Travis Kalanick takes the stand to explain why Uber wanted to poach Google self-driving engineer

  • Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick testified in the intellectual property lawsuit filed by Alphabet parent Waymo against Uber over self-driving cars.
  • Kalanick testified that he wanted to hire the then-Google engineer at the center of the case, Anthony Levandowski, as early as 2015.
  • "I wanted to hire Anthony and he wanted to start a company, so I tried to come up with a situation where he could feel like he started a company and I could feel like I hired him," Kalanick said.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Shu Zhang | Reuters
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick shed more light on why he wanted to hire Anthony Levandowski, the engineer accused of stealing trade secrets from Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Google parent Alphabet.

Kalanick's testimony came as part of the dramatic trade secrets trial between Uber and Waymo that is happening this week in San Francisco.

"I wanted to hire Anthony and he wanted to start a company, so I tried to come up with a situation where he could feel like he started a company and I could feel like I hired him," Kalanick said on the stand Tuesday afternoon.

Through testimony and presentations over last two days, Waymo's lawyers have tried to show how desperate Uber was to catch up to Google's self-driving car efforts and how Kalanick believed that Levandowski could provide a big advantage to closing that gap.

During proceedings on Tuesday, Kalanick admitted that Levandowski met at Uber's office in late 2015, before Levandowski left Waymo to start self-driving truck company Otto. Kalanick confirmed the two of them discussed the possibility of Uber acquiring his company, even though no business existed at that time. Kalanick saying it was either "late 2015 or early 2016"

Notes from John Bares, Uber's engineering manager, during a meeting with Kalanick suggest Kalanick wanted "IP" or intellectual property from the acquisition of Levandowski's company.

Notes from another meeting between Kalanick and Levandowski from January 3, 2016, show the two discussed lasers for self-driving car technology.

In its opening arguments on Monday Waymo painted Uber as a competitor that "needed to win at all costs."

Waymo spent a significant amount of time on Tuesday questioning Kalanick about prior comments he made saying autonomous driving is an "existential" crisis for Uber. Kalanick responded by saying "If you're running a tech company and you're not making new innovation, you become part of the past."

Uber however, is arguing that this case is about the fight for top engineering talent. "Engineers, California and everywhere else in America, are free to go from one job to the other. They don't get a lobotomy in between. They bring all their engineering talent, all the skills they've learned, their education, the publicly known stuff they've worked with, and they can work on the very same technology in the new company," Uber's lawyer Bill Carmody said Monday.

Overall, this case hangs on whether or not Waymo can prove that Uber improperly acquired, used, and benefited from any of eight "trade secrets" in question.

Uber argued on Monday that these trade secrets are not trade secrets at all, and that Waymo brought this case over fears of losing talent to competitors.

Waymo is seeking damages from Uber and an injunction to shut down its plans to use driverless car technology.