After four days of trial, Uber settled claims from Waymo (Google) that a former Google engineer had downloaded before forming his own company that was later bought by Google. As part of the settlement, Waymo gets 0.34 of Uber’s equity, worth about $245 million at Uber’s estimated valuation of $72 billion.
Discussing the settlement, new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said his job includes “acknowledging and correcting mistakes of the past.” He continued: “The prospect that a couple of Waymo employees may have inappropriately solicited others to join Otto, and that they may have potentially left with Google files in their possession, in retrospect, raised some hard questions” though he continued to deny that any Waymo trade secrets made their way to Uber.
In litigation with Google about alleged theft of Google intellectual property, Google counsel presented notes from John Bares, then director of Uber’s driverless car center in Pittsburgh, from a December 2015 meeting with Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick discussing:
TK what we want
all of their data
pound of flesh
On one interpretation, the “what we want” was what Uber wanted from a prospective acquisition of Otto — but notably, what Otto would in turn bring from Google (where key staff had worked previously). In particular, Uber had no fight with Otto and no reason to want a “pound of flesh” from Otto. In contrast, Uber’s tensions with Google were longstanding and well known. In that case, these notes would also indicate Uber intentionally wanting “all of their [Google’s] data” as well as Google’s “source [code]” and more.
Against the advice of then-General Counsel Salle Yoo and without support from then-Chief Business Officer Emil Michael, Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick pushed forward with the acquisition of Otto, a startup for self-driving trucks.
Bloomberg reports multiple reasons why Kalanick could have been concerned about the deal and Levandowski’s tactics.
One, Otto consisted primarily of ex-Google staff, and Uber’s acquisition of Otto angered Google leaders, including co-founder Larry Page.
Two, before the deal closed, Uber’s investigators learned that Levandowski had possessed five disks of data from Google’s driverless effort including “source code, design files, laser files, engineering documents and software related to Google self-driving cars.” Uber’s investigators also knew that Levandowski’s claims to have destroyed the disks could not be verified. Kalanick said he did not read the investigators’ report.
Three, Levandowski asked Uber to protect him from legal attacks from Google, and Kalanick agreed to do so.
Even when Google sued Uber over the acquisition, and Levandowski invoked the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination to decline to cooperate with litigation, Kalanick continued to support Levandowski, claiming he would eventually be vindicated.
Bloomberg further reports Kalanick calling Levandowski his “brother from another mother.”
In Google’s lawsuit against Uber as to alleged theft of self-driving car technology, federal judge William Alsup offered a stern critique of Uber. In particular, Alsup criticized Uber’s Competitive Intelligence group and the company’s intentional concealment of its practices. Beginning with the fact that Uber “withheld evidence,” Alsup continued:
I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case. If even half of what is in that letter is true, it would be an injustice for Waymo to go to trial.
Alsup specifically criticized Uber’s use of a system that deleted correspondence automatically, saying this was contrary to court instructions for producing relevant documents:
The server [that Uber searched] turns out to be for dummies, that’s where the stuff that doesn’t matter shows up. The stuff that does matter is going to be in the Wickr evaporate file.
Alsup expressed shock at Uber’s practices:
You don’t get taught how to deal with this problem in law school. In 25 years of practice and 18 years in this job I have never seen such a problem.
He continued after a second day of hearings:
I’ve never seen a case where there were so many bad things that—like Uber has done in this case. So many
Alsup said he plans to tell the jury about the new findings, including Uber’s concealment of its practices and intentional destruction of staff discussions:
That is going to hurt your case because any company that would set up that kind of system is as suspicious as can be. I don’t know how you are going to get around that.
When Uber’s autonomous cars were driving in San Francisco, they violated state law as to treatment of bike lanes. The Verge explains:
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition … executive director, Brian Weidenmeier … said he twice saw an Uber car in self-driving mode make an “unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane” during a trial of the service on Monday last week. Rather than merging into bike lanes early to make right-hand turns, as per California state law, the Uber vehicle reportedly pulled across the bike lanes at the last second, risking collisions with oncoming cyclists.
Weidenmeier explained further in a post with diagrams and citations to applicable California law.
Uber admitted that its autonomous vehicles have a “problem” with their treatment of bike lanes.
