Friday, 25 May, 2018

Former Uber CEO Kalanick says relationship with 'big brother' Google soured

Travis Kalanick addresses a gathering at an event in New Delhi India Kalanick addresses a gathering at an event in New Delhi Thomson Reuters
Doris Mccormick | 08 February, 2018, 10:25

Instead, the lead attorney for Waymo, the self-driving auto subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, used the clip as ammunition to suggest that Uber's former CEO and a former Google engineer had abetted the theft of intellectual property.

Most of Kalanick's almost two-hour testimony settled on his relationship with Anthony Levandowski, a onetime star engineer who left Google and was later hired by Uber, unleashing a cloud of suspicion among Google executives who allege that the two men plotted to steal trade secrets.

Waymo's mainly used the messages, however, to establish the idea that Kalanick and Levandowski understood the importance of being first to build a self-driving vehicle. The jury will have to decide whether the documents downloaded by Levandowski were indeed trade secrets and not common knowledge, and whether Uber improperly acquired them, used them and benefited from them.

Ultimately, Uber acquired the self-driving truck company Otto in 2016, which was founded by a former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, around whom this week's trial hangs.

Much of Tuesday's questioning seemed to be setting the stage for heightened drama when Kalanick returns to the stand Wednesday. While he stayed professional in court, his true competitive nature came through.

"I don't know, I'm not sure what that's referring to", Kalanick said when asked what it meant.

"I just see this as a race and we need to win, second place is first looser" read one text from Levandowski in March, 2016. He told the attorney that this isn't a phrase only the self-driving vehicle industry uses, but one that he's heard for years, even back in high school.

Amid their text messages was a link to Michael Douglas' iconic movie moment in "Wall Street", which made for a freakish piece of court room theater when it was played for jurors.

Judge William Alsup said he would wait to rule on the clip's admissibility until he hears Kalanick's testimony.

The former Uber CEO said he does not remember what those texts were about. Levandowski turned down the offer.

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"Look, this has been a hard process". He conceded that the legal battle makes hiring Levandowski "not as great as what we thought it was at the beginning". In one meeting, Kalanick reportedly made it clear that he wanted a "pound of flesh" and "I.P." out of a deal with Levandowski, and another internal document, reviewed in court and allegedly written by a senior Uber executive, noted that Kalanick promoted the use of "cheat codes" against the competition and declared, "The golden time is over; it's war time". Then this lawsuit happened.

That curious detail surfaced when Travis Kalanick - Uber's former chief executive - testified during the third, and most climactic, day of the Uber-Waymo trial in a San Francisco courtroom Wednesday, offering rare insight into the peculiar behavior of Silicon Valley power brokers.

Mr Kalanick also discussed his relationship with Alphabet and Larry Page, its chief executive, whom he described as a mentor.

The case hinges on claims that Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo engineer, downloaded thousands of confidential files at the end of 2015, months before going to Uber. He still sits on the board.

"This is Google against Uber for our futures", said David Franklin, a trade secret attorney. Back in 2013, Google invested in Uber. He said he was "a big fan" of the engineer, one of the first employees at Google's self-driving-car project, and wanted to hire him.

After Kalanick's testimony, Waymo is expected to call more than a dozen witnesses to present before Uber gets a chance to call its own witnesses. Before Uber's own autonomous vehicle program, Kalanick said he didn't consider Google a competitor.

Levandowski was then made head of Uber's autonomous auto project.

Uber's lawyers will also get a chance to cross examine Kalanick Wednesday. Attached was a file labeled as being from Otto, Levandowski's startup, which by then was owned by Uber. He said Uber was anxious about getting sued because Google was upset that Uber was "doing their thing". In April 2016, Uber and Otto agreed that Uber would buy Levandowski's company, and the acquisition was completed the following August in a deal reported to be worth $680 million in stock and cash.

His quiet demeanor seemed created to counteract what Waymo told the jury on February 5: that Kalanick was willing to cheat and break the law to get ahead.

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