Uber accused of stealing trade secrets from Waymo in groundbreaking trial

Uber's Kalanick Stays Calm on the Stand During Waymo Trade-Secrets Trial

Google's self-driving vehicle project, which was started in 2009, became Waymo in 2016.

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is back in a San Francisco courtroom to answer questions about discussions he had with an engineer who is accused of stealing Google's self-driving auto technology. Waymo accuses one of its former engineers, Levandowski, of downloading thousands of proprietary files that he took to start his own company, which months later was acquired by Uber in mid-2016. Waymo is suing for damages that could end up totaling more than a billion dollars. Mr. Levandowski isn't officially named as the defendant in the case and has already pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked to testify.

Google CEO Larry Page even took Kalanick for a ride in a self-driving auto after the investment, and the two companies discussed possible partnerships.

Kalanick's testimony showed the personal nature of the lawsuit, which is as much about big personalities at wealthy technology companies as it is about the technology itself. Back in 2013, Google invested in Uber.

Kalanick capped off his testimony in the trade secrets trial Wednesday, saying that Uber had a "little brother" relationship with Page's online juggernaut, and that Google Inc. - which in 2015 became a subsidiary of the.

However, the relationship soured after Uber started its own driverless vehicle programme in 2015.

Kalanick confirmed that the two had discussed Levandowski starting a "Newco" (a new company, which was ultimately Otto) that would then be acquired by Uber: "I wanted to hire Anthony [Levandowski] and he wanted to start a company, so I tried to come up with a situation where he could feel like he started a company and I could feel like I hired him", he said. According to reporters at the first day of the trial, Uber is downplaying Levandowski's role within the company, and Uber lawyer Bill Carmody said that the company "regrets ever bringing Levandowski on board". Recalling Page's raw feelings that surfaced with the Carnegie hires, Kalanick feared a lawsuit was coming.

But in earlier questioning by Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven, Kalanick was confronted with embarrassing documents and exchanges with Levandowski.

That's how Kalanick described being CEO of Uber.

Asked the meaning of a text message in which he told Levandowski to "burn the village", Kalanick said, "I don't know, I don't remember". "Second place is first looser". Uber's defence paints a different picture: one of Google seeking revenge after its plucky competitor poached its top engineer and started a driverless vehicle programme. He was frustrated by the slow pace of Uber's self-driving program, which trailed Waymo, and thought Levandowski could turn it around, the 10-person jury heard on Tuesday. Kalanick testified that he didn't read the paperwork that he signed, later attesting on cross-examination that he has endorsed hundreds of documents as CEO and, like many people, doesn't read everything. Uber has co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick at the top of its witness list.

Meanwhile, Kalanick wasn't waiting for that meeting. Gurley also said Kalanick "crossed a line of violating fraud and fiduciary duty" with the Otto acquisition.

Before acquiring Otto, Uber had commissioned forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to conduct due diligence on Levandowski and his startup.

Waymo's mainly used the messages, however, to establish the idea that Kalanick and Levandowski understood the importance of being first to build a self-driving auto.

What Kalanick meant, he said: Laser sensors are "an important part of making autonomous work; it doesn't work without it".

Waymo's legal team examined text messages between Kalanick and Levandowski, who had met even before the engineer had departed Google, and questioned why Kalanick's phone auto-deleted texts after 30 days.

The trial is expected to continue through next week.

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