In Google’s lawsuit against Uber as to alleged theft of self-driving car technology, Uber sought to hold a hearing in camera, closed to the public. Judge Alsup concluded that Uber sought confidentiality not for any proper purpose permitted under law, but to avoid embarrassment. From the court transcript for March 26, 2017:
Mr. Gonzalez (for Uber): Your Honor, the reason why we wanted it in chambers is because of the adverse impact that we think it would have on our client. If there’s a headline tomorrow saying this guy is asserting the Fifth Amendment —
The Court: Listen, please don’t do this to me again. There’s going to be a lot of adverse headlines in this case on both sides. And I can’t stop that.
[T]he public has a right — in fact, this whole transcript, I’m going to make it public.
Details in The Verge
Waymo v. Uber litigation docket
In summer 2016, Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick sought to acquire a startup called Otto which specialized in self-driving vehicles. According to Bloomberg, then-General Counsel Salle Yoo “expressed reservations about the deal” and insisted on hiring Stroz Friedberg (cyber investigators) to assess any impropriety including the possibility, already known to her and Kalanick, that Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski was bringing files from Google, his former employer.
Bloomberg reports that Uber’s board wasn’t aware of these concerns, the Stroz findings, or Levandowski’s retention of Google files.
Confident that it would prevail in trade secret litigation alleging that Uber stole Google information, Google proposed that Uber pay $1 billion of damages, issue a public apology, and appoint an independent monitor to assure that Uber does not use Google technology in the future.
Reuters interpreted Google’s proposal: “Waymo’s tough negotiating stance, which has not been previously reported, reflects the company’s confidence in its legal position after months of pretrial victories in a case which may help to determine who emerges in the forefront of the fast-growing field of self-driving cars. The aggressive settlement demands also suggest that Waymo is not in a hurry to resolve the lawsuit, in part because of its value as a distraction for Uber leadership.”
Uber rejected the proposal.
Waymo v. Uber litigation docket
Forensics firm Stroz Friedberg investigated the information Anthony Levandowski allegedly took from Google and whether or how it was destroyed. Stroz’s report conveys Levandowski’s admission that he had five discs of Google information which he says he destroyed (a claim Stroz was unable to verify).
Stroz found about 50,000 Google work emails on Levandowski’s personal computer, and there was evidence that he accessed some of the emails at about the same time he left Google, making it “difficult to believe” that he could not remember having those emails, as he claimed when interviewed.
Stroz found that Levandowski accessed certain Google files after his departure, then deleted them. Stroz also found evidence of Levandowski searching for instructions on secure file deletions, and telling coworkers to delete messages from him. These deletions are consistent with an attempt to destroy confidential Google information that Levandowski should not have had, but also consistent with a cover-up of information previously received and used.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement: “The Stroz Report unequivocally shows that, before it acquired his company, Uber knew Anthony Levandowski had a massive trove of confidential Waymo source code, design files, technical plans and other materials after leaving Google; that he stole information deliberately, and repeatedly accessed it after leaving Waymo; and that he tried to destroy the evidence of what he had done. In addition, Mr. Levandowski used his smartphone to take thousands of covert photographs of computer screens displaying Google confidential files. Knowing all of this, Uber paid $680 million for Mr. Levandowski’s company, protected him from legal action, and installed him as the head of their self-driving vehicle program.”
Accused of stealing driverless car technology from Google (his former employer), Uber executive Anthony Levandowski invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify.
In response to Levandowski’s refusal to cooperate in Uber’s response to Google (Waymo) litigation alleging that Uber stole Google/Waymo secrets, Uber fired Levandowski.
In a letter to Levandowski, Uber terminated him for cause. Uber noted its requirement that he cooperate with the litigation, which he did not do. Uber also noted that his employment agreement warranted that he had returned or destroyed all property and confidential information from any prior employer, but said that Levandowski’s actions gave Uber grounds to allege breach of these commitments.
See also Uber’s May 15, 2017 letter to Levandowski demanding that he comply with a court order, waive his Fifth Amendment protections, and cooperate with Uber’s defense of Google’s lawsuit. See also Levandowski’s May 18, 2017 motion asking the court to modify its order to avoid compelling Levandowski to waive his Fifth Amendment rights.