Laser sauce, cheat code, jam seshs: The Waymo vs Uber trial kicks off
Prepare for some tech bro
We are likely to see some very technical explanations on this issue, almost all of which are likely to go over the jurors' heads. And that is why the perception game is so important to the lawyers: you may not understand this, jurors, but what's your gut feeling about these guys?
The other two questions over how much Uber knew about Levandowski's alleged theft of thousands of documents will focus on a timeline of events and the very unusual way in which Uber hired the engineer.
Levandowski left Waymo and set up his own company of self-driving trucks, Ottomotto. Then, a few months later, the upstart was acquired by Uber for $680m. Waymo claimed this was an elaborate ploy by Uber to put space between itself, Levandowski, and Waymo. It looks suspicious given what we now know about the numerous meetings between Levandowski and Uber reps, including Kalanick.
Kalanick even accepted in court that the term "Newco" in his text and emails between him and Uber execs, and them and Levandowski, referred to the new company he was going to set up.
In court, Kalanick provided Uber's version of events: "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."
See, no conspiracy at all. Just a couple of guys figuring out how to work with one another and respecting each others' feelings. It's beautiful, bro.
We'll have to see whether a court document from Levandowski's former nanny makes it into the record. She is suing him separately in a somewhat bizarre case but claims to have heard him ranting about his situation when he heard that Google was suing Uber. From her filing:
Levandowski screamed 'Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!' all evening. He stated, 'How could they do this to me?' 'Miles, what about the clause, you and Abby said this would work!! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!' What do I do with the discs? What do the contracts say?? Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!' What about Ognen, John, Izzy, and Rich Bender? All of you said all said this would work!!! Shit! Shit! Shit!' It's all mine, the money, the deals, it's all mine. What about 'the shit?' These are all my fucking deals!!! All of you fucking attorneys and Randy said this would work!'
Waymo's lawyers are presumably looking for a less expletive-filled piece of evidence to show that Levandowski set up his company as a corporate smokescreen.
One effort to do just that in court on Wednesday was when Waymo's lawyers pointed to a news article in which Kalanick had told a reporter that he and Levandowski had "reconnected" after he had set up the Ottomotto company: an odd thing to say given that texts show they were in contact regularly and for months prior.
And of course there was more tech bro speak: Kalanick agreed in court that he had referred to Levandowski as "a brother from another mother" many times.
And then there is the critical central accusation that while Levandowski may have stolen all these documents, Uber had no idea and certainly never saw them. Yet, a former Uber employee has said he was part of a small team whose main objective was to steal trade secrets.
Uber's assertion, that it was none-the-wiser to any alleged wrongdoing, is percolating in the court. If Waymo does in fact manage to prove that some of its technology was pulled into Uber's work, we can expect to see Uber pin the blame on Levandowski.
How? Because, according to documents produced in court, Levandowski and his team were offered extremely lucrative financial rewards if they managed to hit various technical milestones before specific deadlines. And by lucrative, we mean tens of millions of dollars.
Could it be that Levandowski fell back on the stolen tech – completely unknown to Uber – in order to hit a deadline and rake in millions of dollars in rewards? Maybe it wasn't the right incentive – Uber will no doubt have learned its lesson by now – but you can't blame the company for an alleged rogue employee, can you?
That is what we predict will be the fall-back defense if Waymo does indeed manage to show that its technology was used by Uber. As for Levandowski, he has been officially disowned by both companies and has indicated he will "take the fifth" i.e. say nothing at all, when asked about any of this.
The trial continues. ®