Waymo v. Uber: Judge says Uber lawyers ‘misled the court,’ wants to tell jurors so

Waymo may get an edge over rival Uber as the two head into an explosive trade secrets trial this fall — on Wednesday a federal judge said he’ll likely tell the jury about how Uber’s lawyers “misled the court” and repeatedly failed to produce documents that could be important in the case.

That revelation came after a tense volley in a San Francisco courtroom, with tempers flaring and voices rising as both sides argued over the whereabouts of 14,000 confidential documents that former Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski is accused of stealing from Google. Attorneys representing Waymo, Google’s self-driving car arm, claim their adversaries, Uber’s lawyers, hold copies of at least some of those documents, and have refused to turn them over.

Those documents represent the key smoking-gun evidence that so far is missing from Waymo’s case — Waymo is accusing rival Uber of pilfering key self-driving car trade secrets. Even if Waymo can’t force Uber’s team to produce the documents, telling the jury that Uber may be hiding evidence could bolster Waymo’s position.

Uber’s lawyers from Morrison & Foerster recently disclosed that their firm posses some information taken from Levandowski’s electronic devices. Waymo is convinced that information contains stolen documents, and says Uber’s team spent months hiding that information from the court.

“Wrong,” Uber’s lawyer, Arturo Gonzalez, said Wednesday. His firm has some information, but not the allegedly stolen documents, he said.

But U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the case, seemed to side with Waymo.

“I am concerned that Mr. Gonzalez failed to disclose that he had the documents and took a long time to come clean,” Alsup said. “I am inclined…to tell the jury exactly this scenario: that he was ordered to come clean, did not come clean, ordered to come clean again, and did not come clean — finally in June or July came clean.”

In response, Gonzalez accused the judge of buying into a “complete false premise.”

The judge fired back: “It’s true that you misled the court. You misled the judge time and time again.”

Gonzalez, getting louder, told the judge that the notion that his firm has or ever had the stolen documents is “completely baseless.”

“Here’s what I want you to know,” Gonzalez said, “there will never be a day, never….that anybody proves that MoFo, or Uber, for that matter, was hiding those 14,000 documents.”

Alsup asked Waymo to write out a proposed jury instruction that would inform jurors in October about the fight over those documents.

The case, set for trial in October, is gearing up to be the Silicon Valley legal battle of the year. It centers around Levandowski, a former Google engineer, who is accused of making off with confidential trade secrets before quitting and forming his own self-driving trucking startup, Otto. Uber later acquired Otto, and Levandowski took the helm of Uber’s autonomous vehicle program. Uber fired Levandowski in May over the controversy. The company also recently lost its CEO, Travis Kalanick, and is searching for a replacement.

Photo: Waymo’s Firefly self-driving car (courtesy of Waymo)

 

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