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Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick takes stand in trade secrets trial

08 February 2018

After a delay of about two months, Uber and Waymo, the self-driving-car unit from Google, finally had their first day in court in the trade secrets lawsuit brought by Waymo a year ago.

Lawyers showed the jury an Uber visitor pass and notes, supposedly from the meeting that contained the phrase "laser is the sauce" - a reference to the technology that was allegedly stolen - and meaning that Uber considered this critical to self-driving technology.

Kalanick is the sixth witness Waymo has called since Monday, when a 10-person jury heard opening statements in the case.

Each side picked a scapegoat. Uber's former CEO "Travis Kalanick made a decision that winning was more important than obeying the law".

Waymo, now an independent unit within Google parent Alphabet, is seeking at least $1 billion in damages from Uber in the closely watched case of two major players in Silicon Valley and autonomous driving.

"This case is about one competitor deciding they need to win at all costs", an attorney for Alphabet said in his opening statement on Monday. Kalanick testified that he couldn't recall using those specific words, but said it was possible he did.

This is a key element of the case - Waymo contends that Levandowski took the thumb drive in question to Uber and used the trade secrets contained therein to accelerate its self-driving vehicle program. "It's a term I use from time to time", he said. Waymo's attorneys attempted to establish that Levandowski was highly incentivized to achieve very ambitious technical milestones by a certain deadline.

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Levandowski has claimed his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, so while he may take the stand, don't count on hearing anything substantive from him anytime soon. He is involved in a separate mediation with Waymo.

Waymo claims in its lawsuit that Uber got hold of its critically important and proprietary information concerning navigation technology for self-driving cars, and used it for its own driverless-car program. Waymo lawyer Charles Verhoeven, on the other hand, sought to paint Uber as a do-whatever-it-takes company willing to "cheat" to get ahead.

Uber retorted that Waymo's entire presentation was untrue. "It didn't happen, there's no conspiracy, there's no cheating, period end of story", Carmody said.

Carmody honed in on the fact that despite the downloads by Levandowski, Google's proprietary information was never acquired by Uber. "Not the 14,000 downloads, nothing". West further warned Uber's employees that "to the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now".

The alleged document rip-offs have been at the heart of the case from the beginning, as has Uber's insistence that none of the files ever made it to Uber.

Uber contends that Wayno filed the suit because it was angry that its star engineer Anthony Levandowski jumped ship to Uber and feared a brain drain drawing off other talent.

Mr. Bares said the company was burning through about $20 million a month trying to develop reliable autonomous vehicles.

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Waymo was similarly uncomplimentary about Levandowski.

"He went from someone I called a friend to someone I considered an enemy", said Krafcik.

For Kalanick, avoiding the temptation to fight Waymo on every minor point will be crucial, Hueston said.

About 25 million users affected by the breach are users located in the United States, John Flynn, chief information security officer at Uber, said in written testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee.

But Krafcik said the motivation was more clear-cut. "We believe in fair competition". "We came to find that aspects of our technology were taken from us in an unfair fashion".

The San Francisco-based startup has also argued that its LiDAR designs - the light radar technology at issue in the case, which self-driving cars rely on to sense surroundings and avoid obstacles - are different from Waymo's.

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Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick takes stand in trade secrets trial