15 Absolutely Crazy Things That Have Come Out of the Uber vs. Alphabet Trial
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.
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.
Good morning from Uber-Waymo DAY 1, where Judge Alsup feels it's "unconscionable" how many lawyers are in his courtroom— Alison Griswold (@alisongriswold) February 5, 2018
Alsup is going through a list of his grievances with the lawyers, including a "rats' nest" of wires in the courtroom.— Kia K. (@imkialikethecar) February 5, 2018
The speaker system went haywire.
Alphabet and Uber, two of the world’s most prominent technology companies, aren’t immune to brief technical difficulties.
lololol the PA system in the court room is just reading out random juror names from a different room and it has interrupted everything. Alsup: "I guess we had jurors we didn't know about."— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) February 5, 2018
The speaker system going haywire during a billion dollar case about technology is *chefs kiss*— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) February 5, 2018
This screw up has seriously messed with Uber's opening argument. Whole court room is disrupted. Everyone is standing. Completely ironic given that Uber's lawyer was just saying not to believe "the conspiracy theory"— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) February 5, 2018
Alsup: I've been doing this job for 19 years, that is the first time signals have come in from outer space."— kate conger (@kateconger) February 5, 2018
Alsup worries thatt this means our trade secrets discussion is being piped into other courtrooms— kate conger (@kateconger) February 5, 2018
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.
I’m at the uber/Waymo trial, and Uber’s Attorneys are trying to block an exhibit: a text from Levandowski to Kalanick with a link to Gordon gecko’s “greed is good” speech from Wall Street— ?_? (@MikeIsaac) February 6, 2018
i love this shit
Waymo will be allowed to play Michael Douglas's "Greed Is Good" speech during its examination of Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, because of an ill-advised 2016 text message. You can't make this stuff up.— Alison Griswold (@alisongriswold) February 7, 2018
It's official, Michael Douglas just appeared on screen in courtroom 12 of the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, as part of Waymo's trade secrets case against Uber— Alison Griswold (@alisongriswold) February 7, 2018
Kalanick had asked to deliver his testimony in a private room.
Judge Alsup rejected the request.
ALSUP: I’m not going to name any names, but someone with a very important witness asked for a private room. No. You don’t get a private room just because you’re famous.— laser is the sauce (@sarahjeong) February 5, 2018
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.
My god, Carmody just dropped a Golden State Warriors reference. Says that Uber is the Warriors and they went out and got Kevin Durant (Anthony Levandowski). I'm dying.— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) February 5, 2018
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.”
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.
Alsup: "I hate to even bring this up but someone on Twitter is pretending to be me.... I'm not on Twitter, I don't know how to use those things."— Kia K. (@imkialikethecar) February 5, 2018
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.”
Alsup won't let Waymo talk about what led to Kalanick's resignation from the company, saying there was a "laundry list" of factors and that it would be a "trick" to bring up all the rest of his wrongdoings— Biz Carson (@bizcarson) February 6, 2018
To Alsup's point, Waymo has been showing a lot of promotional materials to show themselves as the market leader. Alsup wants Waymo to focus its case more on the 8 trade secrets. "My god it's Lidar." Alsup said "You did not invent Lidar."— Biz Carson (@bizcarson) February 6, 2018
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.”
Kalanick: "I wanted to hire Anthony and he wanted to start a company, 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"— Aarian Marshall (@AarianMarshall) February 6, 2018
so far from Travis: autonomous is "existential" to ridesharing co like Uber. Google was ahead. Needed to catch up. was unhappy with existing team progress (tech too expensive). started talking to Levandowski in late '15, who was adamant abt starting new co. discussed acquisition— Kia K. (@imkialikethecar) February 6, 2018
Kalanick was apparently very thirsty on the stand.
Kalanick described having a ‘jam sesh’ with Levandowski.
Most animated Kalanick has been is when Waymo asks him to define a jam session: "A jam sesh is when you get a bunch of interesting creative people in a room, they have an idea, and it eventually becomes something interesting and innovative." #UberWaymo— Biz Carson (@bizcarson) February 6, 2018
‘Laser is the sauce.’
This phrase was found on a whiteboard from Kalanick and Levandowski’s “jam sesh.”
Per Kalanick's notes from a 1/3/2016 Uber "jam sesh": "laser is the sauce"— Aarian Marshall (@AarianMarshall) February 6, 2018
Which he says means: "It’s an important part of making autonomous vehicles work"
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.
GUYS Kalanick doesn't know what he meant by "pound of flesh" either. "It's a term I use from time to time" pic.twitter.com/NIlvQwzrFL— Aarian Marshall (@AarianMarshall) February 6, 2018
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.
We're seeing the milestones for Levandowski & teams to get various % of the $590M Uber was offering. stuff like long-range lasers w 250meter sensing performance, able to see personal wearing black North Face jacket & jeans— Carolyn Said (@CSaid) February 6, 2018
Lol one of the technical milestones that Uber wanted for Otto was to develop a laser that could detect someone in a black Northface jacket and jeans.— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) February 6, 2018
If that isn't the bougiest thing ever.
Kalanick told the jury being CEO of Uber was ‘fun.’
Uber: what was it like to be CEO?— kate conger (@kateconger) February 7, 2018
Kalanick has turned in his seat to speak directly to the jury: It was a lot of fun. ... It was always just a lot of fun and a new thing to invent every day. It was great.
‘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.”
Waymo: You personally considered Levandowski a brother from another mother?— kate conger (@kateconger) February 7, 2018
Kalanick: That’s something I said a couple of times, yeah