The San Francisco courtroom battle will take place today as Waymo and Uber race to perfect self-driving cars that people could summon for rides as desired in a turn away from car ownership. The list of witnesses who might be called to testify includes ousted Uber chief Travis Kalanick as well as Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. The trial stems from a lawsuit filed last year by Waymo - previously known as the Google car unit - which claimed former manager Anthony Levandowski took a trove of technical data with him when he left to launch a competing venture that went on to become Otto and was later acquired by Uber. Levandowski is expected to be called to the stand at trial before federal judge William Alsup. Uber last year confirmed that it fired Levandowski just ahead of a date set by a judge for the San Francisco-based ridesharing titan to return files taken from Waymo. Waymo's lawsuit contends that Levandowski in December 2015 downloaded thousands of files from a highly confidential design server to a laptop and took the data with him to the startup.
During hearings last year, the judge said that Waymo "supplied a compelling record that Levandowski pilfered over 14,000 files from Waymo," and that Uber knew or should have known about the theft. A key, however, will be for Waymo to prove to jurors that any swiped secrets actually made it to Uber. Alsup begrudgingly delayed the start of trial twice, most recently to look into whether Uber connived to hide evidence. Waymo argues in the lawsuit that a "calculated theft" of its technology netted Otto a buyout of more than $500 million and enabled Uber to revive a stalled self-driving car program. The Alphabet unit is seeking damages of at least $1 billion. Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto, headed Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking.
Waymo will need to convince jurors that data taken was actually trade secrets; that Uber used or disclosed what it learned, and that the ride-sharing company was "unjustly enriched" as a result. The eight supposed trade secrets at issue in the trial have not been revealed in court. Waymo is set to begin calling witnesses on Monday after both sides present opening remarks to the four-woman, six-man jury. The trial is expected to take about three weeks. The courtroom drama is playing out as Uber's new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi strives to get the company on course and prepare for a stock market debut in 2019. Khosrowshahi's stated goal is to shift Uber to a responsible course after a period of market traction at any price. Even as Uber has seen unprecedented growth by expanding to dozens of countries, it has been hurt by missteps including allegations of executive misconduct, a toxic work atmosphere and potentially unethical competitive practices.
Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank in January finished buying a 15 percent stake in Uber. The investment is part of an effort by Uber to move past a series of scandals, reform its board structure and diminish the role of Uber co-founder Kalanick.
Meanwhile, Waymo is striving for a lead in autonomous ridesharing, which involves major automakers, technology developers and services such as Uber and Lyft. Waymo recently announced it was ordering "thousands" of vehicles from Fiat Chrysler for the expansion of its autonomous ride-hailing service across several U.S. cities.
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