Google's Larry Page faces four-hour grilling in Waymo-Uber spat

Ad giant's head sucked into self-driving car trade secrets saga

Hot seat ... Google cofounder Larry Page

Google's cofounder Larry Page has been told to submit himself to four hours of questioning from Uber's lawyers in the Waymo self-driving vehicle trade secrets battle.

The decision [PDF] by US magistrate judge Jacqueline Scott Corley came at a case hearing on Friday, and is included in a huge document dump following the session.

Judge Corley agreed with Uber that Page has relevant and unique first-hand knowledge of events in a case centered around the alleged theft of documents from Google subsidiary Waymo by former engineer Anthony Levandowski. It's claimed Levandowski left Waymo with loads of internal autonomous vehicle blueprints, and then passed them to Uber when his self-driving truck startup Ottomotto was bought by the taxi app maker.

Page will be quizzed by Uber's lawyers about Google, Waymo and Levandowski. But they also want to talk to him about Google's relationship with Uber and Uber rival Lyft. In particular, Uber wants to ask Page why Google did not partner with it.

Uber's lawyers' strategy appears to be to tar Google/Waymo with the same brush of dirty tactics they are alleging against Uber. As well as requesting Page's deposition, Uber subpoenaed Lyft for documents covering its interactions and collaboration with Waymo.

But the judge shut down those efforts, saying they were not relevant to the case, and Uber's argument that it needed to see its rival's corporate secrets to determine whether they were actually secrets had "not come close to showing substantial need."

Uber also tried to get documents about Lyft out of Waymo, in particular any agreements they had to work together. The judge said that outside counsel could review any agreement to see if they were relevant to the case, but pointedly said that Uber executives should not be allowed to see them. She shut down other document requests.

Suspicions

Levandowski took the 14,000 documents at the heart of the case shortly before he quit Waymo. He then set up a self-driving truck company called Ottomotto, which was bought by Uber for $680m.

Waymo alleges that the setup and purchase of Ottomotto was nothing more than a corporate smokescreen aimed at getting Levandowski on board – complete with his stolen documents that cover critical LiDAR technology necessary for autonomous vehicles.

In addition to Page, Uber will be allowed to depose Google's senior VP of corporate development and chief legal officer, David Drummond, but only on his conversations with former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. The judge refused to let them also quiz Drummond over why Google decided not to work with Uber.

In terms of progress on the case itself, as discovery and depositions expanded the case, the issues on which it will be fought were boiled down. Waymo and Uber both agreed at the case hearing to remove several patent claims from the case, after Uber testified that it no longer used the technology at the center of those claims. However, some patent claims remain, covering a different technology.

Despite losing its effort to get a hold of Lyft documents, Uber hailed the hearing and its upshot as a victory, claiming that Waymo effectively admitted there was no use of its technology at Uber and was now "resorting to floating conspiracy theories not rooted in fact." ®


Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2017