Lawsuits

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Deliberation over whether to show a clip from the movie 'Wall Street,' an explanation of what the phrase 'jam sesh' means and more.
15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial
Image credit: Elijah Nouvelage / Stringer | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Associate Editor
10 min read

This week, two of the most prominent developers of self-driving vehicle technology are presenting arguments in a long-awaited federal trade secrets case.

On Feb. 23, 2017, Waymo, the self-driving vehicle division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, filed a lawsuit against ride-hailing company Uber, alleging that the latter company stole valuable trade secrets upon hiring former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski. Uber acquired Otto, the self-driving truck startup Levandowski co-founded after leaving Alphabet, in August 2016. By May 30, 2017, Uber had fired Levandowski.

Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents off his Waymo computer, his former employer alleged. But to win the case, Waymo has to prove that Levandowski stole actual trade secrets -- and that Uber applied that knowledge and gained some sort of advantage in the race to build viable self-driving cars. It’s a race Alphabet had a headstart on nine years ago, when Levandowski began developing a self-driving car at Google.

Related: Check Out the Bombshell Letter in the Uber-Waymo Trial

The trial has a number of high-profile witnesses, including former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Alphabet CEO Larry Page, along with other former and present executives and board members of Alphabet and Uber. Waymo potentially could reap billions in damages -- while Uber could be forced to shut down its self-driving operations until Waymo regains whatever Uber may have stolen.

The trial is a rare window into how executives at these companies communicate their ideas and intentions, both internally and in a court of law. Some communications surfaced last year, such as the widely circulated “we’re going to take over the world, one robot at a time” exchange between Kalanick and Levandowski.

There’s more where that came from. Click through the slides to see what’s come of the proceedings thus far, from the judge’s sense of humor to Kalanick’s conduct on the stand.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Judge William Alsup complained about clutter on the first morning.

Despite the high-profile nature of the trial, the courtroom wasn’t spic and span when Judge Alsup took the bench on Monday morning. He started the proceedings with some literal housekeeping, complaining about an excessive amount of equipment that was lying around -- and the excessive number of lawyers present on behalf of the two companies.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

The speaker system went haywire.

Alphabet and Uber, two of the world’s most prominent technology companies, aren’t immune to brief technical difficulties.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

There was back-and-forth about whether to play Gordon Gekko’s ‘Greed is good’ speech.

Why on Earth would Waymo request to play a scene from the the 1987 film Wall Street? Well, because the company says it uncovered a deleted text message from Levandowski to Kalanick in which Levandowski wrote “wink wink” and linked to a YouTube video of the famous scene.

Judge Alsup, despite jokingly conceding that it’s “the best moment in Hollywood,” was reluctant to play the clip and inspire speculation about Lewandowski's intentions. Uber’s lawyers objected, but Alsup eventually agreed to allow it.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Kalanick had asked to deliver his testimony in a private room.

Judge Alsup rejected the request.

Kalanick, who was ousted by Uber’s board in June 2017, has stayed out of the public eye until this trial.

Alsup wasn’t the only one to make a comment related to fame. On Monday, Uber attorney Bill Carmody compared Anthony Levandowski to basketball player Kevin Durant.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Then, a not-so-glamorous athlete analogy.

Waymo lawyer Charles Verhoeven compared Uber to Rosie Ruiz, a runner in the 1980 Boston Marathon who was found to have cheated by taking the subway for part of the race and subsequently lost her title.

Carmody rebuffed this analogy in his opening statement, arguing that “there’s not a single piece of Google proprietary information at Uber.”

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

At least one Judge Alsup parody account surfaced.

The now clearly labeled parody account was brought to Alsup’s attention on day one of the trial, and he set the record straight.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Alsup made it clear Uber’s other lawsuits and controversies shouldn’t cloud judgement.

Waymo v. Uber is about trade secrets, primarily those detailing LIDAR -- laser sensors that enable self-driving cars. However, Alsup also made it clear that Waymo “did not invent LIDAR.”

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

During Kalanick’s testimony, he admitted Uber thought it was trailing Waymo.

The former Uber CEO admitted he and Levandowski were in talks even before Levandowski co-founded Otto.

“I wanted to hire Anthony and he wanted to start a company,” Kalanick said on the stand. “So I tried to come up with a situation where he could feel like he started a company and I could feel like I hired him.”

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Kalanick was apparently very thirsty on the stand.

He drank four small bottles of water on one hour, The Verge’s Sarah Jeong reported.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Kalanick described having a ‘jam sesh’ with Levandowski.

In 2015, Fast Company published a profile of Kalanick in which his home was revealed to be nicknamed “the Jam Pad.” But for those who weren’t previously aware of the ex-CEO’s vernacular, it was noteworthy that he described an early meeting with Levandowski as a “jam sesh.” His clarifications described more of a brainstorm.
15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

‘Laser is the sauce.’

This phrase was found on a whiteboard from Kalanick and Levandowski’s “jam sesh.”

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

There was one turn of phrase that Kalanick couldn’t account for.

During a December 2015 internal meeting at Uber, which took place two days after Kalanick met with Levandowski (then still a Waymo employee), Kalanick wrote a list of things he wanted: “source, all of their data, tagging, road map, pound of flesh, IP.”

During his testimony, Kalanick did not deny creating this list but said he did not remember it, either.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Uber’s targets and incentives for Levandowski came to light.

One of them involved a specific brand of apparel, given how difficult it is for LIDAR sensors to see people wearing dark clothes.

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

Kalanick told the jury being CEO of Uber was ‘fun.’

15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial

‘Brother from another mother?’

Waymo concluded questioning of Kalanick on Wednesday by asking about his relationship with Levandowski.

Kalanick has responded to questions about various colloquial phrases records have showed he’s used. For many of them, he hasn’t pinpointed a specific memory. He’s more or less said, “that sounds like something I’d say.”

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  • 15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial
  • 1. Judge William Alsup complained about clutter on the first morning.
  • 2. The speaker system went haywire.
  • 3. There was back-and-forth about whether to play Gordon Gekko’s ‘Greed is good’ speech.
  • 4. Kalanick had asked to deliver his testimony in a private room.
  • 5. Then, a not-so-glamorous athlete analogy.
  • 6. At least one Judge Alsup parody account surfaced.
  • 7. Alsup made it clear Uber’s other lawsuits and controversies shouldn’t cloud judgement.
  • 8. During Kalanick’s testimony, he admitted Uber thought it was trailing Waymo.
  • 9. Kalanick was apparently very thirsty on the stand.
  • 10. Kalanick described having a ‘jam sesh’ with Levandowski.
  • 11. ‘Laser is the sauce.’
  • 12. There was one turn of phrase that Kalanick couldn’t account for.
  • 13. Uber’s targets and incentives for Levandowski came to light.
  • 14. Kalanick told the jury being CEO of Uber was ‘fun.’
  • 15. ‘Brother from another mother?’
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