Waymo Attorney Says Uber’s Travis Kalanick Cheated to Win Self-Driving Car War

By Kate Conger on at

In his opening statement, Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven pointed out multiple references in messages and public statements by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to what he viewed as an all-out war to dominate the self-driving car market.

“This case is about two competitors where one competitor decided they needed to win at all costs,” Verhoeven said.

Held in the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, the Waymo v. Uber trial follows a year of legal sparring between the two companies over Uber’s alleged theft of Waymo trade secrets. The trial, which was delayed after Waymo accused Uber of withholding evidence, is expected to finally answer whether Waymo’s technology was actually used in Uber’s vehicles.

Although Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer who downloaded tens of thousands of files before joining Uber to work on its self-driving car team, has been at the centre of the legal battle, Verhoeven worked to shift attention to Kalanick’s behaviour.

Referencing Uber’s early efforts to recruit from Carnegie Mellon for its self-driving car team, Verhoeven accused the company of abandoning “fair” tactics in an attempt to compete. “Playing fair wasn’t working,” he said. “Google was way too far ahead.”

Google kicked off its self-driving efforts in 2009, the same year Uber was founded, as a secret project within X, its moonshot unit. What was then known as Project Chauffeur eventually grew into Waymo, a semi-independent company managed by Google’s parent company, Alphabet.“

“Mr. Kalanick made a decision that winning was more important than obeying the law,” Verhoeven said. “He made a decision to cheat.”

Verhoeven recapped Levandowski’s damning download history during his final weeks as a Google employee; he downloaded sets of confidential files in December 2015 and January 2016, often on the same days that he met with Uber executives, according to court filings and other records.

However, Verhoeven did not take time to detail the specifics of the trade secrets that Levandowski allegedly stole—Waymo is set to present eight secrets at trial, most of them dealing with its custom lidar system that serves as the eyes of its self-driving vehicles.

Uber, which will also make an opening statement in the trial today, has long maintained that none of the downloaded files ever made it to the company’s servers. Uber fired Levandowski last year for refusing to cooperate with Waymo’s investigation. Bill Carmody, Uber’s attorney, told the court on Monday that the company laments Levandowski’s hiring.

“Uber regrets ever bringing Anthony Levandowski on board,” Carmody said, adding, “For all this time at Uber, all Uber has to show for Anthony Levandowski is this lawsuit.”

The Waymo v. Uber trial is expected to run through at least February 23rd.

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