Waymo claims in court documents filed yesterday in its lawsuit against Uber that ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick knew that former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski was in the possession of stolen documents while employed at the troubled ride-sharing firm.
The federal court yesterday also ordered Levandowski to surrender documents related to the case to Waymo, which Levandowski has claimed are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Waymo is asking a US federal district court in San Francisco to hold Kalanick in contempt for previously claiming to not know Levandowski had information Waymo says he stole while employed there as a lead engineer of its driverless program.
According to Waymo's filings yesterday in the US District Court, Northern District of California, Levandowski informed Kalanick and Uber executives Nina Qi and Cameron Poetzscher he had files on disc belonging to Google before Waymo was spun off to become Google parent Alphabet's driverless arm. In March 2016, Kalanick told Levandowski to destroy the discs containing 14,000 files that Waymo says he downloaded. Kalanick also told him to not bring the discs to Uber's offices. Levandowski then informed Kalanick he had destroyed the discs.
In a separate development yesterday, the US federal court in San Fransisco granted Waymo's motion for Levandowski to produce documents from Otto, the company Levandowski sold to Uber. Some of these documents are in the possession of Uber lawyers, which Levandowski says are protected under attorney-client privilege, according to Waymo's court filing. Levandowski also has previously asserted his Fifth Amendment rights by not complying with Waymo's demands to surrender the documents in question, which preceded Uber's firing of Levandowski.
Uber said it would not object if Levandowski were to surrender the documents. Levandowski has contended that if the documents in question existed, they "may contain personal, private information not relevant to this litigation," according to the San Fransico federal court's holding.
While Levandowski has objected on the grounds of attorney-client privilege, he has not met his burden of showing that the privilege applies for the reasons explained above.
Google's Waymo lawsuit claims Uber stole LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors and other design technologies to develop its self-driving cars.
LiDAR, a key component in driverless cars, is at the center of Waymo's dispute with Uber. Waymo claims it was the first company to develop a driverless car with its self-developed LiDAR and proprietary software and hardware that could self-drive itself on public roads and streets without a steering wheel and foot pedals.
Waymo's suspicions about Uber began after it received what it said was an email inadvertently sent from a supplier that revealed proprietary information about the circuitry of its LiDAR components.
Uber acquired Otto in May 2016 for $680 million, noting that the key LiDAR technologies Otto possessed was a main reason for the merger. The purchase also shortly followed a "multi-million dollar compensation payment" Google made to Levandowski. According to Waymo, Uber used the stolen intellectual property to "revive a stalled program, all at Waymo's expense."
If Waymo is able to successfully enjoin Uber from continuing its self-drive vehicle fleet tests and development work or to obtain other court-ordered remedies, the outlook for Uber's ability to offer self-made chauffeur-less taxi services in the future would be dubious at best. It could turn out that Uber will be able to remove itself from Waymo's firing line, which has largely focused on Levandowski's alleged wrongdoings, but Uber's reputation will hardly remain unscathed in the aftermath.
Legal troubles aside, in the wake of Kalanick's departure as CEO this week amid sexual harassment claims, mass firings, and other turmoil; Uber's future driverless business, as well as the future direction of the company, remains a big question mark.