Judge Postpones Uber/Waymo Trial After New Allegations of Spying by Uber

The judge said he ‘can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber.’

byStephen Edelstein|
Judge Postpones Uber/Waymo Trial After New Allegations of Spying by Uber

The trial in the trade secrets case between Uber and Waymo was postponed after a letter surfaced detailing attempts by Uber to spy on competitors and cover it up.

Judge William Alsup postponed the trial Tuesday, a day before jury selection was set to begin, after being made aware of the letter by the United States attorney's office for Northern California, according to The New York Times. He delayed the trial in order to give Waymo's lawyers time to gather information on the new development.

"I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case," Judge Alsup said. "If even half of what is in that letter is true, it would be an injustice for Waymo to go to trial."

Waymo sued Uber in February, alleging that former employee Anthony Levandowski stole trade secrets related to self-driving cars and provided them to Uber's autonomous driving program. Levandowski left Waymo to form autonomous-driving startup Otto, which was bought by Uber last year. He was fired by Uber for not cooperating with efforts to fight the lawsuit. But the letter indicates Uber may have undertaken efforts to spy on rivals independent of Levandowski.

The letter was reportedly written in May or June by a lawyer for Richard Jacobs, Uber's former manager of global intelligence, to Angela Padilla, the company's general counsel. It details how Uber's "market analytics team" attempted to gather trade secrets from competitors, and run interference in lawsuits against Uber. Last year, the company also hired a man named Ed Russo to recruit employees of competitors to steal trade secrets, the letter said. Russo denied this in testimony on Tuesday.

Jacobs was fired by Uber in April but currently works as a paid consultant for the company. In testimony on Tuesday, he said he had agreed not to disparage Uber's practices in the media as part of a $4.5 million settlement with the company. But he said he did not believe that prevented him from discussing those practices as part of a criminal investigation. Jacobs also testified that the Uber team used "anonymous" servers to hide communications, as well as the chat service Wickr.

In his testimony, Jacobs said the spying efforts focused solely on overseas competitors, and that he was not aware of Uber obtaining trade secrets from Waymo. That contradicts his statements in the letter, which claim he was aware that Uber had stolen information from Waymo. Jacobs attributed the disparity to having not fully ready the letter before his legal team sent it, according to Gizmodo.

Because Jacobs said on the stand that he was not aware of any Waymo trade secrets being stolen, Uber does not believe his testimony has changed the merits of the case, a spokeswoman told The New York Times. Angela Padilla, the lawyer to whom the letter was addressed, testified that the company had exhaustively searched for information related to the Waymo case during the trial's discovery phase, but only with approved methods.