Uber’s Bonus Alibi Ruled Too Confusing For Waymo TrialBy
In setback, Uber’s rationale for engineer’s behavior is nixed
Judge OKs Waymo’s printed circuit board earrings as evidence
Uber Technologies Inc. lost one of its best alibis for why its former self-driving engineer downloaded files that Waymo claims are stolen trade secrets. But the company did get a pair of earrings to use in a trial against the Alphabet Inc. unit next month.
As the two companies formulate arguments for a trial starting Oct. 10, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco is making decisions about what can be presented to a jury. The judge said in a ruling late Thursday that jurors may be confused by Uber’s argument that engineer Anthony Levandowski told Uber’s then Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick that he downloaded files during his previous employment at Google to prove that he’d done enough to get a bonus.
“Even if believed,” Alsup wrote, the value of the bonus evidence is “substantially outweighed by the danger it would create of confusing the issues, misleading the jury, or wasting time.”
Waymo, the company formed from Google’s self-driving car project, claims Levandowski stole 14,000 computer files while he worked there and transferred the information to a rival Uber unit, which he took over last year. Uber has assiduously argued that it should be able to use the bonus argument to explain Levandowski’s behavior.
Alsup’s ruling is a setback to Uber’s defense, especially because Levandowski has asserted his constitutional right against self-incrimination and isn’t expected to testify.
Uber spokesman Matt Kallman and Waymo spokesman Johnny Luu didn’t respond to e-mails seeking responses to the rulings.
Alsup didn’t leave Uber completely empty handed, however. The ruling will allow Uber to use a bit of techie jewelry to show Waymo didn’t safeguard the information in dispute carefully enough for it to be legally designated as trade secrets. Uber is also pressing that argument with internal Waymo emails, including a hardware engineer’s message saying the data Levandowski downloaded was “low-value enough” that the company considered hosting it off its servers.
The earrings, fashioned from printed circuit boards, belonged to Seval Oz, who worked at Google’s self-driving car program until 2014, and received them as a memento, according to court filings. Waymo says they were purportedly given to her by Levandowski.
Uber says the earrings reveal how casually Waymo treated the technology at dispute in the lawsuit. The earring were made from circuit boards used for lidar, the laser-radar which helps driverless cars navigate obstacles.
“The printed circuit boards that ultimately became Ms. Oz’s earrings were not stored in any locked or secured location, and were available in many places” in Google’s offices, Otto Trucking, a startup founded by Levandowski that is also defendant in the case, said in a filing. Waymo sought to get the earrings removed from evidence because it claimed they were disclosed too late to use at the trial.
“Oz was Google’s own employee, and there is no indication that she was in any way unavailable to Waymo during this litigation,” Alsup wrote. Waymo “has not diligently pursued discovery concerning the earrings despite having had opportunities to do so.”
The case is Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies Inc., 17-939, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).