A flurry of legal filings went public on Friday in the battle between Uber and Waymo, Google’s self-driving car operation that says Uber schemed with a former engineer to steal trade secrets and thousands of proprietary tech files to bolster its own autonomous vehicle project. But this one is rich: Uber now says Anthony Levandowski, the company’s former self-driving car guru at the center of the case, stole the files.
The high-profile dispute dates to February, when Waymo first accused Uber of using 14,000 documents stolen by Levandowski before he left Google to launch Otto, a start-up of his own that was later acquired by Uber for $680 million. Both sides have tussled over the designs of their autonomous car systems, and rulings in the case eventually led to Uber’s decision to fire Levandowski.
Early on in the case, Uber has said it was unaware that Levandowski took the documents, but in recent filings, the company revealed a dispute between Levandowski and Google over a $120 million bonus he was set to receive from the tech giant.
On Friday, the company elaborated on the dispute, saying the “evidence” in the case will show that the allegedly stolen files were never utilized by Uber. The files, Uber says, were in fact downloaded by Levandowski—and executives at Uber, including former CEO Travis Kalanick, were aware of it—but he was forbidden to bring them to the ride-hailing giant.
That’s why, Uber says, Waymo’s claims don’t hold weight.
“Indeed, there is a notable absence of evidence to support Waymo’s theory of the case that Levandowski stole the 14,000 files to bring to or use at Uber,” according to the ride-hailing company’s brief. “To the contrary, the evidence will show that Levandowski did so for reasons unrelated to his work at Uber—namely, in connection with ensuring full payment of a $120 million bonus from Google, $50 million of which had become payable in October 2015 but was not paid until December 31, 2015—and that Levandowski is taking the Fifth because of the potential exposure associated with that conduct.”
“In other words, even if Levandowski did what Waymo says he did,” the filing goes on, “he did it as a Google employee, for reasons related to his employment at Google, and not related to his future employment at Uber.”
It’s a weird phrasing drenched in legalese—“even if” Levandowski took the files, which “the evidence” shows he did—but it’s a crafty way for Uber to try to place the onus entirely on Levandowski.
Expectedly, Waymo rejected the claims as a distraction from the issues at-hand in the case: that Waymo files “made their way” into Uber’s self-driving car program.
“Anthony Levandowski led Uber’s self-driving car program for over a year after stealing 14,000 confidential Waymo files,” a Waymo spokesperson said in a statement Friday. “While Uber has decided it is now advantageous to disavow him, the truth is Uber supported Levandowski’s 5th Amendment claims to avoid self-incrimination well into this litigation and continues to obstruct the production of key documents every step of the way.”
“We initiated legal action because we came across evidence showing stolen Waymo files made their way into Uber’s technology, and despite Uber’s attempt to distract with constantly changing storylines, Waymo has continued to build its case with more evidence uncovered during expedited discovery,” the spokesperson continued. “We look forward to sharing this evidence in court.”
Waymo, on Friday, also dropped all but one patent claim against Uber, leaving the remaining trade secret claims in place. The list of those trade secret claims are expected to drop, as well, as the case moves ahead to trial in October.