Waymo Versus Uber Is Turning Into Page Versus Kalanick

Uber just won a minor but important victory in its dramatic legal showdown with Google's driverless car division, Waymo: It gets to depose Alphabet CEO Larry Page. Uber's financial benefactor turned enemy will now have to face Uber's army of lawyers. The transcript of that deposition will no doubt be closely read.

In a filing last Thursday, Uber challenged the so-called Apex Doctrine that protects top corporate executives from deposition in cases where lower-level employees have the same facts. Uber's lawyers argued that Page knew of Google's efforts to develop its own ride-hailing service in competition with Uber, a company in which it invested more than $250 million.

They also claim that Page knew that his former star engineer, Anthony Levandowski, had downloaded 14,000 proprietary files about self-driving car technology before quitting Waymo. They question why Page never brought it up in subsequent meetings with then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. And Uber's filing notes that Page himself has contributed to the curious culture of Alphabet employees starting competing side businesses, with what it obliquely calls his own "competitive venture." That's almost certainly Page's flying car startup, Kitty Hawk, which presents an alternative vision for the future of urban transportation.

A day after Uber's filing, Alphabet tried to claim the protections of the Apex Doctrine and keep Page out of view. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley sided with Uber on Friday, saying that Page has "first-hand, non-repetitive knowledge." She gave Uber up to four hours to talk to Page.

So now it's pretty much official. Waymo versus Uber has turned into a legal showdown between two quasi-former industry chieftains: the combative, paranoid Kalanick, who no longer runs Uber but remains an influential figure on its board of directors and the soft-spoken, reclusive Page, the CEO of Alphabet, who has ceded much of the day-to-day control over Google to its chief executive, Sundar Pichai.

With his deposition, Page will once again get to follow in the rich tradition of reluctant tech CEO witnesses, like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. It seems appropriate. Waymo versus Uber, after all, hinges on the breakdown in Page's relationship both with Levandowski and Kalanick.

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