Uber accused of covering up evidence in trial against Waymo

In February this year, Alphabet's Waymo filed a $1.9 billion lawsuit against Uber, accusing the company of stealing trade secrets relating to its autonomous vehicle programs. In addition to that, it claimed that a former executive, Anthony Levandowski downloaded over 14,000 documents just before leaving the company. He then set up his own self-driving truck company called Otto, before being acquired by Uber shortly afterward. Waymo seeks to have the ride-hailing company's autonomous ambitions curtailed, as it believes that Uber is using stolen technology.

Now, a controversial letter detailing the methods how Uber trained employees to steal such information, and subsequently cover up their tracks has surfaced. The company was accused of hiding the letter from the judge after it was ordered to gather all such evidence. The document, addressed to Richard Jacobs, the former security chief at the company, from its lawyers had enough weight, forcing the US District Judge William Alsup to postpone the trial at Waymo's request. After being made aware of it, Alsup exclaimed: “if even half of what this letter says is true it would be a huge injustice to force Waymo to go to trial”.

In his testimony, Jacobs talked about the contents of the aforementioned letter, acknowledging the fact that Uber had an internal organization called "Marketplace Analytics", whose sole aim was "acquiring trade secrets, code base, and competitive intelligence". He did note that he had reservations about the legality and ethics behind such an endeavor. According to the document, anticipating litigation, employees within the organization were trained to use messaging apps such as Wickr, and computers that could not be traced back to them as a way to cover up a possible paper trail.

However, Jacobs denied allegations of wrongdoing by Uber, which was confirmed by a spokesperson for the company:

“None of the testimony today changes the merits of the case. Jacobs himself said on the stand today that he was not aware of any Waymo trade secrets being stolen.”

This isn't the first time that Uber has used delay tactics to push out the trial. In October, the company disclosed thousands of emails to Waymo just as the trial was about to start, causing another delay. Alsup took the company to task about it not being as forthcoming as one would like, accusing it of a cover-up. A new date for the trial has not been set but the hearing will continue today.

Source: Reuters | Image via The Drum

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