A report that Alphabet wants to use in its lawsuit against Uber was made public today. The document in question details the assets and liabilities of a startup Uber acquired in August 2016 that has become a central part of Alphabet’s claims that Uber stole proprietary information.
Uber commissioned the due diligence report when it was in the process of acquiring Otto, a self-driving trucking startup founded by Anthony Levandowki, a former Alphabet executive who was accused of stealing trade secrets.
Alphabet, which is suing Uber for allegedly misappropriating self-driving trade secrets, claims that the document provided a “mountain” of new evidence that it needed more time to pursue, which is why Alphabet had asked to delay the trial. The judge, William Alsup, is expected to determine tomorrow whether to grant the company more time.
“Even beyond the trade secrets Waymo listed at the outset of this case, the new evidence indicates that there is other proprietary information, contained in the new documents, that made its way to Defendants,” Alphabet wrote in a new filing. “The investigation of this material has only just begun, and Waymo is entitled to the time and full discovery necessary to confirm exactly what proprietary information Defendants gained from Levandowski and Ottomotto.”
Johana Bhuiyan is the senior transportation editor at Recode and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal, Confide, WeChat or Telegram at 516-233-8877. You can also find her on Twitter at @JmBooyah.
The ride-hail company and its former self-driving head, Anthony Levandowski, fought the production of this document, claiming that it was privileged information. However, the judge quashed that argument, and ruled that Uber had to provide the document to Alphabet. This decision was appealed by Levandowski, but Alsup’s decision was ultimately upheld, and a judge decided that Alphabet would receive the document on Sept. 13.
Based on interviews with Levandowski, the cybersecurity firm that conducted the investigation, Stroz Friedberg, found that Levandowski: “(a) possessed Google information; (b) met with a number of Google employees about joining his start-up company; (c) met with Uber executives, while employed at Google, about forming a new company; and (d) destroyed highly confidential Google proprietary information he had stored on five disks on his personal Drobo 50, including source code, files, and software pertaining to self-driving cars.”
According to the document, the security firm found 50,000 work emails from Levandowski’s time at Google on his personal computer.
The report confirms some of Alphabet’s allegations that Levandowski began meeting with Uber executives as early as July 2015 — about five months before he left the company.
“At one point, Levandowski said that he asked Brian McClendon, who left Google to join Uber, how much Uber would be willing to pay for the Chauffeur team, claiming he wanted to have a market value for the team,” the report reads. “According to Levandowski, these meetings progressed from September to December 2015, and escalated from Uber being a customer for after-market car kits to it acquiring Levandowski’s start-up company.”
Stroz also found texts between Levandowski and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick about recruitment efforts and working with Uber’s self-driving arm dating back to as early as February and March 2016 — just weeks after Levandowski left Alphabet and launched Otto out of stealth.
As Recode first reported, Levandowski began working with Uber’s self-driving arm at that same time just weeks after Otto was officially formed.
The Stroz report further details communications beween Levandowski, his co-founder Lior Ron and others that specifically discuss deleting texts and other information. On Ron’s devices, the firm found that he searched “how to secretly delete files mac” on January 12, 2016 — the day before he left Google.
Stroz cautions that some of these attempts to delete information were in “good faith” to purge their files of proprietary data, but also mentioned that Levandowski knew his devices would be looked through by March 2016. There were several attempts and references to deleting information at that time. For example, Levandowski emptied his trash folder while in an interview with Stroz.
The report further details pictures that were found on Levandowski’s phones, which included “pictures of the construction process of Google car, such as components/connections and parts,” as well as “drawings and diagrams, such as figures depicting radar technology.”
Stroz also found a number of confidential images on Ron’s phone. Neither Ron nor Levandowski are named in Alphabet’s lawsuit. Levandowski has also asserted his Fifth Amendment rights.
The crux of Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber rests on a claim that Levandowski stole the design for a key sensor technology called lidar before he left the company to start Otto.
But Uber contends that Kalanick said he insisted that Levandowski destroy any Google files he had in his possession before joining Uber, and that this report is further evidence that none of the files made it to the ride-hail company.
“Before Uber acquired Otto, we hired an independent forensics firm to conduct due diligence because we wanted to prevent any Google IP from coming to Uber,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “Their report, which we are pleased is finally public, helps explain why — even after 60 hours of inspection of our facilities, source code, documents and computers — no Google material has been found at Uber.”
In addition to assessing the assets of Levandowski’s startup Otto, the due diligence report looked into any liabilities Uber was taking on, specifically referencing “pre-signing bad acts.” Levandowski and his co-founder, Lior Ron, would not agree to sell their company to Uber unless they were protected against any potential future lawsuits, including those that occurred as a result of any “pre-signing bad acts.”