By now some of you guys might have heard how Waymo has sued Uber and Otto for allegedly stealing company secrets to help further their own self-driving car efforts. The story goes like this: a former Waymo employee left to form his own company called Otto that made self-driving trucks.
The lawsuit claims that Otto’s co-founder Anthony Levandowski had stolen confidential Waymo information before he left, and Otto was later acquired by Uber, which in the process made it their legal problem as well. However it turns out that this might have been a ruse all along, or rather it could have been Uber’s plan from the start. According to a report from BuzzFeed News, Waymo’s lawyers are alleging that the creation of Otto was a ruse that was part of a bigger plan to get their hands on Waymo’s self-driving tech.
According to Charles Verhoeven, a lawyer for Waymo, “We’ve learned that Uber and Levandowski together created a cover-up scheme for what they were doing. They concocted a story for public consumption. The story was that Mr. Levandowski left Waymo for his own company.” Waymo’s lawyers are pointing to a stock agreement between Uber and Levandowski that was made on the 28th of January, 2016 which is a day after he had quit Google (this was before Waymo was formed).
The company’s lawyers are also using emails sent in January by Brian McClendon as proof, in which Uber’s former VP of maps (who has since left the company) referenced a meeting with “Anthony” who is presumed to be Levandowski. Unfortunately for Waymo while these accusations are certainly shocking, the judge presiding over the case doesn’t seem too convinced.
According to US District Judge William Alsup, “You have no proof that shows a chain of Levandowski saying to anybody, ‘here’s the way that you should do it,’ and that is your trade secret. All that has been proven is he downloaded 14,000 files. I’ve given you lots of discovery and so far you don’t have a smoking gun.”