Waymo Trade Secret Trial Delayed After Uber Accused of Sneakily Withholding Evidence

REUTERS  Kim Kyung-Hoon  File

REUTERS Kim Kyung-Hoon File

Waymo's intellectual property lawsuit against Uber is being further delayed from going to trial after new testimony called into question whether Uber withheld key evidence.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup agreed to Waymo's request to delay the trial scheduled for next week, saying in San Francisco federal court that "if even half of what this letter is true it would be a huge injustice to force Waymo to go to trial" as planned. He also said Uber employees used auto-deleting encrypted communication applications, effectively preventing a court from subpoenaing certain internal activity.

Waymo filed its lawsuit against Uber in February.

Waymo is alleging that Uber has been building its own fleet of self-driving cars by using trade secrets taken by former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski. Levendowski left his role at Waymo in January 2016 to found another self-driving vehicle company called Otto, which was acquired by Uber in August 2016. Levandowski is not a defendant in the civil suit, but he faces a criminal probe stemming from the allegations.

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The letter, now under seal, centers on information provided by Ric Jacobs, a former security analyst with Uber, and details the company's efforts to erase communications and documentation related to possible theft of intellectual property.

Uber has denied the allegations of theft. Russo also denied that part of his jobs was to steal trade secrets.

"It's never been my role to engage in theft of trade secrets", Russo said.

The hearing on Tuesday centered on a letter from a lawyer for former Uber security analyst Richard Jacobs that Uber did not show Waymo as both sides prepared their cases. Waymo said that Uber intentionally hid key evidence in the case, and it needed more time to prepare for trial now that the evidence has come to light. It also said it wasn't obligated under Micron Technology, Inc. v. Rambus Inc., decided by the Federal Circuit in 2011, to preserve evidence before Waymo sued. Waymo claims that when Levandowski left Google, he took with him more than 14,000 confidential files containing trade secrets.

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He also claimed that the team used a secretive messaging system on an anonymous server that would delete texts nearly immediately in order "to ensure we didn't create a paper trail that came back to haunt the company in any potential civil or criminal litigation". According to his lawyer's letter, he was demoted to an analyst position in retaliation for not cooperating enough with Uber's policy of hiding evidence from discovery.

Jacobs said that Uber reached a $4.5 million settlement, including a consulting contract, after he was sacked.

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