A week before ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski allegedly stole self-driving car trade secrets from the tech giant, the ride-hailing company Uber had drafted a term sheet to acquire what appears to have been his future autonomous vehicle project, Otto, according to court records filed Friday.
Levandowski is the engineer at the center of a high-profile lawsuit between Uber and Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo. The company accuses Uber of hatching a plan with Levandowski to steal Google’s self-driving car secrets and use them to advance the ride-hailing company’s own autonomous vehicle ambitions. Waymo claims that Otto was created as a ruse to seamlessly bring the documents to his new employer.
The draft term sheet fills in gaps of the timeline between Levandowski’s courtship with Uber and his abrupt departure from Google.
On December 3, 2015, records show, Levandowski looked up how to access Waymo’s design server. The following day, Waymo’s attorneys assert that he met with Uber’s executives, and, records suggest, a draft term sheet for his future startup was dated the same day. The draft proposal’s existence appears to have not been made public until now. A week later, December 11, Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files from Google’s repository. By January 15, he formed Ottomotto (an early name for the company). And on January 27 he resigned from Google without prior notice.
Uber has denied the allegations, and says that no Google trade secret has been used in the company’s self-driving car designs. The company has said that Uber executives, including former CEO Travis Kalanick, explicitly told Levandowski to not bring the downloaded files with him to his new job.
In a court filing late Friday, Waymo’s attorney mentioned in a footnote the existence of a Dec. 4, 2015, draft proposal for a company that Waymo believes to be a codename for Otto. The filing pertains to the deposition of several Uber executives; toward the end, Waymo’s attorney states that “extremely relevant documents” will be produced by Uber next week, including a “draft December 4 term sheet with Newco.”
Newco is referenced by Uber employees as far back as October 2015, when engineer Scott Boehmke reportedly wrote a note about discussing “NewCo” with an Uber executive. Waymo later claimed in a court hearing that NewCo stands for Otto, the company Levandowski officially went public with in May 2016 and was purchased by Uber only a few months later.
Records filed by Waymo indicate Levandowski met with Uber employees the same day the term sheet is dated. In a filing from Waymo that lists the questions the company intends to ask Levandowski at trial, it states:
On the afternoon of December 4, 2015, you met in person for approximately an hour with Uber executive Cameron Poetzscher and Uber employee Nina Qi at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, correct?
It’s unclear if the draft proposal was presented at the purported meeting. Attorneys for Levandowski didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Waymo declined to comment. A spokesperson for Uber didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
In May, Levandowski was fired by Uber, after he refused to cooperate in an internal investigation into the alleged theft and with court orders filed as part of the case. The judge in the case, William Alsup, referred it to the U.S. District Attorney for an investigation into possible trade secrets theft, leaving Levandowksi open to potential criminal charges.
The case is scheduled for trial in October.