Google accused rival Uber of plotting a devious “cover up scheme” with a former Google employee in order to steal crucial self-driving car technology, a bombshell claim that turned up the heat in what has already become Silicon Valley’s most high-profile legal battle in years.
According to Google, the self-driving truck startup company that Uber acquired was part of a ruse concocted by Uber and Anthony Levandowski, the former star Google engineer who now works at Uber. In fact, Levandowski and Uber had already pre-negotiated the terms for Uber to acquire the startup, lawyers for Google’s self-driving car spinout Waymo said in court on Wednesday.
“Through discovery we’ve learned that Uber and Levandowski created a coverup scheme for what they were doing. They concocted a story for public consumption,” said Waymo’s lawyer Charles Verhoeven.
Google pointed to the fact that Levandowski received $250 million in Uber stock the day after he quit Google, and months before his startup, Otto, was acquired by Uber.
Uber’s alleged conspiracy to build a company before later acquiring it is a large part of Waymo’s bid to stop Uber’s research from self-driving cars.
However the judge pushed back and asked whether Uber could be innocent in all of this and maybe the “worst thing they did is pay a lot of money to hire away a brilliant guy from another competitor.”
“Here’s the thing. You didn’t sue him. You sued Uber. So what if it turns out that Uber is totally innocent?” Alsup asked.
While Waymo has argued that Levandowski and Uber were clearly in cahoots, it hasn’t presented evidence yet that Uber knew that Levandowski had downloaded the files or instructed him to do so.
Waymo alleges that in 2015, its former star engineer, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded more than 14,000 files — 9.7 gigabytes of data — containing information about the company’s self-driving-car technology to his laptop and transferred those files to an external storage device. Those files included plans for Waymo’s proprietary lidar system, according to the company. His new company, Otto, was later acquired by Uber more than six months later.
Here’s what Waymo said that it’s discovered so far:
- October 2015 — An Uber engineer, Scott Boehmke, makes a note in his Lidar journal about a discussion with Uber’s Brian McClendon. The two had talked about a “NewCo”. The pros are “experience with automotive competitors” and cons are no track record and no details.
- January 2016 — Waymo says Uber was meeting with Levandowski before he even left Google. An email sent by MClendon says that he’s preparing to meet with an “Anthony” tomorrow. Another email, with a file called “NewCo Deliverables”, said that “this list of deliverables is a high bar for sure But then again so is what he is asking for in $$.”
- January 27, 2016 — Levandowski leaves Google with no notice.
- January 28, 2016 — Uber promises 5 million shares of Uber stock vesting a day after he leaves in a “notice of restricted stock award.” That amount is worth more than $250 million, according to Waymo’s lawyers. “The very next day, he’s getting awarded stock by Uber when he’s supposedly starting his own company, when he’s supposedly building his own technology, he’s secretly working for Uber,” Verhoeven said.
- January 29, 2016 — Emails with Uber’s lawyers, that are being withheld from Waymo, that are related to an “anticipation of litigation” related to the acquisition of Ottomotto.
- April 11, 2016 — Uber and Levandowski enter into a Joint Defense Agreement
- August 18, 2016 — Uber announces the acquisition of Otto