,” Alsup said on the matter.

Waymo attorneys have used Levandowski’s payment of 5.3 million restricted stock units of Uber — equivalent to $250 million at the time — as evidence. Uber maintains that the stock is directly connected to its acquisition of Otto in August of 2016, and backdating the starting date to January allowed Otto to be included within Uber’s vesting schedule.

Judge Alsup did not appear to see this as an issue. “So what? That’s a lot of money I guess, but why wouldn’t he get a lot of money?” he asked.

Waymo’s legal council claimed it was circumstantial evidence of intent. “He’s getting awarded stock by Uber when he’s supposedly starting his own company,” Verhoeven responded.

However, Uber’s attorney assured the court that they had not found a single instance of Waymo’s documents in their client’s systems after spending 6,000 hours of work. While Alsup commended their efforts, he also stated that the withheld files over Uber’s acquisition of Otto are likely a “treasure trove” of information and the deciding factor of how the case proceeds.

The judge explained he is still deciding if Uber has improperly withheld those documents and is still considering whether to send Waymo’s trade secret claims into arbitration.

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


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2 Comments on “Judge Says There’s ‘No Smoking Gun’ in Waymo’s Autonomous Car Case Against Uber...”

  • avatar

    If you buy stolen goods, you can’t keep them. There is little doubt that he stole tons of information from google. And there is little doubt that Uber received some of that information, when they bought his company. Shouldn’t the question be how much of the stolen information did Uber get, instead of whether or not they knew he stole it? (if they knew, or had a strong reason to believe he stole it, that would be much worse).

  • avatar

    As I understand it, this is only a hearing of Waymo’s application for a preliminary injunction, not the actual trial. To succeed, they have to show irreparable damage if the injunction is refused, and that they have an overwhelming prospect of success in the main action – which is often difficult to do.

    When the main action comes to trial, Waymo only needs to prove its case on a balance of probabilities, which is a much lower standard. And I believe that the presiding judge (and jury, if there is one)in a civil trial can draw inferences from Levandowski’s taking the Fifth on the questions directed to him.

    And by the way, what was there in Otto that could possibly justify a purchase price in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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