New evidence in Waymo v. Uber: Paper trail shows deleted files, shredded disks

New details regarding the Waymo files Anthony Levandowski had — and how he tried to delete them — came out Monday when a top-secret and hotly contested report was finally made public for the first time in the Waymo v. Uber case.

Levandowski is the former Waymo engineer at the heart of the contentious legal battle between the two rivals, set to go to trial next week. Waymo claims Levandowski nabbed Waymo’s self-driving car trade secrets before he left the company and brought them with him to start a new self-driving trucking company called Otto. When Uber acquired Otto, it also acquired a trove of ill-gotten trade secrets that helped the ride-hailing company get a leg up in the autonomous vehicle market, Waymo claims.

The report released Monday, dubbed “project unicorn investigation,” was commissioned by Uber leading up to the Otto acquisition to determine whether Levandowski and other former Otto employees retained any Waymo material. Waymo fought for months to force Uber to turn over the report, which Uber had tried to keep hidden, and which is likely to play a key role in the upcoming trial.

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The report also offers a first glimpse at Levandowski’s side of the story — the engineer has refused to say anything about the case, citing his Fifth Amendment right to avoid potentially incriminating himself.

During March 2016 interviews, the investigators with risk management firm Stroz Friedberg found Levandowski possessed Google information, met with a number of Google employees about joining his startup, met with Uber executives while working at Google about forming a new company, and destroyed highly confidential Google information he had stored on five personal disks.

Levandowski told investigators that after leaving Google, he discovered the five disks in a closet in his house. He told Uber CEO Travis Kalanick about the disks in March 2016, and Kalanick wanted nothing to do with them, telling Levandowski to “do what he needed to do,” according to the report. Levandowski said he brought the disks to Shred Works, a shredding facility in Oakland.

The report also shows evidence of Levandowski downloading other Google documents and Google emails to his personal computer, many of which were subsequently deleted. And in some cases, Levandowski accessed that information after leaving Google.

“Many of the deletions may have been good faith attempts by Levandowski to purge retained Google material from his devices in accordance with his obligation not to retain confidential Google data,” the report states. “However, by March 2016, Levandowski was aware that Stroz Friedberg was going to implement a process to preserve, identify and potentially remediate retained Google material from his devices. At that point, the better course would have been to let that process control.”

Nevertheless, the investigators continued: “While Levandowski retained, and in some cases accessed Google confidential information after his departure from Google, Stroz Friedberg discovered no evidence indicating that he transferred any of that data to Ottomotto or other third parties.”

Waymo on Monday held up the report as evidence to bolster its case against Uber.

“The Stroz Report unequivocally shows that, before it acquired his company, Uber knew Anthony Levandowski had a massive trove of confidential Waymo source code, design files, technical plans and other materials after leaving Google; that he stole information deliberately, and repeatedly accessed it after leaving Waymo; and that he tried to destroy the evidence of what he had done,” a Waymo spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement. “In addition, Mr. Levandowski used his smartphone to take thousands of covert photographs of computer screens displaying Google confidential files. Knowing all of this, Uber paid $680 million for Mr. Levandowski’s company, protected him from legal action, and installed him as the head of their self-driving vehicle program. This report raises significant questions and justifies careful review.”

Uber disputed its rival’s accusations.

“Before Uber acquired Otto, we hired an independent forensics firm to conduct due diligence because we wanted to prevent any Google (intellectual property) from coming to Uber,” an Uber spokesman wrote in an emailed statement. “Their report, which we are pleased is finally public, helps explain why—even after 60 hours of inspection of our facilities, source code, documents and computers—no Google material has been found at Uber. Waymo is now attempting to distract from that hard fact, even attempting to hide its core trade secrets case from the public and the press by closing the courtroom. In the end, the jury will see that Google’s trade secrets are not and never were at Uber.”

The two sides are set to face off in court again Tuesday, at which point Waymo will once again ask a federal judge to postpone next week’s trial.

“On the eve of trial, Uber has identified 15,000 potentially relevant emails and 85 GB of documents that were not produced during the discovery period,” the Waymo spokeswoman wrote. “In addition, Waymo is also awaiting production of 118 of Anthony Levandowski’s devices from Defendants. The volume of these materials produced at the last minute by Defendants require time to review, particularly given new information that has only come to light in the Stroz Report.”

Photo: Anthony Levandowski, former head of Uber’s self-driving program, speaks about the company’s driverless car in San Francisco on Dec. 13, 2016. (Eric Risberg/AP)

 

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