Some of the allegedly stolen information in Waymo’s trade-secrets case against Uber Technologies
may not have been so precious after all, according to the Alphabet unit’s own engineer.
“Low-value” was the engineer’s assessment while investigating the downloading of files by driverless car executive Anthony Levandowski
four months before Waymo called him a traitor in a high-stakes lawsuit headed to trial next month.
Uber is now trying to use its adversary’s internal emails
from October 2016 — unsealed in court records Wednesday — to undermine Waymo’s claims that Levandowski
helped steal thousands of files encompassing seven years of research and development when he switched employers. Waymo responded that Uber “is trying to make something out of nothing.”
In a message responding to an outside lawyer who had said “it’s a little strange” that Levandowski
only accessed a particular server once in December 2015, hardware engineer Sasha Zbrozek said the data was “low-value enough” that the company considered hosting it off its servers.
“He was a high-level manager, and not doing any direct technical contribution at this level,” Zbrozek wrote in the October 5 email exchange. “It’s not particularly surprising that he might check things out once in the misguided dream of maybe making individual contribution or maybe taking a look at the progress of a widget. It clearly wasn’t part of his routine. Doesn’t ring the alarm bells for me.”
At least one legal expert was skeptical about how damaging the email is for Waymo.
“The disclosure doesn’t really change the merits of Waymo’s case,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara Law School. “I doubt this email chain will be able to bust the trade secrets
and Waymo’s case.”
Uber and its co-defendant in the case, Otto Trucking, a start-up founded by Levandowski, are aiming to use the message to show Waymo didn’t safeguard the information in dispute carefully enough for it to be legally designated as trade secrets.
keeps its most prized intellectual property and software on its own robust data centres, a way to ensure security and protect strategic assets from rivals. If the company considered hosting electronics designs in self-driving systems on external servers, as Zbrozek’s email suggests, it may indicate that it’s less of a priority.
Zbrozek is a veteran of Google’s self-driving car project, starting there in 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile. The hardware engineer lists his work on radar and sensor equipment, the central technology
in the lawsuit.
“For months, Google
has based its lawsuit on 14,000 files they claimed were critically important,” Uber spokesperson Matt Kallman said in an email. “Now we learn from internal emails
knew from the beginning that these files were actually considered ‘low-value.’ This is why Google
has been fighting so hard to conceal the emails
that are being made public today.”
Still, Goldman said even if the Alphabet engineer’s characterisation of the trade secrets
as low-value is accurate, that doesn’t get Uber off the hook if they were stolen.