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.
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.