Uber and Waymo Duel at Key Hearing Over Driverless Car Technology

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On Wednesday, lawyers for Waymo argued that Mr. Levandowski had reached an understanding with Uber before he left Google. To keep that agreement secret from Google, the Waymo lawyers said, Mr. Levandowski and Uber needed some cover, so they hatched a plan for Mr. Levandowski to create a self-driving-car start-up named Otto, which Uber would then acquire.

“In fact, there was this clandestine plan all along that Uber and Mr. Levandowski had a deal,” Charles Verhoeven, a lawyer for Waymo, said.

Uber, which has denied stealing Waymo’s technology, said there was no evidence that any stolen Waymo files had touched Uber’s servers.

“We’ve interviewed more than 85 Uber employees, and more than 40 attorneys spent more than 6,000 hours reviewing documents, including over weekends,” Arturo Gonzalez, a lawyer for Uber, said. “After reviewing more than 300,000 documents, we’ve only found one Google email in the files.”

The case will be decided by Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court, who is expected to issue a ruling within the week. Waymo has asked for a temporary injunction blocking Uber’s self-driving car efforts; such an order would affect hundreds of Uber’s highly skilled engineers.


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At stake is what Uber and Waymo both believe could be a multibillion-dollar opportunity in the transportation industry in which autonomous cars move people around without the need or expense of human drivers.

The two companies have been regarded as leaders in driverless technology, a field that has become crowded in recent years as Apple, General Motors, Tesla and dozens of other companies have flooded in. More than 30 companies have applied to test driverless cars in California, which is at the forefront of addressing regulatory issues raised by such vehicles.

There has been little love between Uber and Google in the past, with the companies tangling over issues like mapping technology and hiring. Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber is one of the most tangible manifestations of the enmity between the two.

Waymo, which was spun off by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, last year, sued Uber in February. Uber has repeatedly denied the accusations and has separately sought to take the matter to arbitration. Mr. Levandowski said last week that he would stop working on Uber’s Lidar system — a shorthand term for light detection and ranging technology, a key hardware component in the operation of autonomous vehicles — for the duration of the case.

Waymo’s lawyers opened the proceedings on Wednesday by pointing to documents and emails uncovered during the case. The documents include correspondence between Uber executives discussing the acquisition of Mr. Levandowski’s start-up in early 2016 while he was still working for Google, Waymo’s lawyers said.

The documents also show Uber agreeing to grant Mr. Levandowski more than 5.3 million company shares, with an estimated value of more than $250 million, in exchange for meeting various technical milestones and project goals should he join Uber.

Uber’s lawyers argued there was no proof that the company had used any Waymo trade secrets.

Judge Alsup said Wednesday that Waymo’s lawyers had presented strong evidence that Mr. Levandowski had downloaded troves of valuable information from Google before leaving the company and had tried to erase his tracks after doing so. He also said Uber had determined at some point that Mr. Levandowski was “radioactive” and had taken steps to insulate itself from any repercussions he might face.

Yet Judge Alsup also indicated that Waymo’s lawyers might not have proved that there was a direct link between Mr. Levandowski’s actions and Uber’s products.

“I’ve already given you lots of time for discovery, and you don’t seem to have a smoking gun,” he said to Waymo’s lawyers.

Waymo’s lawyers said they believed that there might be additional evidence that Mr. Levandowski had shared the company’s technology with Uber and had used it in Uber designs, but that Uber was withholding that evidence.

Waymo’s lawyers also said that Mr. Levandowski could offer similar proof were he willing to cooperate in a deposition. Mr. Levandowski, apparently seeking to avoid criminal charges, has invoked his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

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