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Key Document Is Unsealed in Waymo Case

  • Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car unit, has been fighting for access to a key document in a trade secrets case against Uber.
  • That document became public late Monday.
  • But the report does not appear to clearly answer a main question in the case: Whether or not Uber used any of the designs or technology Mr. Levandowski took with him from Google in Uber's own self-driving car project.
A Google Waymo self-driving Lexus on the road in Arizona
A Google Waymo self-driving Lexus on the road in Arizona

Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car unit, has been fighting in the courts for months to gain access to a key document in a trade secrets case that it has waged against Uber. That document became public late Monday, adding to the intrigue of whether Uber may have known it was getting stolen information for its autonomous vehicles operation.

The document that became public was a due diligence report that Uber commissioned last year before buying an autonomous truck start-up, Ottomotto, for $680 million.

The start-up was founded by Anthony Levandowski, a star engineer who had worked at Google's self-driving unit before it became Waymo. Mr. Levandowski left Google six months before Uber's acquisition of Ottomotto, and has been at the center of accusations that he stole information about Google's self-driving technology and used it at Uber.

The due diligence report, conducted by the cybersecurity firm Stroz Friedberg from March 2016 to August 2016, paints one of the clearest pictures of the timeline of events leading up to Uber's acquisition of Ottomotto and exactly how much Uber knew of Mr. Levandowski's attempts to retain and access information taken from Google.

The document's release is the latest salvo in the lawsuit between the two biggest players in the nascent self-driving car industry. Waymo filed suit against Uber in February, spurring a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the removal of Mr. Levandowski from his position at Uber. The suit, which has implications for which company may take the lead in the race around autonomous vehicles, is set to go to trial this month.

The Stroz report was kept sealed for months as Uber fought to keep it private. Waymo is using the report's inclusion into the record to show Uber was aware of Mr. Levandowski's actions. Waymo has asked for the court to postpone the trial, scheduled for Oct. 10, as it looks into the report and other recent disclosures from Uber.

But the report does not appear to clearly answer a main question in the case: Whether or not Uber used any of the designs or technology Mr. Levandowski took with him from Google in Uber's own self-driving car project.

What the report details instead is a history of Mr. Levandowski's meeting with Uber executives while he was still employed at Google but suggesting working together in some capacity. Mr. Levandowski eventually partnered with Lior Ron, a Google colleague, and pitched the idea for Ottomotto to a group of Google employees over barbecues and a ski trip to Lake Tahoe. The pair convinced roughly a dozen of the Googlers to join their effort, and the group eventually split off from Google to start Ottomotto.

After leaving Google, Mr. Levandowski said he found a data storage container in his house containing ''source code, design files, laser files, engineering documents, and software related to Google self-driving cars,'' according to the report, information that Mr. Levandowski said he downloaded as a matter of ''his departure from ordinary course of business.''

Investigators also found evidence of photos of Google self-driving car designs, whiteboard sketches and pictures of hardware and electronic components stored on Mr. Levandowski's iPhone.

''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,'' said Johnny Luu, Waymo spokesman.

Mr. Levandowski has invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination. He had previously asserted, after realizing what information he had from Google, that he took the data storage disks to a shredding facility to have them destroyed.

''Even after 60 hours of inspection of our facilities, source code, documents and computers -- no Google material has been found at Uber,'' Matt Kallman, a spokesman for Uber, said in a statement.

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