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Jury told by Waymo lawyer Uber ‘cheating’ on autonomous car secrets

FILE PHOTO - The Waymo logo is displayed during the company's unveil of a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit

FILE PHOTO – The Waymo logo is displayed during the company’s unveil of a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Alexandria Sage

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A jury in a trade-secrets lawsuit heard its first earful Monday as opening statements began in a bitter legal battle between Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc that has captivated Silicon Valley and could help determine who emerges in the forefront of the fast-growing field of autonomous cars.

On the first day of an expected two weeks of testimony before a 10-person jury in San Francisco federal court, a lawyer for Waymo, Charles Verhoeven, said the case “is about two competitors where one competitor decided they needed to win at all costs. Losing was not an option.

“They would do anything they needed to do to win, no matter what. No matter if it meant breaking some rules … in this case whether it meant taking trade secrets from a competitor,” Verhoeven told the jury.

A lawyer for ride-hailing firm Uber will make an opening statement later on Monday.

“We’re bringing this case because Uber is cheating. They took our technology ….to win this race at all costs,”  Verhoeven added.

Waymo, Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car unit, sued Uber nearly a year ago, sparking a showdown between the two technology companies over allegations by Waymo that one of its former engineers took trade secrets just before quitting and going to work at Uber. The case hinges on whether Uber used apparent trade secrets, a total of eight according to court filings, to advance its autonomous vehicle program. Waymo said engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files in December 2015 containing designs for autonomous vehicles before he went on to lead Uber’s self-driving car unit in 2016.

The jury will have to decide whether these were indeed trade secrets and not common knowledge, and whether Uber improperly acquired them, used them and benefited from them.

Uber has said while Levandowski downloaded the files, the data never made their way into its own self-driving car designs.

Levandowski, regarded as a visionary in autonomous technology, is not a defendant in the case but is on Waymo’s witness list. Levandowski was fired from Uber in May 2017 because the company said he refused to cooperate with Uber in the Waymo lawsuit and did not hand over information requested of him in the case.

Waymo and Uber are part of a crowded and hotly competitive field of automakers and technology companies aiming to build fleets of self-driving cars that could transform urban transportation systems.

Waymo has estimated damages in the case at about $1.9 billion. Uber rejects the financial damages claim. Still, the lawsuit has hobbled Uber’s self-driving car program, with Uber attorney Bill Carmody telling the court last week that the case “is the biggest in the history of Uber.”

Waymo intends to call Waymo Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik as it first witness, court documents show. Uber has co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick at the top of its witness list.

There are a total of 99 potential witnesses between the two companies, according to court documents, including Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Benchmark venture capitalist and Uber investor Bill Gurley and Alphabet executive David Drummond.

The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate criminal investigation into what transpired, according to court filings.


(Additional Reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco; editing by Grant McCool)



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