Waymo seeks $1.8 billion from ‘cheater’ Uber

A lawyer for a robotic car company founded by Google accused Uber Technologies Inc. in federal court in San Francisco Monday of being a “cheater” in the race to produce self-driving cars.

Charles Verhoeven, a lawyer for Waymo LLC, spoke in his opening statement at the start of a trial in which Waymo is seeking up to $1.8 billion from Uber for alleged theft of its trade secrets.

Verhoeven told the 10-member civil jury that Uber and its former chief executive officer Travis Kalanick decided that “losing was not an option” and that Uber’s goal was “winning at all costs.” In response, Uber attorney William Carmody said during his opening that Uber didn’t steal any secrets and instead relied on the skills and expertise of the engineers it hired.

“There’s not a single piece of Google proprietary information at Uber, nothing, zero,” Carmody told the jury.

Waymo was established by Mountain View-based Google in 2009. It was spun off as a separate entity in 2016 and is now a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.

San Francisco-based Uber began hiring engineers for its own self-driving car program in 2015.

Waymo claims that a top engineer, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded 14,000 files of highly confidential information shortly before he left the company in 2016. Levandowski start a self-driving truck company, Otto, which was acquired by Uber in August 2016 for a reported $680 million.

Verhoeven alleged today that Otto was a “fake company” created to veil Levandowki’s eventual transfer to Uber. Waymo claims the allegedly stolen information enabled Uber to leapfrog Waymo’s seven years of development of the technology.

Waymo sued Uber in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in February 2017. Uber fired Levandowski in May after he refused to cooperate with Uber’s internal investigation in the wake of the lawsuit.

The trial in the court of U.S. District Judge William Alsup is expected to last about three weeks.

Expected witnesses include Kalanick and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Levandowki is also slated to be called to the stand, but is expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

The lawsuit alleges the theft of eight trade secrets used to develop laser-sensing technology that gives self-driving cars a picture of their surroundings.