clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Uber is denying Alphabet’s claim that it attempted to steal important files

The company says no one knew that Anthony Levandowski allegedly downloaded files from Alphabet before joining Uber.

Two self-driving cars, one from Way and one from Uber Waymo, Uber

The legal saga between Alphabet and Uber continues. Uber is now disputing Alphabet’s claims that anyone knew Anthony Levandowski — a former executive of both companies — stole proprietary information before his startup was acquired by the ride-hail firm.

For the first time, Uber laid out in detail the case it plans to make during the impending trial to show that Levandowski neither told anyone at Uber that he had downloaded any proprietary information from Alphabet’s car division, Waymo, as alleged, nor was asked to do so by company executives.

Alphabet is suing Uber for misappropriation of trade secrets, alleging that Levandowski stole 14,000 files including proprietary information before leaving to join the ride-hail company. To date, Alphabet has conducted eight inspections of Uber’s facilities and equipment in both San Francisco and Pittsburgh, for a total of 55 hours.

The core of Uber’s argument is that it went to great lengths to deter Levandowski from bringing any information over from Alphabet. That involved including a clause in Levandowski’s employment agreement that explicitly prohibited him from doing so.

“[Levandowski] signed an employment agreement with Uber in which he promised not to “use or disclose any trade secrets or other proprietary information or intellectual property in which you or any other person has any right, title, or interest and your Employment will not infringe or violate the rights of any other person,” the new filing reads.

Moreover, Uber disputes any claim that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Levandowski conspired to bring Alphabet’s files to the company.

Alphabet has focused on a key part of the timeline for its argument: Levandowski told Kalanick and other Uber employees that he found five discs of Alphabet information in March 2016, months before his self-driving-tech startup, Otto, was acquired by Uber, according to the latest filing.

But Uber argues there was no indication Levandowski deliberately downloaded the files for improper use. The distinction here is that Uber claims that these five discs were random files Levandowski obtained over the course of his employment at Alphabet.

Uber also says that when Kalanick learned about Levandowski’s possession of the discs, Kalanick told him not to bring the files to Uber.

A surprise element from the filing shows just how far Uber is attempting to distance itself from Levandowski. Uber now says Levandowski downloaded the files to use as leverage against Alphabet to make sure it would pay out his bonus, which Alphabet had been delaying.

“Uber believes that the downloading was done in relation to Levandowski’s employment at Google, specifically to ensure the expected payment of Levandowski’s $120 million bonus from Google. Of that total bonus, approximately $50 million was payable as of October 2015, but was paid in late December 2015, and approximately $70 million was paid in August 2016. Uber’s factual investigation and discovery is ongoing but we anticipate presenting this and other evidence at trial.”

Uber’s defense boils down to one thing: The only thing the ride-hail company is guilty of is hiring Levandowski. Uber ultimately fired Levandowski — who asserted his Fifth Amendment rights — for not cooperating with the suit.

But the presiding judge, William Alsup, has previously posited that it’s likely that the ride-hail company knew or should have known that Levandowski took these files. He has also pointed out to Alphabet that it has yet to provide strong evidence that Levandowski brought the files to Uber for the express purpose of using the technology.

Alsup previously wrote:

The bottom line is the evidence indicates that Uber hired Levandowski even though it knew or should have known that he possessed over 14,000 confidential Waymo files likely containing Waymo’s intellectual property; that at least some information from those files, if not the files themselves, has seeped into Uber’s own LiDAR development efforts; and that at least some of said information likely qualifies for trade secret protection.

Uber, however, says the first time it became aware that there was a possibility that Levandowski had stolen documents was when Alphabet filed its suit in February 2017.

For Alphabet’s claims of trade-secret misappropriation to prevail, the company also has to prove that Uber acquired or used the proprietary information that Levandowski allegedly stole.

Uber has said that none of Alphabet’s files landed on its servers.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.