Uber throws former self-driving vehicle guru Andrew Levandowski to the wolves

It's an image Google's attorneys accentuated, in a remarkable moment in court Wednesday, showing the jury a famous Michael Douglas speech from the movie "Wall Street". Waymo sued the ride-hailing company past year and wants almost $2 billion in damages and an end to Uber's rival project. Instead, the lead attorney for Waymo, the self-driving vehicle 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.

In the second day of testimony in the trial pitting former Google auto division Waymo against Uber, Kalanick maintained he did not ask for proprietary data when he hired a star engineer from the technology giant.

Alphabet's Waymo division is seeking at least US$1 billion over the theft of secrets from its self-driving vehicle program in the trial before federal judge William Alsup.

Before acquiring Otto, Uber had commissioned forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to conduct due diligence on Levandowski and his startup.

Uber acquired self-driving truck company Otto in 2016. Waymo is suing for damages that could end up totaling more than a billion dollars.

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.

Kalanick also acknowledged that he signed documents authorising Uber to indemnify Levandowski against any claims from Google over misappropriated technology, but said he did not read the papers.

"I don't know", Kalanick said. "That was certainly one of them". When an Uber attorney asked Kalanick why Google may have been motivated to sue the company, Kalanick answered that "Google was generally super not happy. unpumped about us doing this".

Waymo's legal team examined text messages between Kalanick and Levandowski, who had met even before the engineer had departed Google, and questioned why Kalanick's phone auto-deleted texts after 30 days. Verhoeven showed the 90-second film clip to the entire courtroom. (Kalanick said he did not recall what that message was regarding.) Another message from Levandowski to the Uber cofounder included a link to the "Greed is Good' speech and asked Kalanick to deliver a similar speech to employees with a winking face emoji". Another internal document, written by a senior Uber executive, noted that Kalanick wanted to use "cheat codes" against competitors and stated: "The golden time is over, it's war time".

Kalanick was first called as witness for a little under an hour on Tuesday, the second day of the blockbuster trial.

"Why did you hire Anthony Levandowski?".

What Kalanick meant, he said: Laser sensors are "an important part of making autonomous work; it doesn't work without it".

On cross-examination, the former Uber chief became more animated, dropping one-liners and at one point attempting to joke with Judge William Alsup about not remembering certain incidents. Back in 2013, Google invested in Uber. "They picked me up in a self-driving vehicle and I was like, 'That's pretty cool, '" Kalanick testified on Wednesday.

His memory became a lot clearer when cross-examined by his own legal team about the relationship between Google and Uber, which he defined as "like big brother and little brother" for many years. The former executive said Uber eventually chose to start its own autonomous vehicle development after repeated requests for meetings were ignored.

Kalanick recounted a meeting with Google executives, including cofounder Larry Page.

Travis Kalanick says his number 1 priority was getting the best engineers when explaining the decision to poach an engineer from Google. He said Uber was anxious about getting sued because Google was upset that Uber was "doing their thing".

"Your people are not your IP", Kalanick said he responded to Page.

  • Eleanor Harrison