Uber Technologies Inc hired an engineer to lead its driverless car program last year even after its own research revealed red flags about how much proprietary information he took from his former employer, Waymo. When the two companies face off at a high-stakes trade-secrets trial, the Alphabet Inc unit is expected argue that the ride-hailing giant knew that its recruitment of Anthony Levandowski was fraught with risk – but chose to look the other way.
The confidential report Uber commissioned to examine the exposure it faced in hiring Levandowski and acquiring his company, Otto, for $680 million in stock in 2016 was finally made public Monday after Waymo fought for months to pry it loose. While the trial is set for next week, Waymo is now asking a San Francisco federal judge to postpone it indefinitely so the company’s lawyers can dig further into the report and other documents to support its case. Waymo claims Uber used Levandowski, who was recruited by then-chief executive officer Travis Kalanick, to steal seven years worth of research and development.
The report, based on a forensic investigation of computers, laptops and other electronic devices used by Levandowski, largely supports the narrative Waymo has pieced together from bits and pieces of evidence. But it may be especially powerful when presented to a jury because it shows what Uber itself knew about the engineer’s efforts to amass, access and later destroy data he took from the Alphabet unit. “Waymo will use this to argue that Uber knew very well it was taking on someone who could not be trusted to behave honestly,” said Jim Pooley, a Silicon Valley-based trade secrets expert who has followed the case.
The Aug. 5, 2016, report, completed just weeks before Uber acquired Otto, shows that five months earlier Levandowski possessed and destroyed “highly confidential Google proprietary information,” including source code, design files, engineering documents and software related to self-driving cars. Waymo said in an e-mailed statement that the report shows Levandowski “stole information deliberately, and repeatedly accessed it.” Uber countered that the report reflects that it went to great lengths to ensure that Levandowski and other employees it picked up from Waymo didn’t bring proprietary information with them.