Uber-Waymo trial delayed as U.S. judge raises prospect of 'cover-up'

29 November, 2017, 01:13 | Author: Gladys Mathis
  • Trial pitting Waymo against Uber further delayed

Waymo, the self-driving auto company spun out of Google's moonshot unit, has accused Uber of recruiting its former employees and stealing its trade secrets in order to advance its development of autonomous vehicles.

Court filings indicate a letter from Jacobs' attorney to Uber counsel Angela Padilla details efforts to steal trade secrets from competitors. But the letter, portions of which were read aloud in court, states Uber used the tactics to keep trade secrets off its servers so it could avoid disclosing them in civil and criminal cases.

Under questioning, Jacobs trod a very careful line where he claimed to be assisting the US Department of Justice in discovering whether any of the allegations contained within his letter were actually true. The contents of the letter haven't been shared publicly yet, but a Wall Street Journal story reported that Uber employees were trained to "impede" ongoing investigations by using messages that vanished and couldn't be traced to the company.

It was the second time the judge has agreed to delay a trial at Waymo's request.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup ordered Uber's former security manager Richard Jacobs to testify about the evidence: a sealed demand letter his lawyer sent to Uber's in-house lawyer Angela Padilla after he was forced to resign earlier this year. He also said that he was unemployed but appears to be on a million-dollar "consulting" contract with Uber that has an additional $1.5m payout at the end of that agreement.

He also claimed that the team used a secretive messaging system on an anonymous server that would delete texts nearly immediately in order "to ensure we didn't create a paper trail that came back to haunt the company in any potential civil or criminal litigation".

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"I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case", Alsup said.

"It is possible that he has been bought off by Uber", Alsup said of Jacobs at one point during Tuesday's drama.

They also asked about training that the unit had been given to evade discovery and investigation including hiding communications, copying lawyers on letters in order to gain legal privilege, encryption, and using email only as a "last resort". "And there is a 50-50 chance that this will turn out to be a dry hole".

Uber countered in its own brief that Waymo had known about the destruction of Google disks since June but hadn't objected until its case "fell apart" following its failure to uncover trade-secret theft by Uber in a hotly contested due-diligence report. A new start date hasn't been set.

Waymo sued Uber and co-defendant Ottomotto, a driverless trucking startup founded by former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski, on trade secret theft claims this past February. After Levandowski left Google in 2016 (before parent company Alphabet spun Waymo into its own company), he launched the autonomous truck company Otto and sold it to Uber.

Uber identified employees at rival companies it believed it could flip in pursuit of competitors' secrets.


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