The battle for supremacy in self-driving cars between Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber has been playing out in Judge William Alsup’s San Francisco courtroom. Waymo alleges Uber stole its trade secrets by hiring its longtime engineer Anthony Levandowski who had secretly downloaded 9.7 GB in proprietary files before leaving Waymo (Waymo v. Uber, Case No. 17-CV-0939-WA, N.D. Cal.). The case was set to go to trial in early December.
Earlier this year, Judge Alsup referred the matter to the U.S. Attorneys Office after Levandowski invoked the fifth amendment in the proceedings. On November 28th, Judge Alsup delayed the trial after receiving a letter from the U.S. Attorneys Office confirming an active criminal investigation of Uber and revealing discussions with Richard Jacobs, Uber’s former Manager of Global Intelligence.
In these discussions, Jacobs reveals an Uber presentation on “a hypothetical scenario” that recounted covert meetings between former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Levandowski. The letter added that Jacobs, a former agent with the Defense Intelligence Agency who worked in counter-narcotics operations in Columbia and supported Special Operations Forces in Iraq, explained
that Uber employees routinely used non-attributable electronic devices to store and transmit information that they wished to separate from Uber’s official systems. He surmised that any wrongfully-obtained intellectual property could be stored on such devices, and that such action would prevent the intellectual property from being discovered in a review of Uber’s systems.
The U.S. Attorneys Office attached a damning 37-page letter from Jacobs detailing how Uber:
- “frequently engaged in fraud and theft, and employed third-party vendors to obtain unauthorized data or information;”
- “fraudulently impersonates riders and drivers on competitor platforms, hacks into competitor networks, and conducts unlawful wiretapping” in order to obtain trade secrets about the function and vulnerabilities of competitor apps and operational data;
- secretly recorded employee phone calls in connection with the investigation of sexual harassment allegations; and
- bugged hotel and conference facilities to record and observe private conversations third parties.
Uber cloaked their activities through the “wholesale abuse of attorney-client privilege designations” and by employing non-attributable hardware and software and treating them separately for discovery and document preservation requirements.