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Alphabet says Uber is engaging in a cover-up

Alphabet says Uber knew it was hiring an engineer who had stolen internal information from Alphabet.

Anthony Levandowski
Anthony Levandowski

Uber has for the first time laid out its case to prove Alphabet’s allegations of theft of trade secrets are false. And now Alphabet is alleging Uber’s latest claims are part of a pattern of covering up what really happened.

Uber came under scrutiny after it acquired self-driving trucking startup Otto, a business founded by Anthony Levandowski, who previously led Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle business, now called Waymo.

Alphabet claims Levandowski stole 14,000 proprietary files before leaving to start Otto and is suing Uber over allegations the ride-hailing startup misappropriated that technology.

“Rather than do the right thing, Uber took part in a cover-up, only firing Mr. Levandowski after their actions were exposed in litigation,” Alphabet self-driving subsidiary Waymo said in a statement.

Update: Uber has responded that Alphabet “has turned up exactly zero evidence that any of the 14,000 files came to Uber” and that Alphabet is resorting “to peddling a ‘cover-up’ theory that was explicitly rejected by the Court as recently as last week."

The case’s presiding judge, William Alsup, has previously posited Uber likely knew or should have known that Levandowski took the files, but has also said Alphabet has not provided strong evidence that Levandowski brought the files to Uber for the express purpose of using the technology.

Uber said in a Wednesday court filing that it made a point of deterring Levandowski from bringing any information over from Alphabet, and included a clause in Levandowski’s employment agreement that explicitly prohibited him from doing so.

Uber also says it had no reason to suspect Levandowski deliberately downloaded any files for improper use, but that any information the engineer had at the time of hiring was just random files he had obtained incidentally over the course of his employment at Alphabet.

At the same time, Uber also said in its latest court filing Levandowski was holding onto these files as leverage to obtain a bonus Alphabet had been slow to pay out.

Alphabet says there was a conspiracy and that Levandowski downloaded files from Waymo in some cases on the same day he met with Uber executives. “Mr. Levandowski was illicitly downloading Waymo’s trade secrets for use at Uber,” reads the latest filing.

The Google parent company claims that on Dec. 11, 2015, Levandowski met with Uber executives and then after the meeting downloaded 14,000 files from Waymo’s servers. On Jan. 4, 2016, Levandowski met with Uber’s then-CEO Travis Kalanick and downloaded some additional Waymo files to a personal device, the filing says.

The filing doesn’t say whether he would have downloaded the files before or after the meeting with Kalanick in the second situation.

Alphabet also alleges Uber’s attempts to keep files out of court based on claims of privilege is actually part of an effort at “cloaking unfavorable facts with privilege” while revealing other pieces of information Uber thinks will be favorable.

Here is Alphabet’s full statement:

"The evidence clearly shows that stolen information has already made its way into Uber's technology. We're not convinced by Uber’s attempts to distance itself from a former star engineer it paid $250m to come to Uber while knowing he possessed Waymo's proprietary information. Rather than do the right thing, Uber took part in a coverup, only firing Mr Levandowski after their actions were exposed in litigation."

Here is Uber’s full response:

“This is the best indication yet that Waymo overpromised and can't deliver. Uber took precautions to ensure that no former Google employees, including Levandowski, brought Google IP with them to Uber—and it worked. After searching through terabytes of data, deposing numerous employees and spending 55 hours with free reign to inspect our facilities, Waymo has turned up exactly zero evidence that any of the 14,000 files came to Uber. In recent days, Waymo has blamed a law firm, a third party forensics vendor, and now that it is becoming more and more clear that this downloading had nothing to do with Uber, they resort to peddling a 'cover-up' theory that was explicitly rejected by the Court as recently as last week."

Update: This post has been updated to include Uber’s response to Alphabet’s statement, and additional information about what the presiding judge in the case has said.

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