Uber Knew Buying Otto Could Lead to Legal Battle With Waymo

Emails show Uber attorneys were already discussing the risk of a lawsuit before buying the startup at the heart of an ongoing legal battle with Waymo.

byStephen Edelstein|
Uber Knew Buying Otto Could Lead to Legal Battle With Waymo

Uber is currently locked in a legal battle with Waymo over allegedly stolen self-driving car secrets from Otto, a startup Uber purchased last year. But even before it bought Otto, Uber knew a lawsuit was a possibility, according to newly-revealed documents.

Emails between Uber lawyers revealed at a Wednesday hearing in San Francisco show the company was aware of the risk of a Waymo lawsuit very early in the process of purchasing Otto, according to USA Today. Otto was founded by ex-Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski, who Waymo now accuses of downloading 14,000 files related to autonomous car tech and using the information at his startup.

According to the emails, Uber's attorneys were discussing potential legal issues surrounding Otto just three days after Levandowski left Waymo to start the company, in December 2015. The emails include conversations and legal analysis on the possible acquisition of Otto, according to USA Today. Uber bought Otto in August for $680 million, and brought in Levandowski to run its own self-driving car program.

Waymo now accuses Uber of benefiting from the stolen autonomous-car tech Levandowski brought to Waymo. Levandowski pleaded the Fifth Amendment in the lawsuit, which Uber considers baseless. The ride-sharing company has said Waymo should pursue the matter solely in arbitration, since Levandowski allegedly stole the files while he was still an employee. Way is currently in arbitration with Levandowski and Otto co-founder Lior Ron, separate from the lawsuit against Uber.

Waymo is now pushing Uber to release any and all documents related to the case, something it claims Uber has been reluctant to do. Uber has argued that is releasing as much information as it can, and that Levandowski's decision to plead the Fifth has complicated matters.