SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – On the second day of a trade-secrets war between Waymo and Uber, ousted Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick said he discussed buying a nonexistent company from Waymo’s lead self-driving engineer to speed his company’s development of the cars.
“Look, I wanted to hire Anthony [Levandowski] 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,” Kalanick explained Tuesday during cross-examination in San Francisco.
Google spinoff Waymo has claimed since suing Uber in February 2017 that Levandowski and Uber’s senior executives met to discuss forming and acquiring a driverless trucking startup called Ottomotto as a ruse for stealing Waymo’s technology.
Waymo accused Levandowski of downloading 14,000 proprietary files from its server before abruptly resigning in January 2016, then using the files to set up Ottomotto that same month. The files include those related to Waymo’s secret LiDAR system – a laser-based scanning and mapping technology its driverless cars use to see their surroundings.
Uber acquired Ottomotto for $680 million in August 2016, promising Levandowski and his engineering team $592 million for hitting certain milestones in developing LiDAR, such as sensing a pedestrian wearing a black jacket and jeans.
“Now, Mr. Levandowski didn’t even have this company until he left Waymo at the end of January,” Waymo’s attorney Charles Verhoeven told the jury on the first day of trial. “So this is two months later. And they’re saying, ‘Oh, he’s worth — him and his guys are worth $592 million,’ but they hadn’t done anything yet. They hadn’t created anything yet. What were they buying? They were buying the IP [intellectual property] technology.”
Verhoeven asked Kalanick on Tuesday about the $592 million.
“These payments conditioned on the technical milestones provided great incentive for Levandowski to meet these milestones, wouldn’t you say?” Verhoeven asked.
Uber’s attorney objected, and Verhoeven rephrased the question before Kalanick replied.
“They can still get the entire incentive without hitting those deadlines,” Kalanick said, if the driverless car program was successful overall.
Before Kalanick took the stand, Waymo played video deposition testimony from John Bares, the former head of Uber’s self-driving engineering team in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Bares told Waymo’s attorneys he brought Levandowski and the Ottomotto team to Pittsburg in 2015 to “look at” their “approach,” after they fell behind implementing Kalanick’s directive to put 100,000 driverless cars on the road by 2020.
“I was in a pretty low place because we were getting beat up on real miles,” Bares said, referring to Google logging 15,000 real-world driving miles a week while Uber had none.
Kalanick’s and Bares’ testimony came after Uber’s attorney told the jury Waymo’s real motive for suing was to toss it out of the ride-hailing market for autonomous cars.
Grilling the Waymo forensic analyst that discovered the 14,000-file download, Uber attorney Arturo Gonzalez said Waymo was “eager to find something, anything they could use to stop that deal.”
According to Uber, Waymo’s parent company Alphabet followed up the lawsuit with a $1 billion deal to develop driverless cars with Lyft, Uber’s biggest competitor in the United States.
Kalanick’s testimony resumes Wednesday morning.
Verhoeven is with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Gonzalez is with Morrison & Foerster, both in San Francisco.